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About two thirds of Moldova’s territory belongs to the Dniester River basin. In recent years a lot of publications about the endangered status of this medium-size European river have appeared. Polluted water, endangered human health, destroyed ecosystem, reducing fish resources, – these are some consequences of unsustainable water management. Special concern is expressed by civil organizations of both Moldova and Ukraine. Welcome magazine asked to comment on the issue Dr.Ilya Trombitsky, board member of BIOTICA Ecological Society, who at present is also executive director of an umbrella NGO, the ‘Eco-TIRAS’ International Environmental Association of River Keepers, uniting 36 NGOs along the Dniester River.

The Dniester River is a transboundary watercourse with a length of 1380 km, which starts in the Ukrainian Carpathians, streaming through Moldova and coming again to Ukraine near the Black Sea. More than 5 million people populate its basin. In the Soviet time the water basin was managed as a united system, but from 1991 Moldova and Ukraine are separately managing their parts, which is not effective for sustainable river management. In 1994 an inter-governmental agreement on transboundary waters was signed between the two countries, but this treaty regulates mostly water use. The biological resources and ecological systems have no joint management. It has happened because of multiple reasons, but mostly as a result of low awareness and lack of interest of decision-makers in resolution of environmental issues, as well as of existing political tension related to the Transdniestrian conflict. Recently the Dniester environmental problems became even more acute and seriously destabilize the situation. Meanwhile, international community respects environmental priorities in water policy. As is stated in Kyoto World Water Forum Ministerial Declaration (2003), “To ensure a sustainable water supply of good quality, we should protect and use in a sustainable manner the ecosystems that naturally capture, filter, store, and release water, such as rivers, wetlands, forests, and soils.” The same document welcomes countries to cooperate in favor of a healthy environment.

Since 1995, environmental NGOs of Moldova and Ukraine have been lobbying Dniester River interests to use its natural resources in a sustainable way. They organized several joint expeditions along the river to raise public awareness, published numerous articles in newspapers and three books about the unfavorable ecological situation that has been created, and organized several international conferences on water, health and biodiversity issues related to the Dniester.

Moldovan and Ukrainian NGOs initiated and organized two joint sessions of parliamentary committees of Moldova and Ukraine (1997, 1999) dealing exclusively with the Dniester conservation issue. It was decided to support the idea of elaboration and signing of a bilateral convention. In February 2003, President Voronin issued a decree to negotiate draft river convention with Ukraine.

The Helsinki (1992) Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes makes such specific agreements the duty of Parties (Art. 9), so Moldova and Ukraine have to sign such a treaty in accordance with the Transboundary Watercourses Convention. International practice has a rich experience in international treaties related to specific rivers and establishing of specific bodies having the aim to coordinate the policy of riparian states concerning watercourses. The Secretariat of the Helsinki Convention (UNECE, Geneva) is interested in supporting the intention of an agreement between the two CIS countries.
A Bilateral Convention on the Dniester River will be a good tool also for attraction of technical assistance to resolve concrete problems in the Dniester River basin.

As Transdniestrian NGOs were seriously underdeveloped, in 1999-2000 Biotica realized a project to help local activists to establish eco-NGOs in this region. As a result, the first ten really self-created NGOs were established in four cities of Transdniestria. NGOs initiated transboundary cooperation of civil organizations and local authorities in the lower Dniester. The joint Transboundary Committee for Environmental Co-operation in the Lower Dniester was established by local authorities and NGOs in 2000 as a result of a joint seminar organized by Biotica with UNDP-Moldova support.

The NGO community of the region is doing a lot to reach sustainability in the Dniester River Basin. Environmental cooperation is the best tool for regional integration, as, on the one hand it is less politicized, and on the other it has a serious public benefit – the nature.

It is rather surprising that, in spite of the vital and primary role of the Dniester River for the life of the whole region, financial means to solve its environmental problems spent by the International Community were more limited even than for the neighboring small transboundary Prut River.

Regrettably, we can still see a continued domination of the opposite, unsustainable way of using the river resources. This opposite way is characterized by the monopolizing of water use and the limiting of transboundary cooperation to only water-sharing. The same tendency exists also for the internal watercourses of Moldova. Protection of biodiversity, water ecosystem and landscape diversity are not still taken seriously into consideration. The strengthening of international involvement in the development of national policies in the field of watercourses management in Moldova and Ukraine is necessary. The EU Water Directive example can be attractive in this case. It should be combined with the approaches of Ramsar Convention on Wetlands.

This is a reason to propose to OSCE, European Commission, other international donors, some of which have a serious experience and knowledge in this region, as well as a special aim to safeguard the security of the region, to intensify environment-related activities in this zone.

The realization of such a program is not expensive, but it is important for local communities and environment, and it is a good tool to further develop Dniester environment projects by community-based organizations in the area and strengthen cooperation and joint actions of Moldovan, Transdniestrian and Ukrainian eco-NGOs in favor of Dniester River environment.

I also see a strong need to organize in the nearest future an International Conference on the Environmental Problems of the Dniester River with participation of scientists, NGOs, decision-makers from Moldova, Transdniestria, and Ukraine, to discuss legal, institutional and environmental approaches to the problem, for finalizing of the text of the bilateral convention.

Prepared by Ludmila Mamaliga

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