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UNECE Inquiry Commission concludes that Danube Canal will have “significant adverse transboundary effects” on the environment

Published: 10 July 2006

On 10 July, in Geneva, Professor Joost Terwindt, President of the United Nations Inquiry Commission, formally handed over its opinion on the environmental impact of the Bystroe Canal to the Ambassadors of Romania and Ukraine and to the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), Mr. Marek Belka.

The first phase of the Ukrainian project “Danube-Black Sea Deep Water Navigation Canal in the Ukrainian Sector of the Danube Delta” (the Bystroe Canal project), aimed at boosting the depressed local economy, was completed in August 2004, and a second phase is now underway. Much of the national and international controversy surrounding this project arises from its location in the Danube Delta.

The Commission unanimously concluded that the building of the canal is likely to have the following significant adverse transboundary impacts:

  • Dredging will have an impact on the water level dynamics along the Bystroe branch that will result in loss of floodplain habitats, which are used by fish for spawning and nurseries, and by birds for nesting and feeding.
  • Coverage of bird and fish habitats by dump sites, dredging and bank protection measures will result in habitat loss.
  • The increase in suspended sediment concentrations downstream of the dredging site will harm fish.
  • Marine waters will become turbid when spoil is dumped at sea under conditions involving southbound alongshore currents.
  • Repeated maintenance dredging will hamper the recovery processes of affected areas for fish in the long term.
  • There will be large-scale, long-term cumulative impacts on fish and bird life from shipping traffic and habitat loss and/or disturbance.

The Commission also found that there are likely adverse transboundary impacts from the following factors (but that there is not enough information to judge the significance of these impacts):

  • The impact of dredging on the turbidity of river and marine waters;
  • The impact on the coastal morphology of the Romanian coastal section between the Chilia and Sulina branches from the construction of the retaining dam and the maintenance dredging of the Bystroe sandbar section;
  • The impact of navigation on fish and bird life:
  • The impact of increases in suspended sediment concentration at and near the dredging site.

Ukraine is developing the canal without having previously notified Romania (as it is required to do under the UNECE Convention on Environmental Impact Assessment in a Transboundary Context, also known as the Espoo Convention). The Convention requires that countries notify and consult each other on all planned major projects that are likely to have a significant negative environmental impact across a national border. Both Romania and Ukraine are Parties to the Convention.

Based on its findings, the Commission has concluded that a significant adverse transboundary impact is likely and thus the provisions of the Espoo Convention apply. This means that Ukraine is expected to send a notification about the canal to Romania and that the procedure imposed by the Convention should start. In other words, there should be consultation between the Parties, Romania should be given an opportunity to comment on the project, and public participation in the two countries should be ensured. It also means that the final decision about the project should be submitted to Romania.

In its contacts with scientists and NGOs, the Commission found a general wish for more information-sharing and cooperation between the two countries regarding the construction of the canal and other projects with possible transboundary impact. The Commission welcomed this common wish as a valuable step for cooperation between the two countries. It recommends starting a bilateral research programme related to activities with transboundary impacts in the framework of bilateral cooperation under the Espoo Convention. It has requested the Espoo secretariat to arrange for international funding and other support for bilateral cooperation, including the proposed research programme.

For more information, please visit or contact:

Wiek Schrage

Environment, Housing and Land Management Division
United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE)
Palais des Nations, Office 407
CH - 1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland

Phone: +41 (0) 22 917 2448
Fax: +41 (0) 22 917 0107 or 917 0613

Ref: ECE/ENV/06/P05

United Nations Economic Commission for Europe

Information Unit

Palais des Nations, 

CH-1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland

Tel.: +41 (0) 22 917 44 44

Fax: +41 (0) 22 917 05 05