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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