Toxic algae found after fish deaths in German-Polish river

Toxic algae has been found in samples from the Oder river, where huge masses of dead fish have sparked concerns of an environmental disaster, Germany and Poland said on Monday.

Dead fish on the water surface of the German-Polish border river Oder.
Dead fish on the water surface of the German-Polish border river Oder. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/PAP | Marcin Bielecki

More than 100 tonnes (220,000 pounds) of dead fish have been recovered since July from the river which flows through both countries since July, sparking tensions after Berlin accused Warsaw of failing to communicate the disaster and act quickly enough.

“The examinations conducted so far have confirmed the presence of toxic algae (Prymnesium Parvum),” Polish deputy environment minister Jacek Ozdoba wrote on Twitter.

Meanwhile, German environment ministry spokesman Andreas Kübler told reporters “a mass development of toxic brackish water algae could have contributed to the fish deaths”.

READ ALSO: ‘Dead fish everywhere’ in German-Polish river

However, the formation of such algae is “not a purely natural phenomenon” and “does not occur to this extent… under natural conditions,” Kübler added, referencing the latest lab results from Germany’s Leibniz Institute and the University of Vienna.

The algae likely developed as a result of high salt levels in the water, which “would not normally exist in the Oder and which can only exist through industrial discharge”, he said.

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki has suggested chemical waste may have been responsible but his country’s Climate and Environment Minister Anna Moskwa said last week that “none of the samples tested so far has shown the presence of toxic substances”.

She said the government was also looking into possible natural causes and in particular higher concentrations of pollutants and salinity as a result of lower water levels and high temperatures.

Moskwa on Saturday warned on Twitter against “fake news from Germany” about the discovery of herbicides and pesticides in the water.

“We regret that the Polish side has come to this assessment,” Kübler said on Monday, stressing that the search for the cause of the disaster was still ongoing.

The Oder has over the last years been known as a relatively clean river, and 40 domestic species of fish are found in the waterway.

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Germany criticises Egypt on human rights ahead of COP27

Berlin on Sunday accused Egypt of not living up to its human rights obligations as the country prepares to host global leaders for the closely-watched COP27 climate talks.

Germany criticises Egypt on human rights ahead of COP27

The German government’s human rights commissioner, Luise Amtsberg, urged summit host Egypt to release jailed dissident Alaa Abdel Fattah, currently on hunger strike, and his lawyer Mohamed al-Baqer.

“The fact that people who want to express their opinions freely and stand up for that right are punished with long prison sentences — sometimes under inhumane conditions — is unacceptable,” Amtsberg said in a statement.

“Assuming global responsibility also means, above all, assuming responsibility for the protection of human rights,” Amtsberg said.

“However, the human rights situation in Egypt does not do justice to this.”

Releasing Abdel Fattah and other political prisoners would send “an important signal” that Egypt takes its human rights responsibilities seriously, she added.

Cairo has faced frequent criticism over its human rights record since it was announced as COP27 host last year, a move rights groups said “rewards the repressive rule” of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.

Rights groups estimate that some 60,000 political prisoners are behind bars in Egypt, many of them in brutal conditions and overcrowded cells, accusations Cairo rejects.

Fifteen Nobel laureates last week joined calls for Egypt to free Abdel Fattah, a major figure in the 2011 revolt that toppled longtime president Hosni Mubarak.

The Egyptian-British writer and philosopher is serving a five-year sentence for “broadcasting false news”, having already spent much of the past decade behind bars.

He is currently on hunger strike and his relatives have warned that if he is not released during the climate conference, he will probably die in prison as he is due to stop drinking fluids from Sunday, the opening day of COP27.

Nearly 200 countries will be attending the talks in Sharm el-Sheikh, set to run until November 18.