Drought scuppers Poland’s river transport plans for coal distribution
Warsaw, Aug 15 (EFE).- In a bid to ensure coal imports are distributed across Poland in time for the winter, the government has opted for reviving river transportation, but the drought that has gripped Europe has crippled the plans to make rivers navigable.
Russia’s coal embargo, which came into force in April, fueled the idea of boosting Poland’s river waterways for transport means with former transport minister Jerzy Polaczek, of the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party, describing the inland shipping route plan as a “sleeping beauty” that should be revived.
“Our rivers do not have enough water for a higher volume of transport,” WWF Poland president Mirosław Proppé tells Efe.
“Even in the past, it was only possible in the spring and autumn. After years of deforestation in the mountainous regions of the south, the water flows faster because there are fewer trees to stop it.”
The idea of boosting river transportation in Poland is not new.
In 2017, the country penned the European Agreement on Main Inland Waterways of International Importance (AGN) which pivoted the country towards the bloc’s strategy to shift 30% of long-distance freight transport (goods traveling over 300 km) to rail or waterways by 2030, as part of CO2 emissions reduction commitments.
But both environmental activists and economists agree that the government’s plans for Polish rivers are unrealistic.
“The Vistula is one of the few rivers in Europe that has not undergone regulations. From its beginning to Włocławek, except for the fragment that runs through Warsaw, it is the last great European river that twists and winds,” Proppé says.
“Barges run on diesel, which is a problem in terms of emissions. They cannot run on solar energy because they would not be able to go up the river. Also, there is always the risk of polluting accidents,” the expert adds.
Economist Tomasz Żylicz, from the University of Warsaw, says that the main issue is not ecological but financial.
“The volume of investments that would be required is more important. Of course, the environment would be harmed, but even without that aspect, river transport in Poland is nonsense,” Żylicz tells Efe.
“Preparing Polish rivers for river transport would require huge upfront investments and its benefits would be doubtful or modest,” the economist adds.
Furthermore, Polish waterways do not meet the requirement of the AGN deal, according to Żylicz.
“These specify that they must be accessible to ships with a draft of at least 2.8 meters below the water level. The width of the waterway must be at least 40 meters,” Żylicz continues.
According to European regulations, waterways should allow drafts of up to 4.5 meters and water levels of the Vistula in Warsaw are at around 40 centimeters.
Żylicz says that only some sections of the Vistula and the Oder meet the minimum standard, meaning a massive economic investment is needed.
According to the economist’s 2021 projections, the process of making Poland’s rivers navigable would require around $43.9 billion.
Proppé agrees, saying the Vistula would require the construction of seven weirs to make it functional. It currently has one weir in the town of Strumien in southern Poland.
“Then you have to include the construction of piers and the straightening of the river where necessary. It is a huge cost without a real and visible benefit,” the environmentalist adds.
Proppé says Poland should learn from Germany.