Sharing water in the Danube River Basin


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Sharing water in the Danube River Basin



Focus Areas

Geographic Scope




Background and Significance

Due to its large surface and diverse relief, the Danube River Basin has a varied climate and a multiplicity of habitats. The upper regions in the west have high precipitation, whereas the eastern regions have lower precipitation and cold winters. Depending on the region, precipitation can range from less than 500 mm to over 2,000 mm per year, which strongly affects surface run off and discharge levels in streams.

Floodplain forests, marshlands, deltas, floodplain corridors, lakeshores and other wetlands form the basis of rich biodiversity in the Danube river basin. However, industrialisation, population growth and agriculture are having a negative impact on the size and biodiversity of these wetlands; this is worrying given both the hydrological and ecological importance of wetlands. In addition, navigation improvement works that began in the nineteenth century have a major impact on the natural floodplains and their ecosystems. In many places along the Danube, floodplains and meanders were cut off from the river system, resulting in approximately 80% of the historical floodplain of the Danube being lost, which has caused large floods since, to cause quite considerable human casualities and material damage. Large dikes and disconnected meanders further suppressed the exchange of surface and groundwater, which consequently reduced the recharge of groundwater utilized for the drinking water supply. Agricultural activities are also exerting major pressures on water resources, yet Croatia and Romania both heavily depend on agricultural activities, which generate approximately 10% of their GDPs. Indeed, overall 47.4% of land resources in the Danube River Basin is used for agriculture. Other human activities are also increasing the risk of flooding, through inappropriate land-use in high risk areas and interfering with natural processes.

However, the main problem in the Danube River Basin is water quality, and pollution is a very real problem. The Danube is consistently classified as 'moderately' to 'critically polluted', largely the result of insufficent urban wastewater treatment, because of a lack of wastewater treatment plants. Pollution from hazardous substances is also a significant problem.

The Experience: Challenges and Solutions

All actions are being undertaken to reach one common goal, that of improving the quality of water resources' in the Danube River Basin.

The construction of wastewater treatment plants is expected to be a priority action, in order to lower the pollution of the Danube. Actions are also being taken to better prepare for potential future industrial accidents, that would result in heavy contamination of the Danube River. The cyanide accident in the Tisza River Basin in January 2000 caused massive harm to the environment, and proved that existing Early Warning Systems are not sufficient.

The International Commission for the Protection of the Danube River has also adopted the long-term Action Programme for Sustainable Flood Prevention in the Danube River Basin, which promotes sustainable flood protection programmes, whilst deviating from the common practice of taking primarily defensive action against water-related hazards and recognises floods as a natural part of the hydrological cycle.

Results and Impact

The project aims to promote and coordinate sustainable and equitable water management practices.

The main problem in the DRB is the water quality rather than quantity. Nine countries (six EU members and three concession countries) are at different stages of implementation of the WFD. The other contracting parties of the International Commission for the Protection of the Danube River are also working towards the common goal of improving the quality of water resources. However, marked differences in economy, sociology and topography complicate the tasks of the states. For this reason, neither Water Framework Directive nor ICPDR goals are yet to be implemented uniformly throughout the region, and there is still a substantial amount of work to be done at the national level. However, members of ICPDR consider the sustainable utilization of water resources as the overriding priority and are working together to this end.

Lessons for Replication

Testimonies and Stakeholder Perceptions

The Experience at a Glance

Implementing Agency(ies)

International Commission for the Protection of the Danube River - comprised of 13 cooperating states and the European Union.


See also

Additional case studies in the Danube River Basin
  1. Danube TEST - Building Successful Technological and Financial Partnerships with the Private Sector to Reduce Pollutant Loading
  2. Danube TEST - Institutional Training and Capacity Building in Support of Private Sector Partnerships
  3. Enhancing Access to Information and Public Participation in Environmental Decision-making
  4. Sharing water in the Danube River Basin/Map
  5. TEST - Transfer of Environmentally Sound Technology in the Danube River Basin
  6. UNDP/GEF Danube Regional Project

External Resources


Read the WWDR2 case study summary: Danube.pdf

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