TV interview: Belarusian business organization is against E40

Ales Herasimenka, the spokesperson of the Business Union of Entrepreneurs and Employers named after Prof. M.S.Kouniavski (BUEE) and deputy editor of the weekly magazine "Belarusians and Market" was interviewed by BelSat on November 13th 2018. The subject of the interview was the E40 inland waterway, which Mr. Herasimenka  considers to be an attempt to sink millions of dollars and an ecological catastrophe for the country.

“Pripyat is one of the few rivers in Europe, which has been preserved to our time in a natural state.” said Mr. Herasimenka. “The construction of the required standard of class IV navigation route of course requires serious intervention in the river. There will be work for the dredging and straightening of the riverbed, and the construction of a cascade of dams. Once this happens, the river ceases to be a river, and turns into a channel, a wide ditch, a cascade of reservoirs with catastrophic impact on natural values” he added.

BUEE has already made an analysis of the economic soundness of the E40 inland waterway and found that its implementation does not bring the promised economic benefits to the Belarusian society.

The full interview is available here in Belarusian.

Climate change impacts the future of inland navigation

An exceptionally dry summer in 2018 has caused havoc across Europe. It has been Germany's second warmest (only 2003 was warmer) and the second-driest (only 1911 was drier) since records began in 1881. The combination of warm weather and 40% less rainfall than the long-term average has resulted in the most arid April to October period in recorded history.

According to the Center for Disaster Management at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, the overall economic impact reached a double-digit billion Euro loss only in Germany. Due to the high-water temperatures of some rivers, power plants were shut down or throttled, thousands of tons of fish died and agricultural crop yield fell. Inland navigation was also negatively affected, proving how sensitive this means of transportation is to environmental conditions.

As a consequence of low water levels inland shipping was partially discontinued on the majority of European rivers. The Federal Waterways and Shipping Administration reported about half of Germany’s river ferries stopped running, and river cruise ships were having to transport their passengers by bus for parts of their journey. Cargo ships could only be partially loaded, or for instance on the Danube ships could practically only operate unladen.

2018 was not the first year when extreme weather conditions caused trouble for navigation in Europe. In 2015 the Rhine river was reported to be at its lowest level for 40 years. The lower water level is not only an economic challenge, but as it narrows the navigation way it increases the risk of collisions, which would lead to large environmental problems downstream.

According to the research conducted by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, there will be an increasing instability in relation to weather conditions, and extremes are going to occur more frequently. The summer of 2018 might have been exceptional with its intensive drought and prolonged heat, but the likeliness of such weather anomalies is expected to increase in the future, which will make inland water navigation increasingly unstable and unsustainable. For instance, the Rhine’s flow relies not just on annual rainfall, but also on enormous long-term reserves of water in the Alps. Melting snow and glaciers, as well as Lake Constance, feed the upper parts of the river, but with the effects of climate change, these water reserves are lower.

The drought in 2018 skyrocketed freight prices, and some costs are already being felt by consumers, with higher prices for petrol and home heating oil. Developing new inland waterways, such as the E40 is not reasonable, economic nor sustainable, under the scale of the predicted challenges.

Lobby for E40 inland waterway continues at the First Forum of Regions of Belarus and Ukraine

On October 25-26, Gomel hosted the First Forum of Regions of Belarus and Ukraine where a session of the Belarusian-Ukrainian Commission for Coordination of Protection and Sustainable Use of Transboundary Protected Areas took place. One of the discussions covered the development of river navigation between Belarus and Ukraine. The focus was on sending of freight of mixed-class ships on the territory of Belarus across the Black Sea to the countries of Europe, Asia and Africa.

The initiative involves the planning and construction of the E40 waterway by dredging operations, for the implementation of the container and bulk cargo transportation on the Dnipro river to Belarus. Volha Kaskevich, from Bahna, the coordinator of the Belarusian Environmental Alliance says: “The Ukrainian authorities are trying to revive the water transport system of the country, which has sunk into degradation after the collapse of the Soviet Union for a reason. The E40 project is questionable, because it has undergone neither strategic environmental assessment nor environmental impact assessment."

In Poland, the preliminary cost of E40 is calculated at 11.9 billion euros. Both the European Investment Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development stated that in order to make the decision on financing the project, they first need to assess its environmental and social impact. The Belarusian environmental alliance is very concerned about the fate of the Pripyat, one of the last prominent intact rivers in Europe. This region is of international importance from an environmental and touristic perspective. "We envision a completely different development scenario for the Polesia and Chernobyl zone in the coming years. Belarus can create a new world heritage site that will bring vastly more wealth  to the country in the future than industrial development and the transformation of the main aorta of the region into a canal." adds Volha Kaskevich.

In the course of the session, the Belarusian party presented its investment project on the construction of a port terminal and the surrounding infrastructure: a multimodal hub and a yacht club harbour with a recreation zone, in the village of Nizhniye Zhary. Additionally, investment into the infrastructure of a deepwater port on the Dnieper River in the village of Verkhniye Zhary of the Bragin district, Gomel region, situated just 500 metres from the border with Ukraine, was discussed.

“There is no guarantee that the port will be able to become indispensable for any significant amounts of cargo. Taking into account these and other circumstances, the reservation of the investors is more than justified. It's clear why, despite the repeated presentation of the project to private donors, there is still no one willing to invest in this facility”, notes Ales Gerasimenko, deputy chief editor of the Belarusians and the Market weekly and press-secretary of Business Union of Entrepreneurs and Employers n.a. Kunyavski.

