29 June 2021 – Held annually, Danube Day celebrates the Danube and the rivers that flow into it, and the vital role they play in providing water, food, recreation and livelihood. It also commemorates the anniversary of the signing of the Danube River Protection Convention (1994). As with every 29 June, more than eighty million people in the 14 Danube countries are invited to celebrate Danube Day, to learn about the waters, to experience the river, and to #DiscoverDanube.
Wetlands, Water and Life
Up to 87% of global wetlands have been lost in the past 300 years, 1/3 of those just since 1970. This loss has significantly contributed to the huge loss of species populations over the same period. Also the Danube and its main tributaries have seen 80% of their wetlands disappear over the past 150 years and river flows are also interrupted. Damage to the river has mainly been caused by diking, river regulation and damming to meet the needs of hydroelectric power, navigation, agriculture and flood prevention projects.
‘Freshwater habitats provide a host of valuable goods and services, from important nurseries for fish to water regulation and purification, yet they are among the most threatened habitats worldwide.’ – Irene Lucius, Regional Conservation Director, WWF Central and Eastern Europe
The Living Danube Partnership (LDP) between WWF-CEE, The Coca-Cola Foundation and International Commission for the Protection of the Danube River (ICPDR) was established to show the benefits of restoration and working with nature.
‘The Living Danube Partnership is living proof that working together is vital if we are to safeguard the supply of water in the EU, and stop and reverse the decline of biodiversity and tackle climate change’. – Sofia Kilifi, Sustainability Manager Europe, The Coca-Cola Company
Celebrating Our Achievements on Danube Day
The Partnership has supported nine restoration projects across six countries (Austria, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Romania and Bulgaria) and identified further sites for future restoration. The projects are concentrated in and thus contribute to realising the Lower Danube Green Corridor (shared by Romania, Bulgaria, Moldova and Ukraine); and the Mura-Drava-Danube Transboundary Biosphere Reserve (shared by Austria, Slovenia, Hungary, Croatia and Serbia).
● Restoration of Soda Lakes (Neusiedler See Ntional Park, Seewinkel, Austria, 2013–2014): 400 ha of soda lakes, salt steppes and salt marshes restored. Hundreds of rare soda lakes in the Pannonian basin from eastern Austria across Hungary to Serbia have lost their unique character due to man‑made interventions, including drainage. By installing a system of sluices, the Living Danube Partnership has raised the level of groundwater, preventing some of the soda lakes from drying out. The successful project has inspired local stakeholders to undertake additional interventions to save other soda lakes in the area.
● Restoration of Drava River Side-Arms (Mura-Drava-Danube Transboundary Biosphere Reserve, Croatia, 2015–2024): 14.5 river kilometres of side-arms reconnected. Co‑financing from the Living Danube Partnership leveraged EU support to restore seven side‑arms of the Drava River in Croatia. The project, which is led by the Croatian Water Authority, is designed to give the Authority experience in ‘natural’ river management while helping Croatia comply with the EU Water Framework Directive and the requirements of the EU Habitats and Birds Directives.
● Restoration of the Lankóc Floodplain Forest (Mura-Drava-Danube Transboundary Biosphere Reserve, Hungary, WiseDrava Project 2018–2023): 531 ha of floodplain forests restored. The overall goal of the project is to reduce riverbed degradation of the Drava River through changes to the existing river regulation structures and management. This will improve the status of riverine and floodplain habitats and, among other benefits, improve the water supply of the Lankóc Floodplain Forest.
● Restoration of the Barcs Old Drava Oxbow (Mura-Drava-Danube Transboundary Biosphere Reserve, Hungary, 2014–2018). 176 ha of wetlands restored on the Drava River. The Barcs Old Drava, the longest side‑branch of the Drava River in Hungary, has suffered from declining water levels that have hurt the ecology of the area as well as fishing. This project, co‑financed by EU funds, focused on restoring water levels in the oxbow and surrounding floodplain forest habitats as well as improving infrastructure for anglers.
● Restoration of the Oxbow at Široki Rit (Mura-Drava-Danube Transboundary Biosphere Reserve, Serbia, 2015–2017): 53 ha of wetland restored at Široki Rit. In the second half of the 20th century, efforts to regulate the Danube prevented regular flooding of the oxbow at Široki Rit and led to gradual drying and siltation of the area. Widening and deepening the existing supply channel and slightly dredging the lake has given the area the possibility to fulfil its primary ecological function as a breeding and spawning area for waterfowl, fish and amphibians and a stopover for migrating birds.
