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Nepal Climbers Retreive 4 Bodies, 11 Tonnes of Decades-Old Garbage from Mount Everest

A clean-up team of 20 sherpa climbers collected five tons of litter in April and May from different camps sites above the base camp and another six tons from the areas below

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nepal, mount everest, garbage trails
Workers from a recycling company load garbage collected and brought from Mount Everest, in Kathmandu, Nepal, June 5, 2019. VOA

Nepali climbers have retrieved four bodies and collected some 11 tons of decades-old garbage from Mount Everest and its approach below the base camp as part of a drive to clean up the world’s highest mountain, the government said on Wednesday.

Climbers returning from the 8,850-meter (29,035-foot) mountain say its slopes are littered with human excrement, used oxygen bottles, torn tents, ropes, broken ladders, cans and plastic wrappers left behind by climbers, an embarrassment for a country that earns valuable revenue from Everest expeditions.

The garbage, along with the bodies of some of the 300 people who have died over the years on Everest’s slopes, are buried under the snow during winter, but become visible when the snow melts in summer.

mount everest
FILE – Mountaineers walk near Camp One of Mount Everest, April 29, 2018, as they prepare to ascend on the south face from Nepal. VOA

A clean-up team of 20 sherpa climbers collected five tons of litter in April and May from different camps sites above the base camp and another six tons from the areas below, said Dandu Raj Ghimire, director general of the Department of Tourism.

“Unfortunately, some garbage collected in bags at the South Col could not be brought down due to bad weather,” Ghimire said in a statement on Wednesday.

Everest was first conquered by New Zealander Sir Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay in 1953 and about 5,000 people have since reached the summit. South Col, on the Southeast Ridge route pioneered by Hillary and Tenzing, is located at some 8,016 meters (26,300 feet), and it is the site of the final camp from where climbers begin their summit attempts.

Mount Everest
Mountaineering in Nepal has become a lucrative business . Pixabay

Cleaning campaign coordinator Nim Dorjee Sherpa, head of the village where Mount Everest is located, told Reuters two bodies were collected from the treacherous Khumbu Icefall and two from camp three site at the Western Cwm. “They were exposed from the snow when the sherpas picked up and brought them down,” he said.

None of the four bodies have been identified and it was not known when they died. Nine mountaineers died on the Nepali side of Everest in May while two perished on the Tibetan side, making it the deadliest climbing season since 2015.

ALSO READ: Nepali Sherpa Breaks Own Record, Climbs Everest Twice in Week

Climbers returning from Everest have talked of crowding and delays on the Nepali side just below the summit in the “death zone”, so-called because at that altitude the lack of oxygen can be fatal. However climbers and guides have blamed a host of factors for the deaths.

Ghimire, of the Department of Tourism, said the deaths were not because of congestion but due to bad weather and short summit windows. Nepal this year issued 381 permits to climb the Everest, costing $11,000 each, an important source of income for the cash-strapped nation. (VOA)

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Protest against Construction of Massive Garbage Dump in Northern Russia

That question lies at the center of a protest against construction of a massive garbage dump in northern Russia — an environmental issue

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Protest, Construction, Garbage
In this photo taken on Friday, April 20, 2018, garbage trucks drive away from the Volovichi landfill near the town of Kolomna, about 100 kilometers (62,5 miles) south of Moscow, Russia. VOA

Who would want what’s possibly Europe’s largest landfill in their own backyard? Garbage.

That question lies at the center of a protest against construction of a massive garbage dump in northern Russia — an environmental issue that has come to symbolize growing frustration towards Moscow’s sway over Russia’s far-flung regions.

The fight over Shiyes — a remote railway outpost in Russia’s Arkhangelsk province that is to play host to the landfill — first erupted a little over a year ago after local hunters came across a secret construction site in the region’s swamp-filled forests.

It didn’t take long for locals to learned of the dig’s true purpose: to house a 52-square-kilometer storage area for refuse shipped in from Moscow, some 1126 kilometers away.

Government officials say Shiyes was chosen based on its remote location — with the new ‘Ecotechnopark’ a cutting edge example of innovative waste storage.

They also point to cash and incentives — such as a computer lab, annual New Year’s gifts, and healthcare access to top Moscow hospitals for nearby locals —  as a smart investment for regional development.

Protest, Construction, Garbage
In this photo taken on Friday, April 20, 2018, garbage trucks unload the trash at the Volovichi landfill near Kolomna, Russia. Thousands of people are protesting the noxious fumes coming from overcrowded landfills surrounding Moscow. VOA

But anger over the landfill has united a diverse swath of citizens across northern Russia — with many saying they see it as a threat to natural resources that define a way of life in extreme climate.

