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As Ukraine faces censure, WWF studies alternatives to controversial Danube shipping channel


With Ukraine expected this week to be found in contravention of its obligations under an international convention to consult with its neighbours on transboundary projects with environmental implications, WWF has commissioned a study into alternatives to the Danube delta Bystroye Canal at the centre of the dispute.
“Shipping through the Bystroye channel cannot be permitted following findings that it will lead to significant trans-boundary impacts to vital natural systems of international and global importance,” said Michael Baltzer, Director of the WWF Danube-Carpathian Programme.

“Once that is accepted, we can all move ahead to implement alternatives for Ukraine to improve navigation between the Black Sea and the Danube that have less severe impacts and still meet social and economic needs.”

The WWF-commissioned report, which will be available at the end of June 2008, will present alternatives to the Bystroye for promoting shipping in the Ukrainian part of the Delta. The report is being undertaken by the Dutch consulting company DHV B.V. and involves a team of shipping experts from both Ukraine and Romania.

A peer review of the report’s findings will be undertaken with national stakeholders in both the Ukrainian and Romanian parts of the Danube Delta, including e.g. the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences and Danube Delta Research Institute.

The Danube Delta, which is shared by Ukraine and Romania and includes UNESCO Biosphere Reserves and a World Heritage Site, is one of the world’s most valuable natural areas, with over 1,000 species of plants, 300 bird species and fish. It includes nesting sites for globally threatened bird species such as the Dalmatian and White Pelicans, pygmy cormorant, the red-breasted goose and several endangered species of sturgeon.

Ukraine’s construction of the first phase of the deepwater channel and its approval of the second phase will be considered this week at a meeting in Bucharest of parties to the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) Convention on Environmental Impact Assessment in a Transboundary Context (sometimes called the Espoo Convention after the Finnish city where it was adopted in 1991).

The convention requires that member States notify and consult each other on projects that may have adverse transboundary environmental impacts. Following concerns expressed by Romania, a scientific panel established under the convention concluded in 2006 that Ukraine’s Bystroye Channel project would have such impacts and called for Ukraine to suspend further development of the project until proper trans-boundary assessments and consultations could be undertaken.

The convention’s Implementation Committee has since prepared findings that Ukraine is in non-compliance with its obligations which are expected to be endorsed by the full meeting of parties on 21 May.

Baltzer noted recent news reports that Ukrainian Premier Yulia Tymoshenko has pledged that all ecological issues that may arise over the work on building the canal will be resolved, saying “Finding an alternative to the Bystroye Canal is a real option, and the only option if this pledge is to be kept.”

“WWF hopes that the study we have commissioned will help identify solutions for promoting navigation while safeguarding the vital and globally important natural heritage and ecosystem services of the Danube Delta.”

WWF has been working to protect and preserve the Danube Delta for more than a decade. In 2002, WWF in cooperation with experts from the Odessa Water Management Board, Danube Biosphere Reserve and other scientific institutions published a vision for the protection and restoration of the Danube Delta, which they are now implementing.

Wetland areas on Tataru Island have been restored. Later this year, Katlabuh Lake will be reconnected to the Danube, helping to revive the dying lake and improve water quality for local communities and the fisheries on which they depend.


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