Celebrating the Danube: Living river or shipping lane
Vienna, Austria – Every year on this day, the European nations where the Danube River flows celebrate the continent’s greatest river system; a system that supplies drinking water to millions and supports diverse habitats and rich biodiversity.
“While many will sing praises of the Danube on this day, popping the champagne corks is premature as river engineering projects promoted by national governments and supported by the European Union could transform our living river into little more than a shipping canal,” said WWF freshwater expert Dr Christine Bratrich.
A recent WWF report lists the Danube as one of the world’s top ten threatened rivers.
WWF is concerned that EU plans to artificially deepen, regulate and/or dam 1,000km of the Danube as part of a integrated river transporation systems, known as Corridor Number 7, will destroy many of Europe’s last great river landscapes and remaining wetland areas.
This includes such renowned natural areas as Straubing-Vilshofen in Germany; the exceptionally rich wetlands along the Hungarian, Croatian and Serbian stretches; islands between Bulgaria and Romania; and the spectacular Danube Delta.
“Political decision makers have set ambitious goals and made significant progress in finding sustainable solutions for inland navigation and protecting the Danube, particularly in supporting the implementation of the EU’s Water Framework Directive,” added Dr Bratrich.
“But at the same time, ongoing and planned projects are threatening the Danube and a range of valuable benefits and services that the river provides, from drinking water and fishing to tourism and recreation.”
The threat is perhaps most acute along a 200km-stretch of the river in Romania, where dozens of islands are slated for destruction in the name of shipping. The EU-financed project, which is now moving forward, will cut off 90 per cent of the migration routes of beluga sturgeon. It will also destroy valuable bird resting and breeding area that qualifies for protection under the EU’s Natura 2000 network of specially protected sites.
Save the Danube campaign
Through WWF’s Save the Danube – Stop the Canal campaign, the global conservation organization and its partners are calling on the EU and Danube countries to: stop plans and projects that will turn the Danube into an exclusive transport corridor; and to develop a comprehensive solution for sharing the river, not just for shipping but also for fishing, tourism, agriculture and biodiversity needs.
WWF also supports the ongoing dialogue process on shipping on the Danube led by the International Commission for the Protection of the Danube River (ICPDR) to find the best environmental standards for navigation on the Danube.
“Current approaches to promoting shipping on the Danube are expensive and unnecessary,” said Michael Baltzer, director of WWF’s Danube-Carpathian Programme. “They are focused on adapting the river to ever-deeper ships, rather than promoting new technologies in ship design, logistics and communications that can increase shipping capacities while limiting impacts.
“We must use innovation and proven technology to fit the ships to the river and not the river to the ships,” he stressed.
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