Listening, learning, discussing

Representatives to the Danube River Basin Stakeholder Conference in Budapest June 28-29 work together to find ways to use the rivers of the Danube Basin and to safeguard them for the future.

Credit: Keresztes/GWP Hungary
Securing economic development by not overusing natural resources is one of the difficulties of the 21st century. Only if we are able to combine the two, the principles of the EU Water Framework Directive will be put into practice.

Public participation is a central element of river basin planning, and the input of stakeholders is a pre-requisite for developing management strategies that really work. With these principles in mind, over a hundred representatives from all over the Danube Basin gathered on June 28-29 in the historic chambers of the Budapest 5th District City Hall for the first 'Danube River Basin Stakeholder Conference'.

The aims of the conference were to strengthen the input of interest groups in the discussions and decisionmaking processes of the ICPDR, particularly regarding the implementation of the EU Water Framework Directive. "This conference should not only inform stakeholders, but we would like to go a step further and enable their active involvement," said István Öri, ICPDR President.

One river, many interests.
Participants came representing hydropower, flood protection, transport, nature conservation, mining, fisheries, drinking water, tourism and research. The discussions in the plenary and in the work sessions focused on possible conflicts over the use of water resources and such questions as: How can we guarantee that water used for consumption and irrigation fulfils quality criteria if too much wastewater still ends up in rivers? How is it possible to combine modern transport on the Danube with natural river stretches, which are important for recreation and nature conservation? How can economic growth be secured without losing the remaining wetlands and floodplains?

During the next four years, all Danube countries will develop a 'Programme of Measures' to fulfil their legal obligation under the EU Water Framework Directive. These programmes will be implemented nationally, but will also touch upon issues of basin-wide concern, such as pollution through hazardous substances or nutrients and hydromorphological changes through dams and weirs - problems which can only be solved through the participation of the different stakeholder groups from the local level to the entire basin.

Involvement is crucial. "Despite the fact that good activities are under way in the Danube River Basin, the implementation of the EU Water Framework Directive requires an even greater involvement of the public – not only on the international, but even more importantly on a sub-basin and national level," stated Andras Janossy, from the National Assembly of the Hungarian NGOs for Environmental Protection and Nature Conservation. "It is of utmost importance that stakeholders are not only involved in the discussion of the principles but in the development and the implementation of the river management plans," he added.

Although nearly half of the Danube Basin is classified as arable land, which influences rivers through runoff or irrigation needs, the agricultural sector was not well represented at the conference. However, other chances to cooperate with ICPDR will be provided, such as a feedback round to the Danube River Basin Analysis (Roof Report 2004), providing an overview on the impact of human activities at the basin-widelevel and being the basis for current ICPDR activities. It is never too late to get active. Visit the website of the ICPDR and have a stake!

Jasmine Bachmann
works on public participation in the ICPDR Permanent Secretariat,
and is the Executive Editor of Danube Watch.