Blue river, green mountains
The Danube River basin is the most international river basin in the world, draining 18 countries on its 2800 km journey from the Black Forest in Germany to the Black Sea. From the largely untamed middle and lower stretches of the river to the spectacular Danube Delta at its mouth, the Danube is home to some of the richest wetland areas in Europe and the world.
The Carpathian Mountains, arching across seven countries from the Czech Republic across Poland, Slovakia, Ukraine and Hungary, and down to Romania and the tip of Serbia, are Europe’s last great wilderness area – a bastion for large carnivores, with over half of the continent’s populations of bears, wolves and lynx, and home to the greatest remaining reserves of old growth forests outside of Russia. 80% of the Carpathians’ water drains into the Danube.
Diversity and changeGeography and history have famously combined in the Danube-Carpathian region to create a potpourri of different languages, ethnicities and cultures. These differences have been accentuated by different economic, social and political conditions and developments.
In 1989, most countries of the region were under Communist rule. Today, a number of the countries are EU member states, with additional ones waiting in the wings. Communist dictatorship has been replaced by democratic pluralism. Formerly centrally-controlled economic systems have been transformed into more or less free market economies that are increasingly integrated into the global economy.
The dramatic political, economic and social changes that have swept the region have been paralleled by similarly significant developments in environmental protection and policy.
Challenges and OpportunitiesCompared with Western Europe, Central and Eastern Europe has maintained a high level of biological diversity thanks to the maintenance of large areas of habitats, diversified landscapes and less intensive management practices. People in Central and Eastern Europe still can reap major benefits from their biodiversity while in the west these benefits have been significantly reduced and must be replaced by resources taken from other parts of the world.
As the West now invests to turn the tide and restore and promote diverse and rich systems (biologically and culturally), the East has the opportunity to maintain and profit from its existing store of natural capital.
The next five years will be of critical importance for deciding whether this indeed takes place. EU Enlargement and integration into the global economy is causing increasing pressure on the region’s environment and natural resources.
Fortunately, these rapid changes bring not only challenges, but also significant opportunities, including high-level EU commitments to the environment and sustainable development, a clear trend toward reform of key EU financing instruments, and powerful regulatory tools including the Habitats and Birds as well as Water Framework Directives.
WWF Danube-Carpathian ProgrammeIn response to these challenges and opportunities, WWF established the WWF Danube-Carpathian Programme to promote the conservation, restoration and sustainable management of nature for the benefit of people and environment. The work is primarily focused on freshwater and forest resources as well as rural landscapes.
The area shared by the Danube River Basin and the Carpathian Mountains includes all or parts of the territory of 18 countries in total, including: Albania, Austria, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Italy, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Moldova, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Switzerland and Ukraine.