Lower Danube states sign environment accord

BUCHAREST, Jun 6, 2000 -- (Reuters) Romania, Bulgaria, Ukraine and the ex-Soviet republic of Moldova signed accords on Monday to restore flood plains and wetlands in the River Danube and Black Sea and create a river delta protected area.

Environment ministers from the four countries signed in Bucharest the first accord to create the Lower Danube Green Corridor, intended to add some 300,000 hectares to the existing protected areas of 773,166 hectares.

"Environmental issues have been completely neglected in our countries from behind the Iron Curtain over the past decades," Romanian Environment Minister Romica Tomescu said after the signing ceremony.

"Romania has many environmental problems to tackle, but these accords are a first confirmation that our countries are committed to take steps and restore the ecological system of the lower Danube," Tomescu said.

The planned corridor would include wetland, lakes, flooded forests and meadows. More than 80 percent of the Danube basin's wetlands and flood plains have been destroyed over the past 100 years. The accord is also intended to help create business opportunities including fishing and tourism and to prevent and reduce pollution in the lower Danube area.

Under a second accord signed by Moldova, Romania and Ukraine on Monday, the three neighboring countries will jointly administer the Danube Delta and Lower River Prut zone, comprising scientific reserve areas in each country.

The area, Tomescu said, would include 580,000 hectares of Romania's Danube Delta, 46,000 hectars of the delta in Ukraine and 1,900 hectares of the River Prut in Moldova.

He said the accords would also help the three cash-strapped signatory states to attract funds from international lenders including the World Bank, the European Union and the European Commission.

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