Some 90 million Population Equivalents (PE) in the DRB generate more than 10 million m3 of wastewater each day. This significant amount of wastewater needs to be appropriately collected and treated before being discharged into the recipient water bodies to minimise soil and water pollution and health risk. If not properly treated, wastewater discharges can pose serious threats to the aquatic environment. Untreated wastewater contains organic material, nutrients and hazardous substances in high concentrations whose discharges can negatively affect water quality of the recipient water bodies. The basin-wide ultimate water management objective set by the Danube countries is to achieve zero discharge of untreated wastewater into the waters of the DRB. On the other hand, wastewater represents significant resources of energy, water and nutrients that could be at least partly exploited at local scale so that the linear energy and material flows are gradually transferred to circular towards a sustainable resource management.

In the last two decades, Danube countries have invested more than €20 billion in wastewater infrastructure. The percentage of communities (bigger than 2,000 PE) connected to a sewer system and wastewater treatment plant increased substantially, demonstrating a remarkable improvement in both the technological response to the problem and improving water quality across the region. The majority of this wastewater amount is collected by public sewers or handled by adequate local technologies and treated in centralized treatment plants. The proportion of people connected to nutrient removal in mid-sized and big settlements has also significantly increased. Moreover, since 2006 dozens of urban wastewater treatment plants have added specific technologies to remove hazardous pollutants from wastewater. The improvements to urban wastewater management have significantly decreased organic nutrient and hazardous substances pollution of the water bodies of the DRB, resulting in much cleaner and healthier waters for the environment and for people to enjoy.

Despite the huge investments already made in the wastewater infrastructure, additional measures should be taken in the future. Significant proportion of the total PE in the DRB need basic infrastructural development aiming to achieve connection to public sewer systems and at least biological treatment. Settlements above 10,000 PE (representing about 70 million PE in total) are mainly equipped with nutrient removal technologies, but there is still room for improvement.

Further efforts should be made to foster the development of investment projects in the wastewater sector. For most of the countries in the Danube River Basin, managing wastewater remains an important challenge with respect to reach water resources protection targets and also in the context of their EU accession and harmonization process. The EU Urban Wastewater Treatment Directive and Water Framework Directive mandate significantly higher levels of collection and treatment than it is currently the case in many Danube countries. These obligations require substantial investments with associated costs and implications. The new infrastructure that is being built or needs to be built for compliance with those Directives creates financial, technical and management strains for national and local authorities, utilities and service providers in the region.

What the ICPDR does

The ICPDR launched an initiative in cooperation with the World Bank and its Danube Water Program to guide and support Danube countries in achieving sustainable wastewater management. The initiative aims at developing and implementing capacity building programs and information exchange in wastewater management and by facilitating proper dialogue among the international financing institutes, national and local administration bodies and utilities. Another aim is to provide interested and committed government and utility representatives from the Danube region with the appropriate knowledge, exposure and expertise to support modernization efforts in wastewater management sector and development of optimal sector policies.




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