An aerial photo of the River Pripyat and its surrounding floodplain meadows, wetlands and oxbow lakes. This is an extremely important site for migrating birds (mainly waders) who stop here to feed on the abundance of food before continuing their migration. Turov area, Polesie, Belarus. © Daniel Rosengren

Frequently asked questions


Where is Polesia?

Polesia is located in the borderlands of Poland, Belarus, Ukraine and Russia – please see this interactive map – – with the buttons on the right of the map you can see the vast number of internationally protected areas in Polesia and also some of the key biodiversity hotspots (both in Polesia and wider in Poland).

The three countries involved in the E40 waterway project have different spellings for ‘Polesia’ – in Belarus “Palessie”, in Poland “Polesie”, in Ukraine “Polissya”. For their international website/work the Save Polesia partnership uses the English international spelling Polesia for consistency.

The route of E40 waterway

Where is the E40 waterway proposal?

The E40 waterway will link Gdansk on the Baltic Sea to Kherson on the Black Sea via Poland, Belarus and Ukraine – please see this interactive map: 

On this you can zoom out to see the full length of the E40 proposal, or zoom in to see specific elements, including proposed Siarzewo dam north of Warsaw.

How much of the 2000km of rivers along the E40 waterway’s route would be affected?

Works will be needed on a very large part of the 2000 km. While the E40 waterway might appear a complete route on the map, some of its sections are either completely unsuitable for shipping or have low shipping classes (I-III), meaning they are not suitable for freight transport. For example, in Poland only 66.5 km of the Lower Vistula (55 km of Wloclawek reservoir and 11.5 km of “Dead Vistula”) is currently at the required international technical standards for freight transport.

Hence, to make E40 waterway fully navigable to shipping class IV (the requirement for an international waterway) extensive infrastructure works would be needed, including: 12-15 dams on the Vistula in Poland, the roughly 160 km of new channel with seven locks in Poland, between five and seven dams in Belarus, and extensive dredging and channel straightening, including in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. Works of this extent would make this one of the most complicated, expensive and destructive to nature construction projects in the world.

Aren't Inland Waterways a green form of transport?

When thinking about how green a mode of transport is, it is important to think about both the impacts of construction of the infrastructure and of its use. The emissions from the use of inland water transport are lower than road transport, although electric rail is still lower. Development of inland waterway infrastructure can be sustainable with appropriate route selection and sensitive planning with the environment in mind. But E40 is not such a case. 

While often described as a project to ‘restore’ an existing waterway, this hides the reality that construction of E40 will require very significant engineering works – dredging, damming, straightening and deepening and – causing irreversible damage to natural habitats of some of Europe’s last major undamaged rivers and their valleys.  Maintenance of the waterway will, in some sections, lead to the drainage of wetlands, which also leads to the release of greenhouse gases. Further, water reservoirs made by the dams upstream are major emitters of methane (a greenhouse gas). Thus, E40 cannot be considered as a green form of transport.

Will the Bug River be affected?

The Bug River will not be directly used as part of the E40 waterway channel – rather the impacts on it will be indirect, because of changes in hydrology as water is taken for the new E40 channel. The magnitude of the impact on the Bug will depend on which route variant is chosen for this stretch of the E40.  If you have a look at the sources below you will see the maps and possible impacts.

On our website we highlight the route via Deblin (V3) as this was the one being assessed in detail in the Polish Feasibility Study.  This work was finalised in 2020, but the results have never been published despite our many requests to the Polish government, so we cannot yet be sure about the chosen route.      

Read more in our factsheet ‘E40 waterway would lead to droughts, and destroy rivers and wildlife in Poland’ and in the ‘Analysis of selected possible impacts of potential E40 International Waterway development in Poland on hydrological and environmental conditions of neighbouring rivers and wetlands – the section between Polish-Belarusian border and Vistula River’.

An aerial photo of the River Pripyat and its surrounding floodplain meadows, wetlands and oxbow lakes. This is an extremely important site for migrating birds (mainly waders) who stop here to feed on the abundance of food before continuing their migration. Turov area, Polesie, Belarus. © Daniel Rosengren


Is the EU financing the E40 waterway project? 

E40 waterway is not an EU project, rather a political initiative of the three countries (Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine) and is included in the European Agreement on Main Inland Waterways of International Importance (an UNECE agreement).  For more information, see UNECE’s page ‘Where to navigate? The network of inland waterways in Europe and its parameters’, also the map of the European Inland Waterway Network.

However, the European Union did provide funding for a Feasibility Study on the E40 waterway project, which was published in 2015. The EU is also currently supporting a project to look at improving inland waterway transport on the Lower-Middle Dnieper (the section from the Black Sea up to Kyiv – so technically part of E40, but which is already a navigation route although currently in poor condition) – see here.

What is the connection of Siarzewo barrier to the E40 waterway?

E40 as described in the 2015 Feasibility Study and in the interim outputs of the Polish Feasibility envisages a cascade of eight dams/barrages on the Lower Vistula north of Warsaw, one at Siarzewo, in addition to the single existing dam at Wloclawek). Also a cascade of dams on the Middle Vistula (south of Warsaw). The dams on the Vistula (such as Siarzewo) would be for the waterway (to maintain the water levels) and for power generation. 

