Historically the Danube and some of its main tributaries, such as the Sava, have formed important trade routes across Europe. The harnessing of these rivers to facilitate navigation has, however, radically changed their physical and ecological characteristics, while pollution from ships and boats is also a significant problem. Various current plans designed to help shipping along the Danube are also a possible threat to the last remaining natural areas of the Danube and the region’s freshwater resources.
Facts and Figures
Ships can navigate the Danube from 2,411 kilometres upstream all the way down to the Delta. This is 87% of the river's total length. The ships can call in at 78 harbours located along the Danube between Kelheim and the Black Sea.
The total length of the artificial dredged channels in the Danube Delta is roughly the same as the total length of natural water courses (1,700 km).
Pressures resulting from Navigation
- Change of the natural river structure
- Changes to river courses, such as the blocking of connections to separate channels, tributaries and wetlands
- Disruption of natural flow patterns by hydromorphological alterations
- Hindering fish migration due to sluices
- Engineering works designed to remove sediments and clear channels
- Accidental pollution involving oil or hazardous substances
- Pollution by discharged bilge water, wastewater from tank washings and sewage from passenger boats
- Inadvertent introduction of invasive species
What the ICPDR is doing
The ICPDR linked up with the Danube Commission, and the International Commission for the Protection of the Sava River Basin to execute in 2007 an intense, cross-sectoral discussion process, which has lead to the `Joint Statement on Inland Navigation and Environmental Sustainability in the Danube River Basin´.
The Joint Statement provides principles and criteria for environmentally sustainable inland navigation on the Danube and its tributaries, including the maintenance of existing waterways and the development of future waterway infrastructure.
The process is involving selected representatives of navigation authorities, environmental protection authorities, industries and environmental organizations throughout the basin.
The Joint Statement is based on an interdisciplinary assessment of the following issues:
- What is the current status of inland navigation? What are the projects and plans for the future development? What are the limiting factors for inland navigation and waterway transport?
- What is the ecological situation of the Danube River Basin? What are the pressures and impacts resulting from navigation?
- How can the navigation sector help meet the requirements of the EU Water Framework Directive?
After its adoption in December 2007, the three commissions and all stakeholders agreed that the `Joint Statement´ should be used as a guiding document for the development of the `Programme of Measures´ requested by the EU Water Framework Directive, for the maintenance of the current inland navigation, as well as for the planning and the investments in future infrastructure and environmental protection projects.
The role of the EU
To improve transportation in Europe, the European Commission (EC) developed Trans-European Transport Networks (TEN-T) with guidelines for Pan-European road, rail, air and waterway transportation corridors. In 2003-2004, TEN-T guidelines newly designated the Danube as “Pan-European Transport Corridor VII”, becoming the “backbone of the east-west waterway connection” providing, together with the Rhine River, a link between the North Sea and Black Sea.
In order to further promote inland navigation transport the EC issued the “Integrated European Action Programme for inland Waterway Transport - NAIADES” in spring 2006. For its support, the EU PLATINA project (Platform for the Implementation of NAIADES) was started in 2008 and completed in early 2012. Here, the ICPDR was responsible for the Sub-Work Package 5.3 Interdisciplinary Dialogue.
The European Commission launched the PLATINA project to implement efficiently actions and measures promoting inland waterway transport. The project brought together 22 partners from 9 European countries and aimed to serve as a platform for helping to implement the European inland navigation programme NAIADES.
In October 2007, a "Joint Statement on Inland Navigation and Environmental Sustainability in the Danube River Basin" was concluded and very positively received by stakeholders. In the years that followed, the responsible government authorities and interest groups met again to discuss the progress achieved so far and how to improve the application of the Joint Statement in waterway projects. These meetings continue.
Between April and October 2007, an integrated stakeholder dialogue was conducted by ICPDR, Danube Commissson and the International Sava Commission. Main activities were 3 workshops and the drafting of the Joint Statement document.
The Danube navigation dialogue, concluded in October 2007 with the finalisation of the "Joint Statement", is continued. A first follow-up meeting was held in January 2009 in Budapest, a second one is held in March 2010 in Zagreb, serving to assessing the progress achieved so far and discussing how to improve the application of the "Joint Statement" in waterway projects.
Since the 16th century, people have been changing the natural course of the rivers in the Danube River Basin, mainly for flood defence, hydropower generation and navigation. All these changes affect the ecological quality of the rivers. Changes in the depth or width of a river typically reduce flow rates, interrupting natural sediment transportation as well as the migration routes of animals.
Accidental pollution in the Danube River Basin can cause widespread damage to the environment, and endanger the health of local people and the state of local economies downstream. This was exemplified by the effects of the Baia Mare cyanide spill in Romania in 2000 or by the Hungarian redsludge accident at Aijka in 2010. The ICPDR is working to prevent accidental pollution and to improve response capability by compiling an inventory of all relevant "Accident Risk Spots".
The Danube River is rapidly being colonised by new non-native species, due to the increasing interconnection of various European and global water bodies by canals and other waterways designed to facilitate navigation. It is currently believed that alien species are very likely to become even more significant in the future, as the importance of the Danube as an international waterway increases.
Vienna, 25 April 2007. A one-year process began today to reach agreement on how to maintain and develop inland waterway transport on the Danube River without damaging the environment. The joint initiative is being organized under the leadership of the ICPDR in cooperation with the Danube Navigation Commission and the International Commission for the Protection of the River Sava.
ICPDR Danube Watch: Work resumes on Bystroe Canal
ICPDR Danube Watch: A two-year Twinning Project on EU Water Framework Directive implementation, pairing Croatia with Germany as senior twinning partner and the Netherlands as junior partner, has addressed environmental issues to ensure sustainable solutions for water management.