● Restoration of the Gârla Mare/Vrata Wetlands (Lower Danube Green Corridor, Romania, 2014–2021): 620 ha of marshlands in the Danube floodplain restored. Inundation of the massive wetlands at Gârla Mare and Vrata in southern Romania will be improved through modification of a water supply channel, sluice and dredging, and thus increasing flood storage capacity by 5.2 million m3 (projected). Dykes have been reinforced in order to protect active fish ponds against flooding.
● Restoration of the Persina and Kalimok Wetlands (Lower Danube Green Corridor, Bulgaria, 2017–2020): 3700 ha of Danube floodplain marshland with improved water supply. The 3,700 hectares of marshlands on Persina Island in the Danube and nearby at Kalimok on the mainland have benefitted from improvements to the sluice system, permitting better water regulation at the two sites. The measures are already yielding benefits in terms of increased fish production as well as improved habitat for rare species including Dalmatian pelicans.
● FISH PASSAGE Constructed on the Rusenski Lom (Lower Danube Green Corridor, Bulgaria, 2013–2017): 120 river kilometres reconnected by removing barriers and constructing a fish pass. Many dams and other man‑made barrages in Bulgaria do not have any or only inadequate fish passes, restricting the natural free movement of fish. This pioneering project removed barriers and constructed a new fish pass on the Rusenski Lom River to pilot and promote good practice in design and construction of fish passes in Bulgaria.
‘If there is one key lesson that we have learned over the past eight years, at basin level and through individual projects, it is the power of partnership – that by working together we can achieve more than working alone’. – Andreas Beckmann, Regional CEO, WWF Central and Eastern Europe
The way forward to 2030
Wetlands offer useful nature-based solutions by performing a number of vital environmental functions such as flood or drought risk mitigation; climate regulation; feeding, resting and nesting grounds for birds; wildlife habitat; and livelihoods for communities via fishing, biomass production, grazing or providing space for ecotourism. Only by conserving and restoring our rivers, lakes and wetlands can we hope to ensure water for all – people and nature.
Today on Danube Day, the world needs to commit to a New Deal for Nature that safeguards wetlands. The catastrophic decline in freshwater species is the clearest indication of the damage we are doing to the world’s wetlands – our life support systems. If we do not all – governments, corporations, financial institutions, NGOs and communities – take serious and immediate global action to halt the ongoing misuse and destruction of our essential wetland ecosystems, we have no chance of meeting the UN Sustainable Development Goals, and the future of the planet will be fraught with risk and uncertainty.
For more information:
Regional Conservation Director,
WWF Central and Eastern Europe
Tel: +43 1 52 45 470 19
Over the course of 18 years, Danube Day has grown to become the world’s largest international river festival, usually populating riverbanks and planning public meetings and educational events from the Black Forest to the Black Sea. At the international level, events are coordinated by the International Commission for the Protection of the Danube River (ICPDR), from their Permanent Secretariat in Vienna. ICPDR member countries and partners also organize events at the international level though, putting to use their local knowledge, side-by-side with the international cooperation.
The Living Danube Partnership is a unique, cross-sectoral partnership that has brought together WWF-CEE, the Coca-Cola Foundation and the Coca-Cola System as well as the International Commission for the Protection of the Danube River (ICPDR) to promote the conservation and restoration of wetlands in the Danube basin. The aim of the Living Danube Partnership is to promote river and wetland restoration across the Danube basin – not only through the partnership’s own actions but also and especially beyond. In this spirit, we hope that the lessons and recommendations we have gathered can benefit further efforts to restore rivers and wetlands, for the benefit of people and nature. Supported by a $ 4.4 million (€3.73 million) grant from The Coca-Cola Foundation, the eight-year partnership has sought to restore vital wetlands, rivers and floodplains along the River Danube and its tributaries, aiming to increase the river capacity by the equivalent of 4,800 Olympic-sized swimming pools (12 million m3) and to restore over 7,422 football pitches worth of wetland habitat (53 km2) by 2021.
Final Report on the Living Danube Partnership here.