The expert casts doubt on the competitiveness of the inland waterway transport in the region compared to  railroad and motor transport. The inland waterway transport has a much slower speed of delivery, lacks the ability to handle small volumes of cargo, and cannot use flexible logistics schemes due to seasonal constraints. In the navigation through inland waterways, extra segments in the chain of goods transportation appear that slow down the shipping and increase the costs. Six leading business unions of Belarus called attention to this particular fact when on April 3, 2018 they sent a joint letter to the government and the Presidential Executive Office indicating extremely high investment, economic risks of the E40 project.

The competitive weakness of river transport as compared to railroad transport is acknowledged even by those promoting the project. Thus, in the report on the feasibility study of the waterway E40 restoration, the Gdansk Maritime Institute pointed out that due to the numerous obstacles to navigation in the upper reaches of the Dnipro represented by low bridges, and in view of the high fees for passing locks, railroad shipment between Odessa and Kiev is less costly. The same can be said about the transportation of goods from Belarusian territories bordering with Ukraine toward the Black Sea ports.

The construction of the port and the infrastructure for it on this territory is fraught with serious environmental problems. “If you look at the map, the village of Nizhniye Zhary is located in the area contaminated by radiation, it's only 20 kilometres away from Chernobyl, in the vicinity of the exclusion zone. It is interesting that the existing documentation on the restoration of the E40 waterway only briefly mentions that the waterway will pass through unsafe places inundated with  radionuclides. We believe that a significant part of the rationale against the construction of the waterway should be devoted to the radiological component. Dredging will raise silt particles contaminated by radioactive isotope caesium-137 which settled there after the nuclear accident in 1986. Particles can be carried into the Kiev reservoir, which supplies drinking water for the 2.8 million inhabitants of Kiev”, asserts Volha Kaskevich.

The commission's report on the financial viability assessment states that throughout the route it is necessary to provide a minimum water depth of 2.5 metres, which involves large-scale dredging. However, inconsistent rainfall in Belarus results in periods of insufficient water level in rivers for functional navigation. According to Maria Germenchuk, deputy head of the Republican Center for Hydrometeorology, Radioactive Contamination and Environmental Monitoring (Belhydromet) under the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Protection, who spoke at a press conference in October last year to a the current situation is dangerous for large vessels.

“It is a utopia to think that our rivers with low groundwater level can be aligned with the standards of class IV navigation (throughout the route, a minimum water depth of 2.5 m should be provided), especially given the fact that the Pripyat is primarily snow-fed. From a technical point of view, this will require now just dredging, but also the construction of the cascade of dams which significantly increases the risks for the environment. Such works will completely alter and destroy the unique coastal ecosystems, including dozens of unique conservation areas of global importance which are concentrated in the valley”, comments Volha Kaskevich.

Belarusian environmental alliance calls on the EU to block the planning of E40 inland waterway

The Belarus environmental alliance has sent an appeal against the E40 inland waterway to the European Union. The environmentalists are urging the EU to recognise a petition signed by over 25,000 people to terminate the project which would connect the Baltic and the Black Sea. The appeal was sent on behalf of 42 non-governmental organisations and a number of local residents from three nations: Belarus, Ukraine and Poland. Online petitions have been signed by 5,910 Belarusians and Ukrainians, and by 23,371 Poles.

The defenders of the Polesia invite investors’ attention to the highly adverse consequences of E40 project implementation and call for ultimate abandonment of plans to fund the project.

The construction project involves major changes to the stream conditions of the Rivers Vistula, Muchaviec, Pina, Pripyat and Dnieper, and the Dnieper-Bug Canal - all of which would make up the waterway. New levees and dams could appear on the pristine rivers, their course straightened and their banks covered in concrete. Design work started in late 2013 with the implementation of a feasibility study, which is ongoing today. The rivers are currently not navigable by the vessel category in question, so implementation of the project would require a large amount of river development, which would cause significant interference with the river ecosystems.

"We want to draw the attention of the European Parliament and other key European institutions to the issue, and to demonstrate that any decision to be made on the project must involve the participation of the public and independent experts,” says Volha Kaskevich, campaign coordinator and head of the Bahna organization. “Besides, the project is transboundary in nature and falls under international conventions, so requirements for the project must meet European standards and its adverse consequences must be considered in a comprehensive way. An environmental impact assessment for Belarus has not been performed to date, and local residents or representatives of the conservation areas have not been informed about an upcoming plan to build a waterway across Polesia's most important environmental network of designated natural areas.”

The project is fraught with the greatest danger for Ukraine because of its impact on the Chernobyl exclusion zone. After the Chernobyl accident, which occurred at the beginning of the spring flood, the Pripyat washed a huge amount of contaminated sand into the Kiev Reservoir. Due to engineering measures, the radioactive sand and silt were buried at the bottom of the reservoir. For over thirty years, there has been no navigable channel, because if we disturb the sediments, we are sure to send the contaminated silt flowing down to Kiev. For that reason, Ukraine has even abandoned the project of a beltway across the reservoir.

Besides that, the entire reservoir cascade in that area is part of the Emerald Network of Areas of Special Conservation Interest. The Dnieper course is home to two nature reserves, six national parks and more than twenty conservation areas. Furthermore, the entire Pripyat delta is included in the Chernobyl Radiation and Environmental Biosphere Reserve, established by Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko in 2016.

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