Eugene Simonov, a 2013 Whitley Award winner, reports good news in both the Amur river and Lake Baikal basins after years of work by his NGO Rivers without Boundaries (RwB) and other colleagues.

Amur Basin

In the Amur basin, over 16,000 km2 of protected areas on the Sino-Russian border will benefit from a Memorandum on Transboundary cooperation signed by Chinese and Russian officials on 28th June. The MOU will cover 16 Chinese and 12 Russian protected areas located along Amur and Ussury Rivers (see map below).  The MOU will allow; joint monitoring of rare species such as the Amur tiger, Amur leopard, Oriental stork, Black stork, white-naped crane and red-crowned crane.  It will also encourage exchange of data on rare species, mutual-training in protected area management and monitoring, joint enforcement measures, joint research, and collaboration to raise public awareness about the conservation value of these areas.

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This MOU is a major step forward for the Amur Basin Green Belt programme coordinated by the Amur-Heilong Programme of WWF which seeks to deliver a comprehensive ecological network in priority wetland and forest habitats throughout the basin.  The Green Belt is designed to help mitigate the impacts of new development corridors proposed by China.

Lake Baikal

One such corridor is the New Silk Road initiative where hydropower development threatens the southern catchment of Lake Baikal – the world’s oldest (25 million years), largest (31,500 km2) and deepest (1,700 m) freshwater lake. It contains 20% of the world’s total unfrozen freshwater reserve and its age and isolation have produced one of the world’s richest and most unusual freshwater faunas. Of the lake’s 2,500 species of known plants and animals, 1,500 are endemic. The lake, home to the endemic Baikal seal, has already been severely impacted by water abstraction for Russian agriculture.

Last week, President Putin raised concerns about development impacts on Baikal’s unique ecosystem at a trilateral meeting with the President of the People’s Republic of China, Xi Jinping, and the President of Mongolia, Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj. And after 4 years of unceasing appeals from the RwB, Eugene is pleased to report that the World Bank MINIS project has finally agreed to undertake consultations on environmental assessment plans for the proposed Shuren Hydropower Project on the Selenge River, the Orkhon River Flow Regulation and Reservoir Project (see map below). This should enable social and environmental concerns to be raised more effectively.

There is also some good news for environmental campaigners concerned about the proposed Egiin Gol dam development project in Mongolia (see map below) as preparatory works by the Chinese development company still have not resumed after a lag of 4 years. The RwB hopes this is a sign that responsible agencies in China are seriously assessing risks and consequences of large dam building in the Baikal Basin.

Congratulations to all those encouraging transboundary freshwater conservation!

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