Grasshopper no 4, Autumn '94
From September 25-28, the International Carpathian Bridge organized its 5th meeting in the Ukrainian city of Lviv under the title "Protection of small streams and rivers of the Carpathians and Eco-communication in the Carpathian Euro-region." The goal of this fifth conference of environmental NGOs in the Carpathian region was to discuss transboundary river problems and river basin protection and, furthermore, to improve communication between environmental NGOs in the Carpathians.
The organizers of the conference, the Carpathian Geographical-Ecological School from the University of Lviv, organized the conference in a very special way. The first day of the conference was held in the University of Lviv. The following days were held at a base of the university in the Ukrainian Carpathians near the village of Rozluch. The conference thus consisted of a theoretical introductory day and a practical part.
The theoretical part of the conference which was held at the University of Lviv consisted of lectures about the protection of small streams and rivers in the Carpathians and, in the afternoon, a debate about communication between environmental NGOs in the region. The practical part which was held at the base of the University of Lviv in Rozluch consisted of excursions to the sources of the Dnjepr and the San as well as more informal discussions and efforts in the field of communication.
The protection of streams and small rivers of the Carpathians is a definite problem. Three important European rivers have their sources in the Carpathians (Dnjestr, Wisa, and Dunaj), and, as we all know, good river protection starts with the source. Nevertheless, good protection of the sources of streams and rivers is not always guaranteed. A number of river sources straddle national borders, making good protection even more complicated.
During the conference it became clear that in the field of physical source and stream management there are still many problems. The environmental hazard in this is the erosion of the areas near sources. This erosion occurs especially in the higher areas of the Carpathians, and it can negatively affect the productivity of the land. Furthermore, the quality of the water in the streams may be decreased significantly due to a higher content of minerals and decreased water clarity. In areas where there is over-exploitation and hence erosion of the banks and sources of streams, the prospects for the future of forestry and agriculture are not good. Nowadays erosion is especially apparent in the Ukraine, where the banks of small streams are much more densely populated than in Poland or Slovakia. These dense population levels and the resulting high levels of exploitation can result in erosion. The higher exploitation levels in the Ukraine have occurred in the form of bulldozing and construction work, clear-cuts, and over-grazing of grassy areas. During the conference there was an emphasis on guaranteeing as often as possible that at least the sources of streams are effectively protected in the sense that the above-mentioned activities not be allowed at the sources.
During our visits to the sources of the Dnjestr and the San, it became clear that there is another problem in the source areas. At the source of the Dnjestr, workers were busy making a gas pipeline, and at the source of the San, containers with oil products were sitting beside the water. Transport and storage of hazardous materials in source areas is especially dangerous. Source areas are often not so densely populated, so civil protests will not be so apparent. Thus, the location of hazardous materials like oil and gas in source areas seems to have certain advantages. However, locating dangerous substances in source areas of rivers has serious disadvantages in that when accidents occur, the substances will spread much more quickly and will affect a much larger area. In the case of the source of the San, there is also a transboundary situation. The source of the San is located in an area which is neither in Ukraine nor in Poland. The East bank is in Ukraine, and the West bank is in Poland. Eventually, the stream does flow into Poland. An accident with a dangerous substance like oil near the source of the San will immediately affect Poland and especially Polish citizens.
The opposite situation may occur in the valley of the river Strwi, which flows from Poland to Ukraine. It seems necessary to urge authorities of all countries in the region not to locate transport or storage facilities of dangerous substances in source areas.
We had a lot of discussion about the communication field as well.
One of the most important problems to discuss was the continuity of communication among environmental groups in the region. Although already five (or even six, counting Michniowiec) conferences of environmental NGOs in the Carpathians have been held, up till now sufficient continuous communication has not been established. Polish environmental NGOs have a good system of local grassroots communication, Ukrainian NGOs have a good e-mail network and thus national/international communication, and the Slovak side has a rather strong national structure for organizing activities and actions. The biggest problem is that all these systems do not communicate with each other. In fact, in many cases we have better communication with western NGOs than we do amongst ourselves.
The causes of these communication problems are a lack of funds, but also unconnected systems. The decision the NGOs made at the fifth conference was that we all try in the coming months to connect our e-mail systems to each other so as at least to make e-mail connections possible with all countries. Furthermore, we decided to go on with our international efforts and to be active in the Carpathians in the next year as well. The tasks in terms of cooperation have been set as follows: Ukrainian NGOs will prepare the content aspects, Slovak NGOs will organize coming meetings, and Polish NGOs will concentrate on the magazine Grasshopper. Together we will come up with and find resources for a cooperative project that will further shape our cooperation.
This project will be discussed at the next meeting this month in Slovakia.
To sum up, we may say that the fifth conference of environmental NGOs in Lviv was a success. We not only met once again and refreshed our contacts, but also made some concrete appointments for the following period. Furthermore, there was an excellent exchange of ideas and information about stream and river management, and personally I must say that I enjoyed the conference very much.
Ernst Jan Stroes
see the address above