As the world awaits the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, Russia is struggling to deal with the criticism regarding the treatment of the environment in preparation for the games. The euphoria that characterizes the Olympic games has long since turned to anger for the smaller communities that are paying the environmental costs for Sochi. President Vladimir Putin promised that the Sochi Olympics would be the cleanest games ever, though many incidences coming to light cast major doubt on this claim. As a centrepiece of its bid for the Olympics, Russia declared a ‘zero-waste’ program in an effort to create the cleanest games ever. The hosts claimed they would rely on reusable materials in the construction of buildings for the games, as well as refraining from dumping waste from this construction.

The village of Akhshtyr has been plagued by waste from Olympic construction sites, where an illegal dump has been set up. For over three months, trucks bring in construction waste throughout the day and night. The dump is operating without a license by a state-owned Russian enterprise. The area where the dump is located is particularly environmentally sensitive because of its proximity to local water supply.  Moisture from the landfill seeps through porous rocks and into the underground springs that connect to the Mzymta River, which is a source of water for the city of Sochi. Local officials have tried to clean up the illegal dump, but they lack resources to dispose of the waste correctly. The reckless dumping is cause for concern in this region, known for its floods and landslides. The landfill in Akhshtyr is just one of many that dot the landscape surrounding the Sochi area.

Many other environmentally sensitive areas have been disturbed in preparation for the games. Damage in the Mzymta River Valley is particularly severe. Around 5,000 acres of forestland that was formerly home to certain rare species has been completely destroyed. Damage has been extended to wetlands areas where migrating birds once lived.

Even national park sites were not safe from environmental destruction. Russian authorities have reversed legislation that limited new construction in national parks. As well, soil, a by-product of massive infrastructure projects, has been dumped in Sochi National Park.

Environmentalists claim that the development of infrastructure projects in these areas, as well as the construction of new sports venues, is threatening to irreparably damage the Sochi region’s natural environment. According to United Nations experts, this is unprecedented for an Olympic host country.

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