Infrastructure problems: River navigation schemes
River transportation: Clean alternative or destruction for waterways?
The cost of shipping and the value of riversShipping goods by rivers is assumed to be an environmentally friendly mode of transport. It emits less CO2 than road transport.
But truly sustainable transportation will not be achieved if the valuable ecosystems services our rivers provide are ignored. Some of the services that are lost when we try to fit a river to the ships (instead of the ships to the river) include:
- Storage and retention of water for domestic, agricultural, and industrial use
- Flood control
- Provision of food from fisheries and livelihoods for small-scale fishing
- Groundwater recharge
- Nutrient reduction.
Irreversible impactsInland shipping infrastructure projects alter natural river function and habitat through physical modification such as water pumping, channelizing, dredging, and gravel and sand extraction. This makes deep, straight, and uniformly banked waterways that partly cut the river off from its floodplain.
Vessel operations also create waves that disturb other water users. Young fish are directly affected by waves since their swimming capacity is low. High traffic intensity leads to lowered animal diversity along the river’s shores.
Inadvertent species introductions, spills, and ship collisions pollute and damage aquatic habitats. Accidental pollution involves oil and in some cases hazardous substances.
Opportunities for innovations and sustainable alternativesBefore making irreversible changes on river systems to improve navigation, other approaches should be explored, including:
- Ship technology: Adapt vessels to the conditions of particular rivers. For instance, low draught ship design allows for operation on inland waterways without the draught restrictions of conventional vessels.
- River information systems (RIS): Information services for river navigation increase the safety, efficiency, and competitiveness of river transport.
- Inter-modal techniques: Smooth and efficient connections from ships to other modes of transportation increase the quality and competitiveness of inland waterway transport.