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Warning of Danube shipping threat

Part of the Danube is still being cleared of debris caused during NATO's bombing  

VIENNA, Austria -- The WWF has warned of a possible ecological disaster if shipping routes along the River Danube are developed.

The environmental group, formerly known as the World Wildlife Fund, says "vital wetland ecosystems" will be threatened if plans are approved to construct new canals, dams and the deepening of parts of the river.

"We're saying: `Don't adapt the rivers to the ships, adapt the ships to the rivers,"' said Markus Schneidergruber, a WWF spokesman in Vienna.

Areas most at risk -- 11 "hotspots" -- include the World Heritage site of the Wachau region west of Austria's capital, the Straubing-Vilshofen area in Germany, and parts of Croatia and Bosnia.

The WWF report, published on Thursday, is to be delivered to the governments of countries along the Danube, the Danube Commission and the European Commission, which helped develop some of the plans.

"I'm not sure if the EU in particular is aware that the plans are really doing such a damage to nature," Schneidergruber was quoted by The Associated Press as saying.

"They have to rethink the plans and maybe find more ecologically sound solutions."

Pia Ahrenkilde, environment spokeswoman for the European Commission, said she had no comment because she had not yet received the report.

The WWF argues that improving ships, navigation and logistics systems would make many of the planned changes along the 1,608 mile river unnecessary.

Transport of bulk goods, which require ships that need deep rivers, are declining, meaning deepening the Danube to the proposed 3.5 yards would not make economic sense, the report says.

It adds that plans to deepen the river and dam it would destroy the last ecologically valuable stretch of the river in Germany.

In Croatia and Bosnia, plans for dams, drainage and irrigation projects would destroy the meanders and flood plains of Sava River, which flows into the Danube.

A planned canal that would link the Danube with the Oder and Elbe rivers would alter or destroy 990,000 acres of protected river sites in Germany, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Austria, WWF said.

More than 80 percent of the Danube's wetlands and flood plains have been destroyed by projects to improve flood protection, agriculture, power production and shipping, WWF said.

Shipping on parts of the Danube was halted during NATO's 1999 air war against Yugoslavia, which left debris from bombed bridges in the river.


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