Landmark project rewards care for the Danube
When did you start working on Danube-related issues and how?
Everything started from the moment I decided to swim in the Danube… I was a student at the Academy of Economics in Svishtov, a small Bulgarian town on the Danube. My local friends told me that there was a saying, if somebody dipped into the river they would always stay along it. It came true in my case, today my family is in the town of Ruse and my job with WWF covers the entire basin of the Lower Danube.
I used to work in the field of pure economics, dealing with profit and loss, business plans and forecasts. In 2006 WWF asked me to support the logistics of a big international event in Ruse in connection with the Lower Danube Green Corridor. I started researching the topic and read very different things from what I used to know as an economist. These people were fighting to save a river that other people saw as an economic asset for cheap and convenient transport of goods and people, for tourism, for fishing. I really felt that while working to increase company profits, these companies missed something really important, something that we depend on and are a part of - nature.
As an economist, I soon realized that it is very important for businesses to understand all this. They are using a great deal of resources coming from the Danube. These resources are not a given and they must be preserved.
How has the situation changed today compared to when you started?
The fact that last month in the Lower Danube we launched a four-year project which will teach us how to reward land managers who ensure that we continue to get benefits from nature, is very encouraging. The Payments for Ecosystem Services project (PES), which is implemented by WWF Danube-Carpathian Programme with the financial support of the UNEP GEF and the European Commission, is a landmark project in many ways and will be used to show communities in other major rivers basins around the world how to evaluate ecosystem services and reward land managers.
Ecosystem services are the multiple benefits that people receive from nature, such as water purification and flood control by wetlands. The Payments for Ecosystem Services schemes (PES) reward those whose lands provide these services, with subsidies or market payments from those who benefit. This could mean, for example, that downstream users of water purified by an upstream forest, such as bottling companies or local residents, pay those who manage these upstream forests to ensure a sustainable flow of this service.
What are the biggest opportunities or threats for the Danube, or both - depending on whether you are an optimist or a pessimist?
Today my team has the ambitious task to show to society and the business the significance of the Danube. Our project will encourage landowners to manage resources in a manner that ensures they continue to generate the environmental services we all need. We must work to ensure the good conservation status of the river if we want the river to bring us food, clean air and water. The benefits that the river provides are truly endless.