Ukraine’s breach of international agreements threatens Europe’s second largest wetland (May 10, 2004)

Gland, Switzerland - WWF today criticized plans by the Ukrainian government to construct the Bystroye Canal, which will threaten critical habitats within the 400,000-ha Danube Delta — one of Europe's most ecologically important areas — and jeopardize the region's fishing and tourism industries.

Work on the canal is due to start on Tuesday 11 May, when the project will be formally launched by the Ukrainian Minister for Transport, Mr. Georgiy Kirpa. The multi-million US-dollar canal will cut through the Danube Delta, home to more than 280 bird species, as well as 70 per cent of the world’s white pelican population, and 50 per cent of the world’s pygmy cormorants. WWF is concerned that the canal will dramatically alter the natural flow of the delta, which in turn will affect breeding areas that support critical local fisheries in the Black Sea.

The Danube Delta is listed as a protected area under the Ramsar Convention as one of the world's most important wetlands. It has also been designated as a UNESCO world heritage site. In 2000, Romania, Bulgaria, and Moldova signed the Lower Danube Green Corridor agreement for the restoration and sustainable use of the delta's rich resources.

"The building of this canal flouts several international agreements and goes against the concept of international management of shared rivers," said Jamie Pittock, Director of WWF's Living Waters Programme. "WWF is calling on the Ukrainian government to hold up its end of the bargain."

Along with other national and international organizations, WWF has offered alternative proposals to the Ukrainian government. In spite of this the government has remained supportive of the most ecologically destructive option.

"Ukraine has failed to honour commitments made at a heads-of-state summit organised three years ago in Romania," said Michael Baltzer, Conservation Director of the WWF Danube Carpathian Programme."Nine countries in the region signed a joint declaration on restoring the Danube. If Ukraine constructs the Bystroye canal they will be reneging on those pledges."

WWF is calling for an immediate halt to plans for building the Bystroye canal in the Ukrainian Danube Delta. The global conservation organization is calling for an independent, environmental impact assessment that examines less damaging alternatives and respects international agreements and the rights of other countries to a healthy and sustainable Danube. WWF is urging the government of Ukraine to discuss alternatives with representatives of the Ramsar Convention, UNESCO, and the International Commission for the Protection of the Danube River (ICPDR).

• Europe’s Danube River Basin, covering 817,000 km2, is the most international river in the world and Europe’s second longest river. It is the only major European river flowing from west to east and has played a vital role in the economic and cultural development of the continent. Crossing through ten countries and draining lands from 17 countries, it supports unique habitats and species as well as 83 million people who live in the basin.

• The WWF Danube-Carpathian Programme has worked in the region since 1998 to promote the conservation, restoration, and sustainable management of nature for the benefit of both people and environment. The work is primarily focused on freshwater and forest resources in the Danube River Basin and Carpathian Mountains.

WWF International

OBSERVER – 16 august 2004

The Ukrainian authorities placed two buoys inside the Romanian section of the Chilia arm of the Danube Delta, close to Chilia and Periprava villages. The Ukrainians did not consult their Romanian counterparts, who found out about the marking out of the channel from the fishermen.
The action takes place less the 48 hours since Kiev made public that the work for widening the Bastroe channel was completed.

Robert Raduta, the grantee for the northern section of the Danube Delta, confirmed the Ukrainians placed the two buoys.
“The one at Chilia is an anchor buoy for a fishing dredger, while the one closer to Periprava is a signal buoy. The very serious thing is that both are in Romanian national waters, but the Ukrainians were not interested to observe the border, as usual. Furthermore, the signal buoy is placed right where the Danube is deep and Romanian fishermen could fish with large nets. Now they cannot do that any longer,” explained Raduta.

Placing the buoys on the Chilia arm may be a sign that the Ukrainians are ready to start dredging it for the planned 160-kilometer section of the channel, to allow passage of big ships.
As Jurnalul National previously informed, deepening the northern arm of the Danube would result in a stronger water flow through it, thus lowering the water flow on the other two main Danube Delta arms: Sulina and Sfantu Gheorghe.
This man-induced unbalance in water flows could have catastrophic results for the Danube Delta Biosphere Reservation.

Translation: ANCA PADURARU