Monitoring and evaluating projects

All projects run by the EAF are monitored and evaluated by the secretariat or the partner organisations to ensure that targets are met and the project runs successfully. The following shows how this done by looking at the project running in the River Zhelvata, Russia

Background

A visit was made in September 2000 to determine the progress that has been made on the project aimed at restoring the River Zhelvata in the Upper Volga Region of Russia and try to draw up an early assessment of the work. The river had been a major conduit for the transportation of logs in the massive timber industry of Soviet times - the area is within the western edge of the Taiga. However, the industry has completely collapsed since Russia became a federal state. It is estimated that 80000 m3 of rotting tree trunks lie on the river bottom.

The aim of the 2 year project was to lease, in the long term, 2130 ha. (priced at only Euro 0.2/ha./yr) of the river mouth and adjacent area and remove and use the waterlogged wood. The budget was Euro 48445 and the project was approved in September 1999.

The project

The Zhelvata river is a small tributary of the River Volga east of Kostroma and north of Nizhniy Novgorod, about 600 km east of Moscow and a two-three hour drive from Kostroma.

The river is about km wide at the site where the project is being conducted and about 4km of the river is affected by the sunken wood. At the site, there is little to see except many logs littering the banks and a few trunks poking above the water. However, the river is no longer navigable because of the log-jammed bottom, the spawning grounds and fishery activities have gone and breeding and resting areas of birds have disappeared. The water is also polluting the Volga with the breakdown products of the wood.

All of the land has already been leased as per the contract and, at the moment, a team of five - a leader and four workers - are hauling the logs out of the water manually. The timber is being allowed to dry out and then sawn and cut to sell as fuel. Their first markets are local schools and hospitals. The team collect 1 m3 per day which they sell for RUR2 (1 Euro = RUR 5). This money they divide between them which constitutes their wage. The more they pull out and sell, the more they earn (a good market economy principle!).

The idea of charcoal burning to sell the product to the west has not yet materialised. The ovens needed are expensive and, although, French companies have shown an interest in importing the charcoal they won't finance any oven purchase.

To date, in their first season, (only six months because the river is frozen in winter) they have cleared about 350 m3. Their target is 8000 m3 per season so that it will be cleared within eight years. If they can reach this target, the project will be a major employer for the region. The area is being selectively cleared and they already have the ambition next year to begin a fish hatchery project.

The project co-ordinator, Mr. Dolgodvorov, is very active, knows what he is doing and has the ability to motivate others. Several functionaries, in meetings, all declared their thankfulness that EAF was taking an active interest in their work and problems. They all emphasised the social character of the project and how important it was that employment was again present in their community. The local population, by western standards are very poor but very resilient.

On the way back, the project partner, the Gorky Reservoir Management Authority in Yaroslavl was visited and possible follow-up work was discussed met with the staff.

The evaluation

This project pervades a very positive feeling. So far the impact of removing the waterlogged wood has had only a limited effect on improving the ecology. More time will be needed before there will be tangible improvements although fish may soon return, one of the first steps in the chain. However, employment is being created and schools and hospitals are being heated cheaply. This social function should not be under-estimated or overlooked. The river also needs to be seen in the context of its setting within the sheer scale of Russia. Driving 8 hrs from Moscow along the Volga, in places 12km wide!, the project area seemed tiny and insignificant. However, if you put this unknown tributary anywhere in western Europe you would have a major river ecosystem. It is km wide in summer and for two months, in spring with the snow-melt, it is 3 km wide. We simply have no river that compares to it, not the Seine, the Thames or even the Rhine. Our rivers have no natural flood-plains, they have predominately artificial banks. The natural, untouched beauty of the place is at times breathtaking. If all our rivers in western Europe could be as this one, our life would be so much richer.

It could even be argued that the project should be put into a larger context - that of the Upper Volga as a whole. There are many, many problems with this great river, mostly to do with untreated sewage. Already the local partner is exploring the possibility of a much larger Upper Volga project, something that might not have been countenanced has it not been for the initial input of the EECONET Action Fund.