Water & more
Vienna’s Danube port Freudenau (© Wiener Hafen)

Between Emotion and Busy Transport Route

While for much of the past the Danube was a dividing stream, today the models of fruitful cooperation in this region are attracting an increasing interest worldwide

The planning process for the GabcŠ ikovo/ Nagymaros hydropower project described on the previous page is only one of many examples to show that friction, even between neighbouring states, was not uncommon in cross-border projects along the Danube.

Tension was even more likely between countries that had been divided for decades by the Iron Curtain, such as former Czechoslovakia and Austria, and could only renew their neighbourly relations after 1989. Since then, however, substantial progress has been made to restore an atmosphere of trust and collaboration between the Danube riparian states.

An old proverb says You cannot teach an old dog new tricks. This also goes for coexistence and collaboration in the Danube River Basin. The Austrian Ministry of the Environment (BMLFUW), the governments of various Austrian provinces and the International Commission for the Protection of the Danube River (ICPDR) have, over many years, spent much effort on organising youth projects.

One example was the International Danube Day 2006 with the theme “Donau:Lebenswelten”, aimed at raising young people’s awareness of the Danube Basin as a living environment. The Danube Day, which is held on 29th July every year, commemorates the signing of the Danube River Protection Convention and sets the frame for the youth art contest Danube Art Master. ICPDR, The Coca-Cola Company, Coca-Cola HBC and the Pedagogical Institute of Vienna have also concluded a Green Danube Partnership, in the framework of which a Danube Box was developed.

This free educational kit presented to the public in early July 2006 is initially destined for Austrian school children from grades 4 to 6; at a later stage it shall be translated and promoted for use in the entire Danube Basin. A concurrent survey conducted among 2,000 students in Lower Austria, Upper Austria and Vienna also produced a fairly interesting outcome.

Participants were asked about what they know and how they feel about the Danube Basin as a living environment. Most of them said they wanted the Danube to be a “clean” river where the kids love to spend their leisure time. Although the water of the Danube in Austria is of satisfactory quality, it was rated as “good” or “very good” by only 54 % of those questioned.

Young people’s high esteem of the Danube as a living environment is also underscored by requests to increase monitoring efforts and prohibit bathing in some river sections to protect the natural habitats. Ulli Sima, Vienna City Councillor for the Environment, also refers to the city’s environmental education programme EULE, which aims to inform young people and help protect the Danube eco-system.

The Intelligent Corridor – the Danube

Region’s Cluster of Excellence is intended to foster joint research activities. Shortly before the termination of the Austrian EU Presidency, high-ranking officials from Baden-Württemberg, Bavaria, Austria, Hungary, Slovakia and Romania signed a respective Memorandum of Understanding during a boat trip from Vienna to Bratislava. The goal is to create a common project exchange for research projects in the field of information and communication technologies.

Speaking of boat trips: without doubt the progressing consolidation of the Danube ripa- rian states becomes mostly apparent in passenger and freight transport on the river. While prior to 1989 cruises on the Danube were still overshadowed by much bureaucracy, a short boat trip between Vienna and Bratislava is now an everyday occurrence thanks to the new shuttle service provided by the high-speed catamaran Twin City Liner.

With a draught of merely 0.8 m and jet propulsion, the new liner is perfectly suited for navigation of the Danube. Its hull is said to produce less wash than other passenger liners, causing substantially less damage to riverbanks in the Donau Auen National Park.

The European Commission, the incumbent Austrian government and some sectors of trade and industry propagate a more extensive use of Europe’s second-longest river (2,888 km) for freight transport. Environmental organisations like the WWF, however, fear that a significant increase in the shipping of goods would mean sacrifying the Danube to transport lobbyism.

Some background details: the Danube’s role as a shipping route decreased along with the decline of the Eastern European economies shortly after 1989, and finally faded into insignificance in the wake of NATO interference in Serbia. It took until 2005 to completely remove the wartime remnants of the Danube bridges near Novisad, thus reopening the passage for ships down to the Black Sea.

Even prior to these events some industries and shipping enterprises had complained about a number of “bottlenecks” (temporarily unnavigable river sections) located along the Austrian reaches of the Danube, as well as in Bulgaria and Romania. But since several CEE states were granted EU membership and the strategy of promoting rail transport was abandoned, Brussels’ interest in extending navigation capacities along the Danube has substantially increased. This emphasis was expressed in the Guidelines for a Trans-European Transport Network passed by the EU Parliament in April 2004.

Defined herein is also the Transport Corridor VII, in which the Danube as the only inland waterway is classified as a “priority project”. EU Transport Commissioner Jacques Barrot believes that efforts promoting inland waterway transport will pay in economic terms on condition that the Danube’s connection to the north of Europe via the Rhine and other streams is improved.

The implementation of these plans is laid down in the European inland navigation programme Navigation And Inland Waterway Action and Development in Europe (NAIADES). NAIADES was concluded by the EU Council of Transport Ministers in Luxembourg on 9th June 2006.

In Austria, a possible extension of the Danube for navigation purposes is particularly supported by a National Action Plan presented in February 2006, for which reportedly a budget of € 270 million shall be granted. The latter foresees a doubling of the freight volume on the Danube until 2015. Another € 200 million will be allocated to a river engineering project east of Vienna, which also includes ecological improvements in conjunction with the Donau Auen National Park.

Environmentalists strictly oppose plans to boost navigation efforts on the Danube, arguing that waterway transport should not be viewed as an alternative to road transport, but as a competitor to shipping by rail. They also contend that expectations in this respect are totally exaggerated. Apart from the high costs, WWF mainly criticises the detrimental impact such a development is expected to have on the flora and fauna of the entire River Basin.

One way or another, the growing trend of people in the Danube Basin moving closer to each other is unbroken. But the current developments in waterway transport and the persistent prosperity gap between countries in the west and east of the Danube Basin also shows that there is still much room for action. The International Association of Waterworks in the Danube Catchment Area (IAWD) is a fine example to show how common challenges – in this case a sustainably drinking water supply – can be successfully tackled by different partners.

IAWD’s activities are attracting an increasing interest worldwide, and its projects have meanwhile been adopted as useful case studies by the World Bank, which is organising Water And Rural Development projects in several river catchment areas (such as the Mekong) around the globe. It is therefore not surprising that the latter (as the World Bank Institute) has already voiced an interest in contributing to the programme of the 2008 IWA World Water Congress in Vienna!
(Source: aqua press 2/2006)

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