Russians and Their Crops Wilt Under Heat Wave

A blistering heat wave has made life miserable for millions in Russia and northeastern Europe, few of whom have air conditioners, and destroyed millions of acres of Russian wheat, setting back an agricultural revival that was just reaching its stride after years of faltering efforts, reported NA “Kazakh-Zerno” with reference to the “New York Times“.

The heat has been besting decades-old records here. At 92.5 degrees Fahrenheit, Friday was the hottest July 16 ever in Moscow, topping the record set in the summer of 1938. It was even hotter on Saturday, at 95, though not a record, and temperatures were expected to remain in that range for the rest of the week.

While relatively mild by American standards, perhaps, the sultry blast was almost unbearable for Muscovites. Work in the capital slowed to a crawl, and residents crept from sweltering apartments to lounge in the parks and on riverbanks, stripping off clothes and taking ill-advised dips in the Moscow River.

The Ministry of Emergency Situations reported that 77 people drowned in Russia on Saturday and Sunday, adding to the grim total of more than 400 people so far in July and 1,244 people in June. Most of them, if past reports on Russia’s extraordinary numbers of drownings are any guide, were drunk, and the numbers were not sharply out of line with those of previous years — Russians typically drown at a rate more than five times that of Americans.

For the most part, however, Muscovites coped as best they could, and some even divined benefits in the scorching. Yulia B. Simachyov, a 29-year-old office worker, praised the heat for loosening up Russian dress codes. “Skirts, T-shirts, shorts,” Ms. Simachyov said. “It’s wonderful.”

Water, whether in a relatively clean fountain or a more questionable local waterway, was the most common place of refuge. “I spend every day on the beach and I swim, too, though it is not allowed and the water is filthy,” said Andrei Rabotin, a university student. The “beach” he referred to was actually a sandy riverbank on the Moscow River at Sparrow Hills, where the stream loops through a park.

In the black earth region of southern Russia, where summer showers are the norm, the relentless sun withered 24 million acres sown with wheat, barley and other crops. By comparison, all the cultivatable land in Britain amounts to only 15 million acres.

In areas of the black earth region, some of the world’s most fertile land for grain crops, not a drop of rain has fallen since April, helping prompt to the Grain Union on Monday to lower its forecast for the harvest to 81.5 million to 85 million tons, compared with 97 million tons last year.

This usually bountiful zone was sown in recent years not only with seeds but also with huge investments in agricultural machinery, silos and grain-carrying railroad cars in an effort to finally revive production and help meet steadily rising global demand for food. But irrigation is impossible in the huge fields, and farmers depend as they always have on Mother Nature, who has been stingy this year. So far, 17 regions in Russia where crops depend on rain have declared states of emergency.

But Russia went into the drought with silos overflowing from bumper crops last year and the year before — the payoff from a policy of privatizing collective farms to attract investment — so the country will be able to meet its own needs with tons left over for export.

To the north of Russia’s black earth fields, the heat kindled another typical scourge of hot summers in the country: peat bog fires.

The fires broke out around Moscow over the weekend, sending coils of smoke into the hazy air. Ignited by a casually flipped cigarette butt or an improperly placed campfire, these fires burrow into the dry peat and then creep along, dozens of feet underground. They pollute the air, ignite above-ground forest fires and are typically only fully extinguished after a heavy rain in the fall.

By Monday, forest fires had consumed 944,000 acres in Russia, the Ministry of Emergency Situations said.

A rare meteorological phenomenon was responsible for the heat, Irina I. Smetanina, a spokeswoman for Rosgidromet, the Russian weather service, said in a telephone interview. A zone of low pressure over the Atlantic Ocean was interacting with a region of high pressure in North Africa, she said, pushing hot air from the Middle East deep into Russia. 

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