Rivers play a vital role in economic development, especially for remote rural areas. Inland water transport is one of the oldest and most sustainable modes of transportation for passengers and cargo; and in some areas the only means of mobility and access to basic services. The sector encompasses vessels from simple non-motorized boats to highly automated pushers, operating on waterways ranging from small tributaries to major rivers.
A shift from road transport to inland water transport for both cargo and passengers usually contributes to more efficient use of resources and energy. For example, the government of Thailand has pursued the expansion of commuter services on waterways around Bangkok to relieve extreme road traffic congestion in the city. Likewise, in the United States the Mississippi River has provided a crucial, low-carbon mode of transport for commodities via barge transportation.
Certain environmental problems and risks are associated with water transport, however. Most notable are the impacts of canalization and dredging, which are done to make water routes more navigable. The activities respectively modify the course or flow of a river and reactivate polluted sediments into surface waters.
The Great Rivers Partnership has addressed these issues in the U.S. by collaborating with the transportation industry in the Mississippi River Basin. Joint advocacy efforts have led to support of navigation improvement and ecosystem restoration funding for the basin through the Water Resources Development Act. As the GRP expands to new basins, this experience on the Mississippi will help inform our approach to more diverse, global transportation challenges impacting economic and social well-being.
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Intro based on the Consolidated Reply to the query (by UNDP Malaysia) on Inland Waterway Transportation Systems; referrals and comparative experiences. 3 February 2006, prepared by Laurel Gascho, Henrike Peichert, and Sarah Renner.