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Ukraine defies international protests to risk ‘ecological disaster’ on Danube





From Gabriel Ronay





The Danube delta, Europe’s last remaining wild wetland, is under threat and facing an ecological disaster. The con troversial construction of a huge new navigable waterway for seagoing vessels in the Ukrainian section of the river has upset Romania, the principal custodian of the Danube’s Black Sea flood plains, and is worrying Washington, which fears a diplomatic imbroglio in the Balkans.

The illicit excavation and planned damming of the mouth of the Bastroe channel of the Danube has alarmed ecologists, who fear it will drain the estuary and put out of action the present navigable Chilia waterway. Environment groups estimate the construction work will put at risk the biosystem of the delta’s two and a half million acres of wetlands, stretching across Rom ania and part of Ukraine.

Conservation groups WWF, Wet lands International and Bird life International have written to President Leonid Kuchma of Ukraine urging him “to stop forthwith the building of the new navigable canal because it endangers the biosphere of the entire Danube delta”.

But the appeal has been ignored and diplomatic trouble is brewing. The motive for the Ukraine’s action appears to be its determination to avoid paying transit fees for its ships using the Chilia channel on the Romanian side of the delta.

Washington, too, has joined the protests. Adam Ereli, a State Department spokesman, voiced the US’s “concern over the ecological consequences of the building of the new canal on the biosystem of the Danube delta”.

The Ukraine is not only ignoring the protests but has speeded up the work. Sergey Grinevet ski, head of the Odessa regional administration, which oversees the Danube gulf, confirmed last week that “the work in the Bastroe channel is progressing well and the dredger [of the German firm] Josef Moebius has excavated 300,000 cubic metres of silt on the perimeter of the construction work.” He added that work on the controversial new dam at the mouth of the Bastroe channel would begin shortly.

Somewhat disingenuously, Ukrainian prime minister Viktor Yanukovich told journalists in Kiev: “We’re not building anything new in the Danube delta. There has been a channel there for a long time and we are simply modernising its entire infra structure. I’ll repeat this and will keep repeating it as many times as you journalists want it.”

Adrian Nastase, Romania’s prime minister, has written to his Ukrainian counterpart urging an immediate cessation of the construction work, which, he maintains, contravenes the Helsinki Convention of 1992, the Sofia accord of 1994 and the Galati agreement of 1997, all duly signed by Ukraine. He has reiterated Romania’s fears, quo ting the opinions of indepen dent experts. But Yanukovich has not, so far, answered.

Ninel Petra, vice-president of the Romanian Ecology Party, has drawn Ukraine’s attention to the fact that “the new deep Bastroe channel will cut in half the delta’s ecosystem”. This will spell disaster for Europe’s only breeding colony of pelicans, at Merheiu in the north of the delta.

She believes the consequen ces will be equally catastrophic for scores of species of wading birds whose habitat will be disturbed. “Many indigenous bird species of the delta will perish because they require hundreds of acres of undisturbed wetlands to survive,” she said. “Some 300 migratory bird species will also be affected.”

The delta’s internal lakes and reed beds, teeming with fish, waders, otters and a wealth of aquatic life, are imperilled. Petra’s list of rare birds and fish to be found only in the Danube delta is long.

In an attempt to defuse the situation, Washington has called on the Ukraine “to respect its international obligations” and urged “an urgent evaluation of the effects of the proposed new channel on the environment in order to minimise its destructive impact”.

Yanukovich is, however, turning a deaf ear to Washington’s pleas, Romania’s complaints and the concerns of inter national environmental protection groups. 27 June 2004

Source: http://www.sundayherald.com/42998
 

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Chionophile
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Links to notices and petitions:

http://www.unobserver.com/layout5.php?id=1742&blz=1

Although without enforceable international law, it's a losing hope. :sad:

The only poster who took initial interest my other thread relating to this tried to argue about "economic development". Now the truth comes out, that it's about saving money.

They don't need to do this. Good to see international support. If they go ahead, I hope the diplomatic relations break down. Let's see how it helps their economy then.
 
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