Ramsar, governments, and international organizations critical of Ukrainian canal

Ramsar, governments, and international organizations critical of Ukrainian canal

24 August 2004

Ukraine forgets its international commitments…

The country will celebrate tomorrow its independence with the irritation of international organizations as a background

Gland, Switzerland, 23 August 2004 (Ramsar Convention Secretariat): Several international organizations and countries, including the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, UNESCO, the Government of Romania, Germany's Chancellor Gerhard Shröder, and the Government of the United States of America, have expressed their deepest concern regarding Ukraine’s repeated deafness to the recommendations of the international community. The country’s project to build a navigable waterway through the Bystroye arm of the Danube delta has raised significant international opposition, as the project is affecting an important natural area listed as a Ramsar Wetland of International Importance and the core zone of a UNESCO-MAB Biosphere Reserve, as well as a national protected area in Ukraine. While Ukraine will celebrate tomorrow its independence day, the context of this strong international opposition may dampen the celebrations and cause Ukraine to reflect on ways to live up to its international commitments.

International mobilization

The Ramsar Convention was one of the first international agreements, together with UNESCO’s Man and the Biosphere programme, to try to find an acceptable solution to the Bystroye problem. In 2003, a joint advisory mission reported that the project, as it is being conducted today, is the worst of the three choices the Ukrainian government could make for this area. The report provided Ukraine with alternatives and technical assistance to ensure the preservation of the ecological character of this area of international importance, one of Europe’s foremost, largest and most valuable natural coastal areas. More recently, the UNESCO Advisory Committee for Biosphere Reserves reinforced these recommendations, asking Ukraine to provide a full impact assessment of the Bystroye project and to start a consultation process with the Romanian authorities regarding this project. The Secretary General of the Ramsar Convention already expressed his official concerns, a few months ago, to Ukrainian President, H.E. Mr. Leonid Kuchma, as did several diplomatic missions including the Unites States of America, Germany, the European Community, the Council of Europe, the International Commission on the Danube River, etc.

International obligations

Ukraine joined the Ramsar Convention in 1991 and has designated, to date, 22 Ramsar sites totaling 716,250 hectares. By joining the Convention, Ukraine took the international responsibility to conserve its wetlands and water resources and work to find an equilibrium between development and conservation (see Ramsar’s wise use principle). The Kyliiske Mouth of the Danube delta is a 32,800ha Ramsar site and was designated on 23 November 1995 for its great importance for the conservation of biodiversity. It contains rare and endemic species of plants, and is an important area for birds both for their migrations and for their breeding.

Possible implications

Once again, the Ramsar Convention wants to clearly state that it does not endorse the Bystroye project in its current design and that, by pursuing this project, Ukraine is not respecting its international commitments with the Ramsar Convention and several other international agreements. The Ramsar Convention therefore urges the Ukrainian Government to reconsider the Bystroye project and to start a consultation process with the Romanian authorities regarding the Danube delta area, and offers again its technical support in order to find an acceptable solution to this issue. International and European funding and development agencies have already indicated that they will not give any support to the Bystroye project because of its clear contradiction with Ukraine’s international commitments. The Secretary General of the Ramsar Convention, moreover, highlighted that “it’s a shame that the excellent work of the Ukrainian Ministry of Environment in recently designating 11 new sites in the country might be spoilt by the Ukrainian Government pursuing the Bystroe project”.