Danube Delta, Ukraine - the threats

Surviving centuries of change

From the early 20th century, the Danube’s natural system and surrounding lands have been heavily impacted by interventions to improve flood protection, agriculture, power production and waterway transport.

Between the 1950s and the mid-1980s, large areas of the floodplain in the territory of the former Soviet Union were enclosed by dykes and equipped with irrigation and drainage systems for industrial farming.

In the process, vast areas of environmentally vital and economically valuable wetlands and floodplain forests were destroyed.

In the present day, despite being a major source of drinking water, water quality in the Danube has declined substantially as a result of upstream activities and the use of the river to dispose of waste.

The landscape of the Delta is primarily shaped by the river and sea dynamics: processes of erosion and sedimentation and the rising and falling of water levels.

Sedimentation is vital to the vertical growth of the Delta, necessary to prevent it from literally drowning into the sea. These natural processes have been seriously impeded by human engineered changes in to the land.

In addition, the annual refreshment of the water in the limans has been stopped and the wetlands are also unable to play their role of filtering nutrients and sediments.

Among the impacts of this disruption of natural water movement has been a significant loss of biodiversity:

  • Natural habitats have become lost or fragmented.
  • Numerous fish breeding sites have been lost with associated negative impacts on the fishing sector.
  • Some species such as the sturgeon now survive only in remnant populations.
  • Black poplar trees and beavers are two examples of species that have now become exceedingly scarce.
  • A large part of the ecosystem is turning into a saline steppe and the agricultural polders also suffer from heavy salinisation rendering them of little value for production.

Socio-economic hardship
Large areas of farmland and fishponds have fallen into disuse and life is a challenge for people living in the region. With the end of communism, Ukraine has faced significant socio-economic hardship arising from the necessity of operating within the global economy. Increased competition had contributed to the progressive decline of intensive agriculture.

In many areas it is simply no longer viable for farms to pay for the electricity which runs the irrigation and drainage pumps. The rural environment has borne the brunt of chronic unemployment with increased exploitation of natural resources through overfishing, overgrazing, logging and poaching.

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