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Belarusian Ecologists Aim to Scuttle Baltic-Black Sea Waterway

Business groups also oppose the E40 river project, saying Belarus needs more modern transport infrastructure.

7 September 2018

Belarusian environmentalists are mounting a campaign against an EU-supported waterway project that they say would devastate one of Europe’s last pristine rivers.

 

Known as the E40 project, the scheme plans to build and refurbish canals and locks along a 2,000-kilometer (1,243-mile) route from Poland’s Baltic coast to the Black Sea in Ukraine. The central section would utilize the Pripyat River, a major tributary of the Dnieper that flows through one of Europe’s largest marshes.

 

Belarus, Ukraine, and Poland have conducted an EU-funded feasibility study and are exploring means to finance the project before making their final decision, analyst Siarhei Bohdan of the Minsk-based Ostrogorski Center think tank wrote in 2017.

 

The Pripyat wetlands. Photo: Olga Kaskevich/stope40.org

 

But in Belarus the E40 faces opposition from the country’s small environmental movement as well as from business groups.

 

The Pripyat is one of the last European rivers still flowing in a near-natural state along much of its course, Olga Kaskevich of the Bahna organization, a major partner in the campaign to stop the E40, told Eurasianet.org.

 

However, E40 commission secretary Andrei Rekesh said that the project could be built without significant ecological damage.

 

“I believe it’s totally possible to make the river navigable, but at the same time not to harm nature,” he told Eurasianet.org. “You have to understand, we are not trying to create some Panama Canal in Belarus.”

 

But the waterway would bring only marginal economic gains and benefit just a few businesses, Belarus’s Business Union of Entrepreneurs and Employers declared last spring in an open letter calling on the government to abandon the project.

 

Last year, the business group’s spokesman, Ales Herasimenka, said inland waterways are less efficient than road and rail transport and have become obsolete in Europe.

Bohdan from the Ostrogorski Center still argues that the economic benefits of the project would outweigh the environmental costs by giving landlocked Belarus more access to ports on two seas.

 

River transport of freight is already well-established along much of the route, he wrote, adding that “nature in the area is not pristine anyway. In the 20th century, most swamps were drained in southern Belarus, and intensive economic activity altered the region significantly.”

 

 

  • The feasibility study conducted by the Maritime Institute in Gdansk estimated the cost of construction on the Pripyat at $150 million, compared to $12 billion for work on the Polish part of the route, Bohdan wrote.

 

  • Ukraine and Belarus agreed to develop navigation on the Dnieper and Pripyat rivers, including along the E40 route, Ukraine’s Infrastructure Ministry announced in December at a press conference attended by Ukrainian and Belarusian officials and representatives of the European Investment Bank, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), and the EU delegation to Ukraine.

 

Compiled by Ky Krauthamer

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