No Economic Case for the E40 Waterway Expert Study Reveals

Unacceptably high costs and risks associated with the E40 waterway, yet the programme is moving forward.

The costs as well as the risks associated with the planned E40 waterway are unacceptably high – according to an expert economic assessment conducted by three leading business associations of Belarus. The study’s authors analysed the 2015 E40 waterway feasibility study by the Maritime Institute in Gdansk. Their main conclusions are:

  • E40 waterway construction costs are expected to exceed €13 billion­, a figure underestimated in the feasibility study by at least €900 million in Belarus and €100 million in Ukraine;
  • There would be no economic benefits from constructing the entire E40 waterway;
  • Investment risks associated with the E40 waterway are huge;
  • Socio-economic and environmental risks and impacts would be unacceptably high, e.g. hydrological changes could have significant impacts on water-dependent sectors of the economy, such as agriculture;
  • The feasibility study does not meet minimum international standards required for such studies;
  • The waterway would be uncompetitive with road and rail transport, unless subsidised;
  • Governments should focus on economically viable alternatives to the waterway such as the modernisation of existing road and rail infrastructure.

“One of the main risks is that the investment will not pay off,” warns Ales Herasimenka, one of the study authors and spokesperson of the Business Union of Entrepreneurs and Employers.

In this case taxpayers in Poland, Belarus and Ukraine would have to cover the costs of subsidies for the E40 waterway. Any returns made would solely benefit businesses.

Herasimenka affirms that ‘there is no obvious reason to invest in the E40 waterway­ – our assessment shows that it is better to focus on more sustainable projects in the transport and logistics sector’. Modernised and more cost-effective rail links between the Baltic and the Black Sea, with fewer negative social and environmental impacts, might be a promising means of transport for the future. The study’s experts confirm that the transport of most commodities using electric rail would be faster, less expensive, less polluting, and more reliable than via the proposed E40 waterway. In light of these issues, it remains unclear which future markets the E40 waterway is intended to serve.

Time to Reset

Globally we are faced with the most severe recession since World War II. With this challenge comes a rare window of opportunity to reset and make more responsible investments for the future of our planet. The E40 waterway would require construction works across 2,000 kilometres of rivers  – 25 times the length of the Panama Canal. This could disrupt some of Europe’s last remaining wilderness, including important carbon storing peatlands. Any shift of cargo from rail to inland waterway transport could increase greenhouse gas emissions and impact the global carbon balance.

As a result, the E40 waterway could worsen two of the five top threats to the world’s economy as ranked by the World Economic Forum: climate action failure and biodiversity loss. At the same time the project’s immense cost could pull valuable resources away from more urgent investments. Does this make sense in the current global climate?

The Save Polesia coalition believes that governments and investors should recognise the highly limited economic potential of the E40 waterway in Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine and instead focus on strategic improvements to prioritise rail links.

*Image shows horses and boats along the Stokhid River in the Pripiat-Stokhid National Park, Polesia. © Daniel Rosengren/FZS


  • Save Polesia is an international partnership of six civil society organisations. We strive to protect Polesia for the citizens of Belarus, Poland, Ukraine and wider Europe – now and in the future. We stand against the construction of the E40 waterway and for the development of nature-based tourism in Polesia.
  • Interview Video about the economic analysis of the E40 waterway with Ales Herasimenka, main author of the economic study and spokesperson of the Business Union of Entrepreneurs and Employers.