“Of course we’re against it,” says Antokha, a construction worker who travelled some 800 kilometers away to join the camp from the city of Arkhangelisk.

“The area’s swamps feed rivers that extend throughout the region and feed into the White Sea. Poison Shiyes with garbage and you poison the entire north,” he added, while declining to provide his last name.

Welcome to the Resistance 

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Antokha is just one of many Russian northerners who have joined a hundreds-strong protest movement that spent the past year locked in a standoff with authorities over construction of the landfill.

In that time, ‘The Republic of Shiyes’ has emerged — a tent commune just outside the dig site with its own anthem, flag, infirmary, as well as a makeshift kitchen and bathhouse.

While ‘The Republic’ even has a stage for concerts and announcements, this is no Woodstock. Among the camp’s strictest rules? No drugs or alcohol.

Yet Shiyes has attracted the eclectic mix of an ‘anything goes’ event: liberals share soup casually with nationalists, peaceniks with military vets, small business owners alongside eco-activists.

All have committed to rotating shifts into the camp — through a frigid winter and mosquito-infested summer — in an effort to keep the protest going.

“This really is a war,” says Anna Shakalova, a shopkeeper from nearby who’s emerged as one of the leaders of the movement.

Protest, Construction, Garbage
Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks at the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok, Russia, Sept. 5, 2019. VOA

“And if we stay together, it’s a war we win.”

Growing Resentments 

Beyond the immediate environmental concerns, the battle over Shiyes has also exposed simmering resentments about a top-down system of governance that centralizes power and critical regional revenues in Moscow’s hands.

There’s widespread feeling that Russia’s regions give their resources to the capital while getting little — or, even worse, garbage — in return.

“It’s an example of Moscow chauvinism against the rest of the country,” says Ksenia Dmitrieva, 33, who grew up swimming in the area’s rivers as a child.

“Moscow thinks just because they have the money they can put their trash where they want. They’re not better than us.”

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The Shiyes strike continues amid a year of growing discontent with Russia’s government — with complaints about a sagging economy affecting the regions disproportionately.

Recent elections saw whole swaths of territory — such as the Khabarovsk Province in the Far East — send stinging defeats to the United Party in local races.  The public has also condemned the government response to the spread of massive wildfires across wide swaths of Siberia.  Meanwhile, smaller cities surrounding Moscow have long complained about the overflowing dumpsites poisoning air and water quality.

But more alarming for the Kremlin? President Vladimir Putin is no longer immune.

After years of sky-high ratings, Putin’s support numbers have fallen in the wake of unpopular pension reforms and falling living standards.  Recent polls show trust in Putin has fallen to just over 30%. Meanwhile, a majority now think the country is on the wrong track.

“They ask: ‘why wasn’t that done?’ And when they don’t find an answer of course they become opponents of Putin” says Ilya Kirianov, an engineer who traveled to Shiyes from Severodvinsk — where the public was still reeling from a mysterious explosion that released radiation into the air this past July.

“You see people who just a year ago voted for Putin are now some of his harshest critics,” he added.

Count Liliya Zobova, a business owner, is among those who’ve lost patience with the Russian leader.

“I loved Putin and voted for him,” she says.

That changed after seeing Putin weigh in — briefly in an answer in May 2019 — to say authorities should take public opinion into account.

The result? Construction paused — but only briefly.

“It means Putin supports it,” says Zobova. “I don’t know who to believe anymore.”

Helicopters and Blockades

For now, protesters have blockaded old logging roads that provide the only access for equipment to the build site. Even getting to the camp involves a hike through dense sticky swamplands.

In turn, authorities have started using helicopters to ferry in diesel and supplies for a force of masked private security contractors and regional police who guard the site.

In a show of force against the Shiyes camp, several protesters have been arrested and face the prospect of criminal prosecution. Police regularly post signs warning a raid is imminent.

It’s natural to be afraid,” says Irina Leontova, a 28-year-old filmmaker from Syktyvkar, a 3 hour drive away.   “Anything can happen — arrests, fines — but still people keep coming.”

Surveying the camp, Vera Goncherinka, a retired accountant from the nearby town of Urdoma, marveled at how life had changed since she got involved in the Shiyes uprising a year ago.

“I should be on my couch at home but look at me now,” she said —-  adding that her experiences in Shiyes had convinced her that something was stirring in Russia’s regions.

“How do we know something like Shiyes isn’t happening somewhere else in Russia? Have you ever heard them talk about us on television?”

With that, a passing train blew its whistle in support — and the protesters waved back.

A sign that news — like the region’s water — always finds a way out of the swamp. (VOA)