New plans to ease navigation bottlenecks on the Danube could threaten some of the river's most scenic and natural values, said WWF after the release today of plans of the European Commission to increase navigation on the river as part of the EU Strategy for the Danube Region.
The Danube River basin, the most international river basin in the world, comprises 19 countries and is currently home to close to 100 million people. One quarter of them depend on the river for their drinking water.
WWF criticises the decision to increase navigation on the Danube by removing the so-called bottlenecks, obstacles to navigation during low water level. This usually involves deepening and widening the fairway with the help of old-fashioned and expensive infrastructures. Such interventions would not only affect local ecosystems, but the entire river morphology and dynamics as well as the associated flora and fauna.
The number of existing navigation projects show the alarmingly broad definition being applied to the term bottleneck - it includes the last free flowing stretch of the Danube in Germany and the entire Hungarian section of the river. Many areas with outstanding natural values are also being investigated for intrusive navigational works. In the Lower Danube, islands like Belene, Cama-Dinu and Turcescu are considered bottlenecks at the same time as being part of Nature Parks or designated EU Natura 2000 sites.
Although the river has seen considerable improvements in its condition over the last decade, this decision could result in significant negative impacts on its unique environment without bringing the expected economic benefit to the region.
"Heavy investments in diking and dredging the Danube have been justified by various officials with reference to the Rhine river. But the Rhineland has very different conditions from the Danube area, with an industrial base that has developed over centuries and not just thanks to the river. Expecting an economic miracle from investments in Danube navigation is a myth, and potentially a very costly mistake." said Andreas Beckmann, Director of the WWF Danube-Carpathian Programme.
The Danube as opposed to the Rhine, does not harbour as many industrial sites, and many of the large economic centres on the Danube are not located on the river.
“Today is a sad day”, said Petruta Moisi, a prominent Romanian environmentalist who lives close to the river in Galati. “It’s sad not because there will be navigation along the Danube River – the river has always been navigable – but because of the narrow mindset of the hydrologists and river engineers, who were all trained over the past 50 years and this is their final lifetime opportunity to get things wrong”.
“It's the same pattern of thinking that made it possible for the former river wetlands and floodplains to be destroyed for good starting back in the early 1970s.”
“I feel sad because I truly believed in all the decision makers' capacity for understanding the issues here. But who will pay the price now for doing things in an unsustainable way? You do not need to be smart to know that”, Moisi said.
The current focus of the proposed strategy on expensive and out-dated approaches to increase navigation risks not only waste money but destroy valuable biodiversity and associated ecosystem services, from flood protection to water purification.
“Solutions for improving inland navigation without changing drastically the nature of the river are available and are less costly in financial as well as ecological terms. We need to invest in innovative ship design that fit the existing depth of the river, better information systems, and nature friendly infrastructure.” added Beckmann.
WWF is calling on Danube countries and on Hungary as next leader of the EU Council to seize the opportunity of the Strategy to bring short and long term benefits to its population by using its enormous natural and cultural assets in a sustainable way.
Other aspects of the plan, which will continue the improvement of water quality and offer special protection to the sturgeon, were praised by WWF.
For further information:
Stefania Campogianni, Media and Communication Officer, WWF European Policy Office, tel: +32 2 743 88 15, mob. +32 (0)499 539736, email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Andreas Beckmann, Director, WWF Danube-Carpathian Programme, mob: +43 676 84 27 28 216, email: email@example.com
Irene Lucius, Head of Policy, WWF Danube-Carpathian Programme, mob: +43 676 84 27 28215, email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Sergey Moroz, Freshwater Policy Officer, WWF European Policy Office, mob: +32 499 539734, email: email@example.com