The Polish government is proceeding with planning for Siarzewo barrage – saying it is needed for a whole range of reasons including inland water transport, safety, water resources, and renewable energy.  They are treating it as a standalone project, but in fact, it will be the first ‘salami-slice’ of the E40 waterway project. All these needs can be more easily provided in alternative ways with much fewer adverse impacts on the environment, bringing the project and plans to progress it into question.

An aerial photo of the River Pripyat and its surrounding floodplain meadows, wetlands and oxbow lakes. This is an extremely important site for migrating birds (mainly waders) who stop here to feed on the abundance of food before continuing their migration. Turov area, Polesie, Belarus. © Daniel Rosengren

Planning and implementation of E40 waterway

How has the war in Ukraine affected the E40 waterway projects? Has there been any official statement by the EU on this project lately?

In the current context, the E40 waterway project is not being taken forward as a single coherent international project and there is no official EU statement on the project. However, the waterway is still very much an international aspiration – its included in the network of European inland waterways and ports of international importance, European Agreement on Main Inland Waterways of International Importance (AGN), see  And although this map is from 2018, the convention bodies meet regularly, most recently in February 2023, and E40 is still included in current documents.

The three countries are still committed to their stretches of the waterway and are taking forward individual projects:

Poland – is strongly committed to the stretch on the Lower Vistula.  A government consultation  on comprehensive development of the Vistula from Włocławek to its mouth to enable navigation and to increase water resources has just closed. And there is a live tender for monitoring works in preparation for construction of Siarzewo dam.

Belarus – According to information submitted to UNECE (see para 45 UNECE’s report) Belarus is working on eliminating bottlenecks and ongoing projects on the E40 waterway, including upgrading hydraulic structures on the Dnieper-Bug canal and relocating Brest river port.  

Ukraine – almost all of the Ukrainian stretch of E40 is included in the European adopted TEN-T (trans-European Transport Network) indicative map for Ukraine – and is proposed to be included in the revised TEN-T legislation which is currently being negotiated. Inclusion here cements this section as a priority and would open the door for EU funding. Particularly in light of the extensive funding that will flow into Ukraine for reconstruction.  

Hence we want to shine a light on the issue now and avoid the situation where many individual projects (‘small’ pieces of E40) are taken forward separately. We see an immense danger of a salami-slicing approach that builds the argument for completion of the entire waterway over time as the political situation changes.

What is the current position of the planning and implementation of E40 waterway?


  • E40 waterway is currently most active in Poland.  The Polish authorities have commissioned a number of technical studies, but these have not been published or made available to NGOs and the public.
  • Notably in 2018 the Polish authorities commissioned a national Feasibility Study to inform detailed route selection in Poland.  This was initially due to be published early in 2020, then by the end of 2020, but is still not public (although we know it was finished some time ago).  
  • Also, an analysis looking at the current condition of the inland waterway transport sector in Poland and the potential for modernization of the Oder and Vistula waterways. Again, this is not available (although we know it is finished).
  • Our Polish partner (OTOP-BirdLife Poland) has made a number of ‘access to information’ requests or court challenges to try and get hold of these documents. But access to information and transparency of decision-making in Poland is currently a real challenge.
  • Despite the lack of a strategic decision in Poland the E40 waterway seems to be developing by stealth in small sections. For example, construction works of the shipping channel through the Vistula split proceeded despite live court challenges to the consents, and the same may happen with the Siarzewo barrage project. In theory, the Polish law allows the environmental consents to be challenged and the consent is not final until the challenge has been concluded. But the NGO challenge to the Siarzewo decision has not been concluded after five years and in the meantime the authorities continue to prepare for construction, so we fear the Vistula lagoon situation will be repeated and that this is a deliberate tactic.


  • The status of E40 waterway is currently confused and concerning.
  • In 2020 the Ukrainian authorities progressed dredging of the Pripyat. Depending on the audience, they changed whether this was referred to as part of E40 implementation or not.
  • In 2021, the Ukrainian authorities adopted a position that work on E40 should not proceed until there is more detailed analysis and that the Polish section is key.
  • On the 29th of July 2022, Ukraine terminated its bilateral agreement with Belarus on inland navigation which, without directly mentioning the E40 waterway, laid the groundwork for its implementation.
  • In July 2022 the European Commission adopted an indicative TEN-T map for Ukraine which includes most of the Ukrainian section of E40 (from Kherson to the Pripyat River in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone).  It is very hard to understand the rationale for inclusion of the Kyiv reservoir and the first 14 km of the Pripyat River.
  • In November 2022, an agreement on inland navigation was signed between the governments of Belarus and Russia. This agreement allows Russian vessels to use the waterways of Belarus. This is part of the current political situation in the region which makes joint Ukrainian-Belarusian navigation on the Pripyat River highly unlikely.


