Ukraine opens Bystroye Canal through Danube Delta

Posted on 16 May 2007

Ukrainian authorities have opened the Bystroye Canal through the core zone of the Danube Delta Biosphere Reserve against international and national laws and protest. Additional planned work on the canal will further harm this area of global conservation importance.
Vienna – WWF, the global conservation organisation, expresses its deep concern over the opening of navigation in the core zone of the Ukrainian Danube Delta Biosphere Reserve. The canal was officially opened on May 10, 2007 to vessels of 4,5 meters draft following the completion of dredging that has been undertaken by Delta Lotsman, the Ukrainian government agency in charge of the project, since November 2006.

According to information from Delta Lotsman reported on Ukrainian television, Phase 2 of the project, which would mark new destruction of the Danube Delta, is expected to be completed by end of summer 2007 and will make the canal navigable for vessels of 7.5 meters draft, although there apparently has been as yet no official government decision to undertake this phase of the project.

“Construction of the Bystroye Canal is being undertaken in contravention of international as well as national law. It also make no economic sense, as it will require continuous dredging to keep it free from silt”, said Michael Baltzer, director of the WWF Danube-Carpathian Programme. The work undertaken since November 2006 focused on renewing areas already dredged under Phase 1 of the project, which had silted in following initial dredging in 2004.

On July 10, 2006, a United Nations Inquiry Commission brought together by the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) unanimously concluded that the building of the Bystroye Canal was likely to have significant adverse transboundary impacts, and therefore contravened the requirements of the Espoo Convention on Environmental Impact Assessment in a Transboundary Context.1)

The Bystroye Canal has been surrounded by controversy from the beginning, drawing sharp criticism from environmental groups within and outside of Ukraine as well as a range of governments and international institutions and organizations, including the European Commission, International Commission for the Protection of the Danube River (ICPDR), Ramsar and Bern Conventions.

European Commission spokesperson Christiane Hohmann said during a midday briefing on May 10, 2007: "Regarding the reopening of that canal which is the new Black Sea deep water navigation channel, we would like to underline the importance for Ukraine to adhere to the multinational environmental agreements to which it is a party, including other commitments they made to the international community with regard to that project. And i can assure you that this project and all the impact are being brought up in our regular meetings also with the Ukraine."

Construction of the Bystroye Canal was initiated under previous Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma, but was put on hold following the Orange Revolution and subsequent change in regime in late 2004. Since then, a criminal investigation was launched into reported mishandling of funds by Delta Lotsman, the government-controlled agency responsible for implementing the project. The Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) that was undertaken for the second phase of the project was rejected by the Ukrainian Ministry of Environment in fall 2005. Deputy Minister Yavorska, who rejected the EIA, was subsequently removed from her position. In early 2006, the Ukrainian Government pushed through a second EIA, apparently before national elections in March. Both EIAs have been strongly criticized by international organisations including WWF for their poor quality and lack of genuine public or international consultation.

The Bystroye Canal cuts through the core zone of the Ukrainian Danube Delta Biosphere Reserve, one of the 200 most important natural areas in the world. The Danube Delta has the world’s largest reed beds and provides important habitats for globally threatened populations of birds and fish, including the Red-breasted Goose, Pygmy Cormorant as well as the giant Beluga sturgeon, which can grow to the size of a small bus.

Michael Baltzer, WWF Danube-Carpathian Programme: +43 6768 42728 213
Andreas Beckmann, WWF Danube-Carpathian Programme: +43 676 84 27 28 216

End notes:
1) For further information on the Bystroye report of the United Nations Inquiry Commission under the Espoo Convention, see:

• Olya Melen, a young lawyer with Environment People Law, was awarded the prestigious Goldman Prize for her work fighting the Bystroye Canal project under the previous regime of President Kuchma. See: Another staunch opponent of the project, Director of the Danube Delta Biosphere Reserve Aleksandr Voloshkevich, received WWF-Austria’s 2005 Panda Award in recognition of his efforts to protect the Danube Delta.

• WWF has been working in the Danube Delta for more than 13 years to promote conservation, restoration and sustainable management of nature for the benefit of both people and the environment. A Vision for the Ukrainian Danube Delta, which was completed in 2003 with involvement of authorities and stakeholders from the Odessa Oblast in Ukraine as well as WWF, presents an ambitious and inspiring plan for a desirable future for the Ukrainian part of the Delta. WWF has been working with regional authorities and stakeholders to restore former wetland areas at Katlabah and Tataru as well as to develop sustainable livelihoods for local people.
The Danube Delta is one of the most valuable natural areas on earth, including the world's largest reed beds and a globally important resting and breeding place for birds.
© Anton Vorauer, WWF