Moscow: First a plane crash, then a mining disaster followed by a major fire at an old people’s home: Russia, the world’s biggest country, is looking dangerously accident prone.
21 March was a national day of mourning for the 176 victims of the three tragedies, all of which occured within four days. It was also a moment for soul searching.
“Human life in Russia is much cheaper than in Western countries,” social affairs commentator Yuliya Latynina told AFP. Indeed, natural and man-made disasters can seem unstoppable in this vast land of extremes.
Despite run-away profits from oil and natural gas exports, a Russian man is doomed, on average, to die at the age of 59. The population is plummeting by three quarters of a million annually and these are alarming trends.
According to analysts, the steady breakdown of Russia’s once formidable Soviet-era infrastructure is to be blamed.
The only thing that can explain the occurrences of three devastating and successive catastrophes,e ven if they be ‘unintentional´ is a reflection of a breakdown in the state administration and regulation.
That deterioration, affecting everything from medical services to aircraft fleets, was on show during Tuesday’s horrific fire in the southern Krasnodar region, in which 63 people, many of them elderly invalids, perished.
Multiple violations of safety regulations had made the state-run home a death trap. The recent closure of a local fire station meant firemen based in a neighbouring town took an hour to arrive.
People feel it is a question of wear and tear. No one has done anything about repairing, replacing or renewing equipment or buildings since the 1980s and the current economic growth actually aggravates the situation because growth takes place on half-rotten foundations.
Particular concern over air safety was underlined again last Saturday when a passenger jet crash in the central city of Samara killed six people.
Last year, 33 aviation incidents were recorded, resulting in 318 deaths, a sixfold increase over 2005. Senior government officials openly admit that pilots are under-trained and air fleets under-equipped.
But analysts also highlight a factor even more pervasive than physical decay, namely, Russians’ own capacity for self-destruction. This is a country where alcohol poisoning alone kills about 40,000 people a year, compared to a few hundred in US.