Amidst controversy surrounding Russia's human rights record and domestic security concerns, the Sochi Winter Olympics faces even further adversity in the form of the heightened environmental risk caused by the construction of venues for the event.
Environmental engineers say the new Olympic venues in Sochi will exacerbate the risk of flooding in the region as a result of both site selection and the failure of construction companies to account for local geographic conditions.
The sites chosen for the Olympic venues are situated in Imeretinsky lowlands, a rain-sodden region on the Black Sea coast which is laden with rivers and swamps. Sochi receives more rainfall than almost any other part of Russia, at an average of around 1.7 metres per year.
The choice of this area should have necessitated the construction of extensive drainage systems in order to ensure the prevention of flooding and the effective discharge of the copious amounts of rainfall that the coastal region receives.
According to environmental experts, however, construction company Transstroy, which was entrusted with much of the foundation work for the Olympic facilities, has done little more in the way of drainage work than pour soil into the lowland swamps.
This negligence is believed to have been a key factor in the severe flooding which occurred in the area in September last year, compelling local authorities to declare a state of emergency.
Valery Suchkov, a lawyer who specializes in environmental cases, said the flooding in September indicates the extent to which Olympic construction work has failed to provide new drainage systems which are effective.
According to local residents, the ground has become perpetually damp since the floods in September, failing to dry out fully even during sunny days devoid of rain.
Flooding isn’t the only environmental dilemma created by the choice of Sochi’s rain-laden lowlands as the location for this year’s winter Olympics.
Environmental activists claim the disposal of construction waste in numerous landfill sites dotted throughout the area poses a major risk to the quality of local water supply. Given the copious amount of rainfall which Sochi enjoys, any hazardous substances in landfill are bound to seep into the nearby Mzymta River, which is the source of drinking water for the city’s residents.
Yulia Naberezhnaya, spokeswoman for Sochi’s Russian Geographic Society, has complained about the potential for these toxic substances to contaminate the city’s drinking water given that “no one knows exactly that those materials in the landfill are comprised of, where they have come from.”