The Stream, April 10, 2024: In Western Russia, ‘Worst Flooding Ever Recorded’ Fuels Public Outcry

Australia’s Murray-Darling basin. Photo © J. Carl Ganter/Circle of Blue


  • Thousands of homes in western Russia have been destroyed after the Ural River swelled and burst through a dam.
  • The warming of Antarctica’s ice sheet is having unforeseen effects on astronomers, who are losing the opportunity to find space rocks that are sinking into slushy snow.
  • Zimbabwe has declared a national state of emergency due to prolonged drought, as 2.7 million people will require food assistance in the coming months.
  • New research suggests that megadroughts have been a natural occurrence in Australia’s history — with potential for a new one beginning soon.

In Costa Rica, whose economy relies heavily upon ecotourism, a wetlands reserve, mangrove habitat, and forest village are threatened by the construction of a new international airport.

“This project is an emblematic example of how our country is selling itself to massive tourism.” — Mauricio Álvarez Mora, a geography professor at the University of Costa Rica.

Experts in Costa Rica say that the country’s tourism industry — which prioritizes nature and wellness and increased by 16 percent from 2022 to 2023 — is increasingly “appropriating the Indigenous traditions to invisibilize the local and transform the landscape,” Tania Rodríguez Echavarría, a professor of political ecology at the University of Costa Rica, tells Mongabay

This ethos has been apparent in the country’s southeast, where 350 families are facing eviction in favor of a new international airport. Also at risk from construction are a UNESCO World Heritage site of archeological artifacts and the Terraba Sierpe National Wetlands, which includes a large mangrove habitat. 

An environmental impact assessment conducted by Costa Rica’s National Environmental Technical Secretariat showed a high risk of damage to local waterways and native species. Nonetheless, in the face of ecologic and cultural loss and community pushback, the government continues to push the project forward.

— Christian Thorsberg, Interim Stream Editor

Recent WaterNews from Circle of Blue

The Lead

More than 10,400 homes across western and central Russia have been destroyed in floods as the Ural River, Europe’s third longest, swelled due to snowmelt and broke through a dam embankment near the Kazakh border. It is the “worst flooding ever recorded” in the country, Reuters reports

The city of Orsk, home to 230,000 people, has been largely underwater since late last week. Footage circulating on social media has shown residents and emergency workers wading through thigh- and chest-high waters, and taking boats through streets. More than 100 residents have appealed to President Vladimir Putin for help, expressing their anger at local authorities who, they say, have done little to prevent the floods and help in their aftermath. Public gatherings, in which some residents chanted “shame on you, shame on you” have been shared by local newsrooms. Adding to the outcry is the age of the dam embankment, which was only 14 years old.

The flooding will probably worsen, officials warn, as the Ural River’s current height of 8.93 meters is expected to surpass the all-time record of 9.46 meters. Downriver of Orsk, evacuation orders have been given to those living in flood zones in Orenburg, a city of more than half a million people, and Kurgan, whose population exceeds 300,000 people.

Meanwhile in western Siberia’s Tyumen region, the Ishim and Tobol rivers are also expected to flood, potentially threatening the area’s oil fields, according to the local government. 

This Week’s Top Water Stories, Told In Numbers


Percent of all known meteorites that have been collected in Antarctica, the New York Times reports. But they’re becoming increasingly difficult to find as the south polar ice sheet continues to melt. Hotter temperatures in the Antarctic are heating the rocks, which sink beneath the surface of slushy snow. A new study published in Nature Climate Change estimates that “anywhere from 4,000 to 6,000 meteorites will disappear from sight each year over the next few decades.”



Number of countries in southern Africa this year that have declared national states of emergency due to prolonged drought in the region. Zimbabwe’s president asked last week for $2 billion to help an estimated 2.7 million people receive food aid in the coming months, joining Malawi and Zambia in their calls for international assistance. More than 80 percent of Zimbabwe’s crops have been affected by dry El Niño conditions, which has included the country’s driest January and February in 40 years, DW and The Guardian report.

On the Radar

New climate modeling from Australian National University found that megadroughts — dry spells lasting 20 years or more — have been “a natural feature of the Australian hydroclimate,” occurring every 150 to 1,000 years. If the cycle is closer to 150 years, the researchers said, Australia could be in store for one soon, The Guardian reports. The country’s rainfall records, extending back only 120 years, do not show evidence of any 20th or 21st century megadrought. As human-caused global warming continues to worsen, with many regions around the world currently experiencing historic periods of drought, the researchers said that preparation for such an event in Australia — including water management strategies — would be crucial for lessening its severity. 

More Water News

PFAS Worldwide: A new study of 45,000 groundwater samples collected around the world found that 31 percent, taken from sites nowhere near any obvious sources of pollution, still contained PFAS levels “considered harmful to human health by the Environmental Protection Agency,” the New York Times reports.

Canadian Mining: Mining companies in Canada are having a harder time recruiting young workers, two-thirds of whom say they wouldn’t consider a job in the industry known for its pollution and dangerous work, the Narwhal reports.

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