Vistula decision a landmark for Poland, says WWF

25/02/2000

panda.gif (879 bytes)For immediate release - Wednesday 23 February 2000

Geneva, Switzerland - WWF, the conservation organization, has welcomed the Polish Cabinet's move yesterday to insist that an independent technical expert group examines all concerns and alternatives, before it will make a final decision on whether to build a new $250 million dam on the Vistula River.

"This decision could be a very important turning point for Poland," said Ireneusz Chojnacki, WWF's Programme Coordinator for Poland, in response to the announcement by the Polish Minister of Finance and Deputy Prime Minister Leszek Balcerowicz on Polish National Radio last night.

"It could make Poland the front-runner amongst EU accession countries in a new approach to environmental management," he added. "This is especially significant in the face of the European Commission's ongoing concerns over Poland's readiness for early accession due to their poor environmental record. We are delighted."

At a press conference in Warsaw on Monday, WWF and a coalition of Polish NGOs (IUCN Poland, Wedkarski Swiat, Klub Gaja, Ecological Forum WU, and OTOP/BirdLife International) presented a critique of the Ministry of Environment's proposal. The critique exposed the flaws in the proposal, which justified the building of a new dam to urgently safeguard the existing dam and reduce flooding. The NGO group also explained that the Nieszawa dam construction would not be technically or economically viable, and that it would involve unacceptable costs to the environment and local people.

The group also pointed out that the "closed door" decision-making process was inconsistent with international standards, and strongly advocated a full investigation into alternative options to the Nieszawa dam, reminding the Polish Government of its international commitments. These issues were reiterated in a letter to the Polish Prime Minister by Delmar Blasco, Secretary General of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, last week.

Today Claude Martin, Director General of WWF, congratulated the Polish Government on its enlightened decision and repeated WWF's offer to help facilitate technical assistance and finance for the assessment of alternative schemes to solve the problems of the existing Wloclawek dam.

WWF has informed the President of the European Commission of this positive development. It is calling for support from the European Commission and other financial institutions and bilateral donors to create a Sustainable Development Plan, in collaboration with the Polish Government, that will provide benefits for the whole Vistula valley. WWF has been endeavouring to agree a formal Memorandum of Understanding with the Polish Environment Ministry to serve as a basis for the development of this plan since September 1999.

For further information: Ireneusz Chojnacki, Programme Coordinator for Poland, tel. +49 331 747 3122, mobile +49 172 391 2530 or  Jane Madgwick, Head of European Freshwater Programme, tel. +45 3524 7843, mobile +45 2160 8098

This press release and associated material can be found on www.panda.org  and on www.panda.org/europe/freshwater

Mark Vanderbeeken, Communications and Partnerships Coordinator, European Freshwater Programme, WWF International, Ryesgade 3F - DK-2200, Copenhagen N, +45 3536 3635 - Main +45 3524 7841 - Direct +45 2124 8747 - Mobile +45 3524 7868  m.vanderbeeken@wwf.dk   www.panda.org/europe/freshwater

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