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May, 30, 2017

Unite in Order to Become More Efficient: What the “Friends of Baikal” Will Be Engaged in

In April Irkutsk hosted the first open meeting of the “Friends of Baikal” Association which will unite everyone who is not indifferent to the problems of Lake Baikal.

Poaching, wastewaters, unorganized tourism, lack of up-to-date information on the conditions of the lake, expert opinions and resources on the search of interesting projects that can involve any resident of the region or a guest of the Great Lake. The “Friends of Baikal” Association is created to solve these problems.

 

We had a talk with Elena Vishnyakova, the Public Relations Director of En + Group, Maria Gracheva, the Head of Sustainable Development Projects of En + Group, Victor Grigorov, the General Director of “Grand Baikal” Company, and Elena Tvorogova, the Chairperson of the Charitable Foundation “Renaissance of Siberian Land”, about the things that will be done by the Association and the reasons why we really have a chance to save Lake Baikal.

 

“Key to Baikal”: Why has the been association created and why did you so urgently need to unite all the projects that had been already engaged in protecting and supporting Baikal around the “Friends of Lake Baikal” Association?

Elena Vishnyakova: We launched a comprehensive program to protect Lake Baikal seven years ago. It included completely different events and initiatives, and at some point we realized that we are not alone, that are still hundreds of people and dozens of organizations engaged in activities for the benefit of the lake, caring about its future, just like us, by our side.

Maria Gracheva: It became obvious that it was time to unite, because we could accomplish more things this way. We will become even more efficient. In addition, people always gladly responded to our initiatives, we met no resistance, on the contrary, only hugs and a willingness to cooperate.

“Friends of Baikal” is the initiative of people themselves and an association of caring people. It is their common desire to work together for the benefit of Lake Baikal.

Elena Vishnyakova, the Public Relations Director of En + Group

Viktor Grigorov: Today Baikal needs our support. You cannot ignore environmental problems. They need to be resolved, not just discussed. Poaching, wastewaters, unorganized tourism ... The creation of the “Friends of Baikal” Association is a big step towards the solution of problems.

Elena Tvorogova: The Association will become a consolidating platform for the representatives of Irkutsk Oblast, the Republic of Buryatia, as well as organizations from other cities and regions. This will help us to promote initiatives and accelerate the decision-making process.

Marina Rikhvanova: Any associations involving representatives of different spheres of government and business, as well as non-profit sector are very important now, and most importantly, they can agree upon something and act together within these associations.

Elena V.: In addition, the association will be a useful platform for our international colleagues. It will be much easier for them to implement joint projects on the protection of Lake Baikal and the region.

“KTB”: Please tell us a little about what people are currently involved in the organization and who can join it?

Elena V.: First of all, we tried to gather indifferent people. And the format of the participants was very diverse: the association includes NGOs, businesses, and even students. The list includes the people engaged in tourism (because it is obvious that the main enemy of Lake Baikal today is the man). They also include journalists, environmentalists, activists, people with a legendary past who are known as the main defenders of Lake Baikal in the region. These are wonderful like-minded people!

Elena T.: Yes, Elena is right. That is why the association can be joined by virtually any people and organizations. However, there are a number of simple conditions. The first one: the applicant for membership in the association should have some real actions for solution of environmental problems in his or her employment record. The second one: people join the association by their own wish. The third one: the applicant must share the goals, objectives and values of the Association.

Maria G.: “Friends of Baikal” is an open association. You fill in a questionnaire, and the council decides whether you are accepted or not. The main rule is, as Elena already noted, the presence of regular projects in the portfolio. The basis and backbone of the association must consist of experienced people.

Marina R.: Now it is important for us to develop projects on the assessment of environmental friendliness of recreation centers, and such an assessment can be made by different structures included into the association. In addition, we need practical projects where some of the members of the association can provide real resources for project implementation.

“KTB”: What are the current priority projects of the Association?

Elena V.: The members of the association won’t stop implementing their own projects, however, new projects emerge, and we will implement them together.

In addition to the “Project Navigator” which will unite all the projects of the association, we plan to pay great attention to the reclamation of the coasts around Baikal. Today, due to the lack of limiters on the roads, cars can easily drive up to the very coast of the lake. As a result, relict plants are destroyed on Maloe More almost all along the entire coastline. We have allocated a testing plot and plan to conduct reclamation there. First of all, we’ll notify tourists that they are prohibited to drive up to the coastline. And, of course, we will help to restore the flora of the coast.

The second priority project is of educational nature. The problem of the low involvement of journalists in the sphere of ecology is evident for us. Therefore, we are launching the “School for the Mass Media” project and will hold special seminars for the representatives of regional mass media once a month to immerse them in all subtleties, so that they could educate their audience and tell people about what a real threat is to Baikal and what mere speculations are.

Maria G.: These two projects are skill and knowledge for the region, they are of great importance. No campaign of this kind has been yet held in the city!

Victor G.: We also plan to create a rating of tourist infrastructure around Lake Baikal. This project will give the responsible tourists the opportunity to choose the same responsible hotels or recreation centres that use alternative energy, do not use phosphate detergents and utilize waste for their vacations. Now the information is being collected. Next, we will analyze the tourism industry and give recommendations to hotels.

"KTB": And in conclusion we’ll ask our favorite question. There is an opinion that Baikal is in danger and we can lose the lake soon: do you believe in it?

Elena T.: Absolutely not! Baikal has existed for more than 25 million years, it is one of the most ancient formations of the Earth. Therefore, it is unlikely to disappear. However, it can change so that it will become uncomfortable for us to live here and visit its coast. In fact, the threat is dangerous not for the geographic object itself, but for the mankind. In fact we risk to be left without a huge reservoir of the purest drinking water. As soon as Lake Baikal becomes a real tourist mecca, its value for the mankind will sharply decrease.

Victor G.: The future of Baikal is in our hands. We do not deny the problem of chaotic tourism. Unorganized tourist flows do harm to the image of Lake Baikal and cause environmental problems. Now we are developing projects, including in Baikalsk that once was a troubled city, which will contribute to the development of the infrastructure and will be aimed at attracting organized tourist flows within the framework of eco-tourism.

Marina R.: The danger threatens not as much the lake, as people. If the situation does not change soon, Baikal may be lost for people as a place for living.

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