Temps de lecture :3 minutes
Olga Speranskaya believes that “There is strength in numbers”. This Russian scientist brought together NGOs from twelve countries in Eastern Europe, Caucasus and Central Asia (EECCA) to form an influential environmental defence movement. The aim: to create a force strong enough to locate and try to eliminate the hundreds of millions of tons of agricultural chemical products abandoned over the whole territory since the collapse of Communism. Today, there are still huge stocks of so-called “obsolete”pesticides like DDT or Polychlorinated-biphenyl (PCB) in these countries which were the old granaries of the ex-USSR. These products were used in electrical transformers and collectively referred to as Persistent Organic Pollutants or POPs. As their name suggests, these products do not degrade easily and can keep polluting over decades.
Opened bags stored in old disused warehouses have been spilling into water tables for over 20 years and ignorant farmers have also been using them illegally. It is an environmental disaster that is affecting human health: headaches, chronic bronchitis, neurological and thyroid disorders, cancer, miscarriages… “Unfortunately, the governments have neither the political will nor the financial means to locate, identify and quantify these dangerous substances, admits the scientist. They are even more reluctant when it comes to depolluting these areas.”
After writing an essay on the consequences of the collapse Communism in 1992, Olga Speranskaya realised just how much the Soviet legacy was weighing on the environment. She was a researcher at the State Oceanographic Institute in Moscow but decided to give it all up and commit herself to the cause. In 1997, she became the director of the Chemical Safety Program at the eco-Accord Centre for Environment and Sustainable Development. She brought the NGOs of twelve ex-USSR countries together to create a unique powerful network. As she says, “If there are more of us, it will be easier for us to be heard!”
Her priority: to make citizens aware of environmentalism and tell them about the dangers of POPs on nature and health. “We also ask them to report any abandoned stocks. And we encourage them to get involved with an NGO. Favouring local action and encouraging the participation of civil society on all these territories is the only way to make things evolve in the right direction.” She is simultaneously leading several campaigns to prevent the use of persistent pollutants, ban dangerous substances from being disposed of in landfills and try to get the governments more involved. After several years of frantic lobbying, nine EECCA countries agreed to ratify – from 2004- the Stockholm Convention, which is the text forbidding the use of certain persistent pollutants. A great victory indeed!
In the same year, the NGOs unanimously chose Olga Speranskaya as the Regional Director of the International POPs Elimination Project (IPEP) for EECCA countries. Thanks to her tenacity, over 70 projects to fight toxic chemical products have been created. Their aim: to determine the impact of persistent pollutants on human health, make the authorities accept this direct link and find abandoned stocks, as well as identify and clean –even partly – the numerous contaminated areas.
In spite of this remarkable progress to try and clean up these territories, the scientist still has to face many obstacles. “Companies and the government have absolutely no regard for the environment”. Russia did indeed sign the Stockholm Convention but it has still not ratified it. Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan did not sign anything. However, Olga Speranskaya remains optimistic. “The environment goes beyond all political issues. We have to keep working against this heavy legacy and stop the damage. Together, we can make it happen!”