Environmental groups say that Russia will not live up to its promise of a “zero waste” Olympic Games this month. While officials promised this year’s Games would be sustainable and “in harmony with nature,” local researchers say the event is shaping up to be anything but. Not only has the landscape been damaged, increasing the danger of landslides and mudflows, but the Games have also damaged biodiversity in the region.
One zoologist with the Environmental Watch on North Caucasus, Suren Gazaryan, told TIME magazine that the construction work involved has been devastating to the region: animals have had their migration routes blocked, local residents have only limited access to clean drinking water, and waste is being illegally dumped.
Gazaryan also says that parts of the nearby natural park have been completely destroyed, destroying some of Russian’s most diverse plant and animal life. The researcher is currently living in exile in Estonia after being charged as a criminal for his human rights work. Other members of his group have also been detained and harassed for raising concerns about the 2014 Olympics.
Simon Lewis, of the UK-based sustainability group Team Planet, believes that Sochi should never have been chosen by the International Olympic Committee due to the delicate ecosystem in the area. Even some IOC members have admitted to the press that they would never have voted to hold the event in Sochi if they’d known then what an impact the Olympic Games would have on the nearby environment.