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ROMANIA

Austrian firm implicated in illegal logging

A major environmental advocacy group has accused the Austrian wood products company Holzindustrie Schweighofer of "willingly and knowingly accepting illegally harvested timber" in Romania.

Austrian firm implicated in illegal logging
Photo: WWF/Cheile Bicazului

Romania, which has the largest area of virgin forests in the EU, is also the country most affected by illegal logging in Europe, the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) said on Monday.

The country has the most important forests in Europe "in terms of biodiversity, in terms of size, in terms of forest intact landscapes," said Alexander von Bismarck, director of the US branch of the EIA.

At a press conference, the environmental group presented hidden camera footage it claimed shows Romanian Schweighofer officials agreeing to a possible purchase of illegally harvested timber and even promising bonuses to the seller.

"It might seem unspectacular but it is the root of illegal logging… And the deals are made and the laws are broken and communities have their forests stolen," Von Bismarck said.

Holzindustrie Schweighofer, which dominates the forestry sector in Romania and had an annual turnover of €470 million ($511 million) in 2013, has denied the charges.

The company said in a statement that it "respects the laws" and will "launch an internal investigation" following the broadcasting of the images.

EIA's video comes ahead of a vote in Romania's parliament on a new forest law which aims in particular to limit the cutting down of trees.

Schweighofer has criticised Romania's proposed new legislation saying it interfered "in the affairs of private companies" and would "restrict the free movement of goods which is contrary to the standards set by the EU."

Von Bismarck warned that Romania "has the most acute problem of illegal logging today in Europe".

Romania's woodlands are home to more large mammals than all other European states combined, excluding Russia, according to the EIA. The animals that roam its forests include brown bear, lynx and wolves.

According to Romanian authorities, some 80 million cubic metres of wood was illegally logged in the country over the past 20 years, resulting in a loss of €5 billion ($5.4 billion).

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VIENNA

‘Best quality’: What you should know about Vienna’s drinking water

As Europe suffered its worst drought in centuries, residents in Austria's capital were feeling fortunate for their plentiful water supply that courses from streams in the green forests of the Alps.

'Best quality': What you should know about Vienna's drinking water

A rarety in the EU, the two million inhabitants of Vienna get their tap water from dozens of springs — the main one some 655 metres (2,150 feet) above sea level.

It’s a serious subject in Vienna, where access to clean drinking water has since 2001 even been guaranteed in the constitution — a world first, according to the city’s website.

“Vienna is in the fortunate position that, as a city of millions, firstly, we have enough water and secondly, that it’s water of the best quality,” Juergen Czernohorszky, Vienna councillor in charge of the environment, told AFP.

READ ALSO: Everything you need to know about Austria’s world-class drinking water

The summer of 2022 was the hottest in Europe’s recorded history, as climate change drives ever longer heat spells and the drought parching the continent was the worst in at least 500 years.

Yet at the main Klaeffer spring feeding Vienna, some 150 kilometres (90 miles) outside the capital, the underground source bears water that is less than six degrees Celsius (43 degrees Fahrenheit) in temperature.

Some 10,000 litres (2,600 gallons) per second flow out from the Klaeffer spring alone, feeding a river named Salza that coils down a steep uninhabited valley.

The water system was set up about a century and a half ago under the Austro-Hungarian Empire to provide the city with fresh water to overcome diseases such as cholera.

READ ALSO: The best lakes and swimming spots in Austria

Today, the city’s sanctuary still encompasses 70 sources in untouched mountains south-west of the capital with a system of 130 aqueducts.

A pipe that connects Vienna through a 90-meter long tunnel with the Klaeffer spring is pictured near Gusswerk. The water system was set up almost a century and a half ago under the Austro-Hungarian Empire to provide the city with fresh water to overcome diseases such as cholera. (Photo by JOE KLAMAR / AFP)

Thirty-one reservoirs in and around the city store the water, drawing officials from as far away as China to marvel at them, municipal water company Wiener Wasser spokeswoman Astrid Rompolt told AFP.

Each Viennese consumes around 130 litres of running water per day for some 30 euro cents ($0.30) — 15 cents cheaper than the same amount in Paris.

In Vienna, there is also enough to feed fountains, swimming pools, 1,300 drinking water fountains and even 175 mist showers that allow passers-by to cool off in the light spray.

READ ALSO: What makes Vienna the ‘most liveable city’ and where can it improve?

The growing city plans to renovate 30 kilometres of pipeline per year to prepare for increasingly hot summers expected as the impacts of climate change intensify.

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