The Black Sea: Economic Developments and Environmental Dangers

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SHIPPING across the crowded Black Sea should expand substantially this year. Export volumes may well show quite dramatic growth under the dual stimulus of the reopening of the Danube waterway in the West in a few months' time and the aggressive policy of the Russians in the East to claw back trade from the ports of their other ex-Soviet neighbours.

The result is a fever of intensifying freight transport infrastructure construction around the virtually enclosed Black Sea. Astonishingly, however, its vulnerable environment seems to be recovering.

Radu Minhea, a specialist spokesman for the recently established international Black Sea environmental protection programme, has announced: 'The sea is getting better. People thought that it was dead. But less industrial pollution is getting into the sea nowadays, and recovery has been surprisingly quick'.

However, the projected recovery of business heralded by the end of the Balkan wars could place severe renewed pressures on the fragile marine ecosystem. The upturn is imminent. 'If all goes well, the Danube waterway will be fully open for business by the end of the summer', says Bernard Chenevez, the newly appointed director of an internationally financed programme to clear the river of the blockage caused by the Nato bombing of Serbia in 1999.

River navigation companies in the 11 countries connected by the Danube normally carry an annual 100m tonnes of cargo -- mostly dry bulk -- along the 1,500 navigable miles of the waterway connecting the Black Sea with the North Sea. The priorities of the reconstruction programme will be the removal from the riverbed of sections of destroyed bridges as well as unexploded munitions at Novi Sad and the replacement of an existing pontoon bridge with an alternative fixed link to allow continuous, unhindered navigation. The job is costed at $27m.

The return of the rule of law in the Balkans has encouraged growth and improved business prospects for the Black Sea dry bulk cargo trade. Six major European transport corridors crossing or adjacent to the region and serving various Black Sea ports are being upgraded. Indeed, the European Union (EU) has just agreed to allocate $671m to the western Balkans alone in 2001, the first tranche of a six-year, $3.72bn programme aimed at stabilizing the region. And the European Investment Bank (EIB), the EU's long-term financing institution, has made a special case for promoting transport infrastructure development in the area.

The EIB has just announced a $317m investment in five loans to Romania for several big transport infrastructure projects including the modernization of Constanza's South Port, the rehabilitation of key international road transit links and the acquisition of railway track and maintenance equipment. Romania' s transport infrastructure development programme has attracted more than $1.7bn from the EIB during the past decade, invested mostly in Black Sea ports as well as railways and roads.

The bank has also raised a $42.5m loan to Bulgaria for the construction of a new bridge over the Danube, linking that country with Romania. It considers the combined road and railway bridge between Vidin (Bulgaria) and Calafar (Romania) crucial for developing Europe's Transport Corridor IV serving several major Black Sea ports, which links Germany, the Czech Republic, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Greece and Turkey. Another $l6m loan is in the pipeline. EIB vice president Wolfgang Roth comments: 'This new bridge will be a corner-stone for the completion of a basic multi-modal transport network for the enlarged EU'.

Neighbouring Hungary and Slovakia have just launched the reconstruction of a $10m Danube railway bridge destroyed during the Second World War at Esztergom, financed with assistance from the EU's Phare programme. Two more bridges are being planned in Hungary, which has also just completed a new ro-ro terminal at Gonyu on the Danube that will trade principally with Romania's port of Constanza on the Black Sea. …