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Let’s not take water as a resource for granted: countries across the Danube endorse new measures for environmental protection

The European Commissioner for Environment, Oceans and Fisheries, Virginijus Sinkevičius together with the Environment Ministers of the 14 European countries across the Danube basin have endorsed two management plans to ensure, for the next six years, cleaner, healthier and safer waters for everyone.

“It can be easy to take water as a resource for granted,” said Róbert-Eugen Szép, President of the International Commission for the Protection of the Danube River (ICPDR). “Especially in the context of climate change, however, it’s becoming clearer than ever just how important it is for us to protect the waters of our shared river basin. This isn’t only important for us though – it’s important for future generations too.”    

Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Montenegro, Moldova, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia and Ukraine were among the countries represented.

The updated plans include concrete measures relating to the five Significant Water Management Issues (SWMIs) identified by the ICPDR. These measures are to be taken within the next management cycle of the ICPDR until 2027 and they include the restoration of habitats and ecological corridors for migratory fish species – in particular sturgeons. Additionally, the importance of implementing adequate wastewater treatment technologies at municipalities, best available techniques at industrial facilities, best management practices in agriculture and appropriate safety measures at hazardous installations are highlighted, with a view to further tackling the issue of nutrient loads transported into the Black Sea via the Danube.

Both management plans are built on the success of previous plans, from 2015. In fact, in the last six years, an impressive reduction of 30 per cent in organic pollution from urban wastewater treatment plants has been measured, along with a drop in both total nitrogen and phosphorus emissions of circa 20 per cent. Furthermore, the implementation of 46 migration aids can be confirmed, plus more than 10,000 hectares of flood plains and wetlands were partially or fully reconnected.

“These two management plans will benefit the environment as well as the 79 million people who call the Danube River Basin their home,” said Barna Tánczos, Minister of Environment, Waters and Forests of Romania. “It’s impressive to see how the ICPDR has ensured public participation in water management matters from people throughout the Danube River Basin. It’s a testament that those relying on Danube waters have the opportunity and are signing up more and more to be part of the solution.”

Slovakia’s Minister of the Environment Ján Budaj has reminded us that, in the past, the Danube River was a vibrant water network and humans have gradually transformed European rivers, through the industrialisation and chemicalisation of agricultural production.

“The Danube River is a common treasure for us all and that makes us even more glad that the Ministerial Meeting Declaration 2022 is moving us all in the right direction,” said Minister Budaj.

According to him, a modern water policy must be based on the protection of river ecosystems and careful water management. 

“Danube countries need to step up the preparation and swift implementation of projects that increase the resilience of landscapes against the impact of climate change,” commented the WWF-CEE Regional Conservation Director, Irene Lucius. “Floodplain restoration is a good example: it can help communities to reduce the impact of droughts and floods and in addition benefit biodiversity conservation. There is plenty of funding available from EU sources – it´s a matter of earmarking it for such working-with-nature approaches”.

Speaking for civil society representatives at the meeting, Mrs Lucius also called for a more strategic, longer-term approach, including a 2050 roadmap with six-year steps to get there. The roadmap should integrate relevant targets of the EU Biodiversity Strategy such as restoring 25,000 kilometres of free-flowing rivers by 2030, securing the corridors needed to ensure ecological connectivity, extending areas under strict protection, or improving synergies with nature and marine directives.

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