  • In 2020 dredging was undertaken at Kobryn and eviction notices were issued on land to be used for the proposed river port in Nijniye Zary near the Ukrainian border.
  • On the 22nd  of February, 2022 Belarus adopted a new National Strategy for Water Resources Management in the Conditions of Climate Change for the period up to 2030. It describes E40 waterway mainly as a possibility for economic and tourism development but also mentions that it may entail a threat to environmental safety, biodiversity hotspots, and archeological sites.
  • According information submitted to UNECE in 2023 (see para 45 UNECE’s report) Belarus is working on eliminating bottlenecks and ongoing projects on the E40 waterway.  Upgrading hydraulic structures on the Dnieper-Bug canal; upgrading of Ovzichi Lock to Class Va requirements by 2024; upgrading the remaining lock in 2025–2026; and relocating Brest river port.  Hence it seems that Belarusian sections of the E40 are planned to be constructed in individual bits, as in Poland and Ukraine, so we are worried about a salami slicing fait accomplice.
An aerial photo of the River Pripyat and its surrounding wetlands and oxbow lakes. This is an extremely important site for migrating birds (mainly waders) who stop here to feed on the abundance of food before continuing their migration. Turov area, Belarus. © Daniel Rosengren

The Pripyat, one of Europes most pristine rivers

The 750km long Pripyat River lies at Polesia’s heart. Here we look in more detail at the Pripyat and what construction of E40 waterway might mean for the river.

What might be built on Pripyat?

According to the 2015 Feasibility Study, the E40 waterway will be used by ships up to 114 metres in length and more than 20 metres in width. The Pripyat is a very winding river so significant changes will be needed to accommodate such boats. These are likely to include straightening of numerous bends, construction of from five to seven new locks/hydroelectric facilities, connection of the Pina and Mukhavets rivers to the Dnieper-Bug Canal and extensive dredging and deepening of the middle reaches of the Pripyat riverbed, where Mid-Pripyat State Landscape Zakaznik, one of the country’s most important nature reserves is located.

The Feasibility Study estimated the cost of these works would be 60-120 million euros. But independent experts believe this is a significant underestimate and that the total construction costs of the Belarusian section of the E40 may be about 1 billion euros, excluding the cost of a new port near the village of Nizhnie Zhary.

How might E40 affect wetlands?

Construction of E40 waterway will drastically change the water regime of the rivers, especially their floodplain sections. At this stage it is hard to predict exact changes, but some meadows and lowland marshes will be flooded to store water needed for ships to pass through the locks. Other floodplain meadows, swamps and forests will be cut off from the river by embankments and channel straightening and dry out or permanently flooded by the waters of constructed reservoirs.

What’s special about the Pripyat?

The Pripyat is a transboundary river, about 500 km of its length is in Belarus, and 200 km in Ukraine. Its river basin (or area from which water enters the river) is large, covering 114,300 km2, an area about the same size as Bulgaria or Greece. 50,900 km2 of this area is in Belarus – about a quarter of the country’s territory.

Another important feature of the Pripyat basin in Belarus is its flat character. Because of this, spring floods on the Pripyat are up to 20 km wide! These are a hallmark of the region and have led to the Pripyat being known as Europe’s Amazon and the “sea of Herodotus”. The spring floods are very important for wildlife: they contribute to the formation of wetlands some of international importance (Ramsar Sites). Today there is no other such river in Europe.

Why are floods on the Pripyat getting smaller?

The main factor is climate change. Recent years have been abnormally warm, the average annual air temperature in Belarus in 2019 was 2.90 Celsius and in 2020 3.20 Celsius above the climatic norm. This has a key impact on the volume of water in the river basin. With this trend, in the future we can expect a reduction in the summer volume of water in the rivers of southern Belarus by 25%.

If construction of E40 waterway deepens the Pripyat, will it hold more water?

No. Deepening the bottom and straightening the channel to fit the size of large ships does not mean that there will be more water. It will just redistribute water. There is nowhere to take additional water from, even if storage reservoirs are built, because water will be taken from the same river to fill them. But we know that in a deeper and straighter channel, water will flow faster than in natural conditions – and this will negatively affect nature and people.

Increasing river velocity can cause the lowering of the water table in the surrounding area which leads to drying out of valuable wetland habitats. It can also cause severe erosion of both the riverbed and the shoreline, as well as other shallow habitat features, such as gravel bars which are so important for a range of species. This erosion is sometimes countered by artificial bed re-enforcement such as ripraps (material used to protect shoreline structures) or concrete structures which further diminish the natural processes of the river, and leading to further loss or degradation of valuable natural habitats.

Dredging – capital and maintenance – may lead to a temporary or permanent increase in turbidity and resuspension of sediments. The resuspension of sediments impairs different aquatic organisms in different ways.  For example, fine sediments can damage the respiratory organs of the larvae of water insects; and increased turbidity reduces light intensity, which will decrease the photosynthesis of plankton, benthic algae and vascular plant species. 

Besides all this, according to hydrologists, it will not be possible to deepen the Pripyat channel along its entire length using current technology. In addition, annual dredging will be required. With the current rate of climate warming, low water periods may also become longer, which can lead to droughts and deterioration of the ecological state of water bodies. In these conditions, navigation on the E40 waterway is likely to be disrupted.

All photos on this page: Priryat river, (c) Daniel Rosengren / FZS