Letter: Environmental vandalism on the Danube

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The Independent Online
Sir: Your report of the Slovak action in diverting the Danube to feed the Gabcikovo dam ('Danube area split over plan to dam river', 29 October) fails to bring out the seriousness of the crisis.

The issue for Western countries is not one of choosing whether, or to what extent, to 'take sides' in a political dispute fuelled by arbitrarily selected ecological and economic arguments between Slovakia and Hungary. It is whether the EC, as economic and political patron of the three East European countries which are candidate members for admission (the Visegrad Group), will prevent what is probably the greatest peacetime act of environmental vandalism in Europe this decade.

Detailed reports by the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, none of which has been seriously disputed, have underlined the lack of any environmental risk assessment or basic geological, seismological and hydrological studies. They point to the likely damage to the water supply of up to 10 million inhabitants of the region, because of the depletion and pollution of Danube aquifers and the massive destruction of the ecology both of the river itself and of forests, agriculture, soil and biodiversity in the surrounding regions, with up to 80-90 per cent of species under threat. For these reasons, environmentalists from all over Europe and North America have fiercely opposed the project.

No possible economic or 'environmental' gains to Slovakia can justify such an act. Inflicting material damage on the environment of another country is in contravention of international law and specifically contradicts undertakings given by the Czech and Slovak federal governments at UNCED in subscribing to the Rio Declaration in June this year.

If community attempts at arbitration succeed, well and good. But if they fail, and the Slovaks continue to resist agreeing to any other form of binding dispute settlement through the CSCE process of the International Court of Justice, then relations between Slovakia and Hungary will become a powder keg that can be defused only by swift and decisive Community action, possibly including political and economic sanctions. The responsibility on the British presidency is heavy.

Yours sincerely,

JOHN GORDON

Policy Director

Global Environment

Research Centre

Imperial College

London, SW7

29 October

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