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A Belarusian Nature Protection Project Has Gained International Recognition
Water is one of the greatest natural resources on our planet. In spite of the fact that most of the earth’s surface is still covered with seemingly inexhaustible water resources, their mismanagement directly or indirectly causes the majority of present environmental problems.
Problems connected with water cannot be divided into more or less essential ones—all of them, from the pollution of the world’s oceans and the melting of the Antarctic ice to the cutting-off of small rivers and the drainage of bogs, affect the destiny of humankind.
The questions of sustainable water resources management were at the heart of the Third World Water Forum, which took place in the Japanese cities of Kyoto, Shiga and Osaka from 16 to 23 March 2003. Experts from many countries of the world attended this representative meeting to share their expertise in tackling water problems. The main objectives of the forum were as follows: to develop a dialogue, to share information and to discuss ways to solve existing problems in the area of sustainable development.
Within the framework of the Forum on the initiative and under the support of its Secretariat a competition for the best ecological project in water management was organized. The sponsors of the competition received more than 800 applications with the plans for various projects on irrigation, drainage, dam construction, river and lake basin rehabilitation, underground water preservation, etc. In the selection process the sponsors of the competition chose the best 150 projects, which were presented at the Forum. The jury consisting of competent experts will finally choose the best one. Apart from world popularity and recognition, the organization that develops the best project will receive the Grand Prix of the Forum— $50.000.
The project “Rehabilitation of the Hydrological Situation in the Preserve ‘Yelnya’” was among the 150 finalists. The project was successfully carried out last summer in the Vitebsk region by the public organization “Protection of Birds in Belarus” under the support of the Wetlands International Fund, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands, the UN Development Programme, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Protection of Belarus and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds in Great Britain. On the invitation of the Secretariat a representative of the public organization “Protection of Birds in Belarus” participated in the final part of the competition and project presentation, which took place in Japan from March 16 to March 21, 2003.
Yelnya is one of Europe’s largest upper marshlands; its area is about 232 square kilometers. 98 species of birds, of which 23 species are registered in the Endangered Species List of Belarus, live on the territory of the preserve. In addition, 11 rare kinds of plants that are protected by the law grow on the territory of the preserve. Among them are the miniature birch and the cloudberry, which are unique to Belarus.
The marshland complex “Yelnya” is not only a hydrological preserve, but also one of the 20 key ornithological territories of Belarus (during the migration time thousands of geese and cranes, including the cheeping goose, a species facing extinction, stop in Yelnya for rest). The preserve “Yelnya” has recently acquired the international status of a Ramsar territory. All present environmental problems in the preserve, as well as ecological problems in many other natural preserves, are connected with thoughtless melioration in the past. Upper marshlands are as a rule replenished exclusively by precipitation. Having been inaccessible in the past, this territory served as a refuge for many rare species of animals and plants, but now it dries up in the summer to such a degree that it became not only easily accessible to hunters and fishers, but also prone to frequent fires, especially in the drought years. For example, fires destroyed near 50 square kilometers of marshlands in the year 1999 alone. Recently fires have recurred almost annually.
Upon ecological examination the experts working for the public organization “Protection of Birds in Belarus” suggested blocking 17 meliorative channels that remove water from the marshland with special dams. The construction of the dams was completed in July 2002. As the result of blocking the meliorative channels, the water level in the peripheral part of the preserve rose by 50-120 centimeters. The most urgent and important task that was accomplished within the project was a complete elimination of fires in Yelnya. At present top-level officials in Belarus recognize that the only effective method to eliminate marshland fires is swamping the reclaimed marshlands again. Experts believe that in this case the hydrological situation in the marshlands will come to its natural state, and the fauna and flora of the preserve will be restored.
The future will show which project will be chosen by the jury of the World Water Forum, but even the fact that the project on Yelnya rehabilitation is among the best 150 water projects of the world is a high appraisal of the joint efforts of Belarusian and international nature protection organizations.
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