ICPDR Presidency 2009:
in the heart of the Danube Basin
In its continuing series, Danube Watch presents portraits of the leaders whose passion and commitment help determine the future of our river basin. In this issue we speak to ICPDR President for 2008, Olga Sršnová.
Jaroslav Jadus, State Secretary, Ministry of the Environment of Slovakia; Olga Sršňová, General Director of the Division of Waters and Energy Sources at the Slovak Ministry of Environment and ICPDR President 2009; Saša Dragin, Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Water Management of Serbia and ICPDR President 2008; and ICPDR Executive Secretary Philip Weller.
In the presence of diplomatic representation from all the Danube basin countries, Saša Dragin, Minister of agriculture, forestry and Water Management of serbia, presented a bottle of Danube Water to Olga Sršňová, general Director of the Division of Waters and energy sources at the slovak Ministry of environment, in vienna on 27 january. With this symbolic gesture, the ICPDR Presidency 2009 has been handed over to slovakia.
Danube Watch: What are the main goals for the slovak Presidency?
Ms Sršnová: It is a great honour for the Slovak Republic to undertake the ICPDR Presidency in 2009, and during the presidency, the Slovak Republic will try to follow the positive results reached in the past to benefit all inhabitants living in the Danube River Basin.
This year will be a test of the ability of the ICPDR to coordinate the cooperation in the development of the first River Basin Management Plans and the tasks following the EU Water Framework Directive (WFD) and of the European Council on the assessment and management of flood risks.
The River Basin Management Plan of Slovakia is being finalised and will be submitted for comments and consultation with the public in coming days. Realising these plans by 2015 could establish favourable outcomes for the preparation of the first Flood Risk Management Plans according to the EU Flood Directive. These plans will be a test of the ability of all ICPDR Member States to accept complex measures with a positive impact on better flood protection in the whole Danube River Basin.
Danube Watch: Slovakia has experienced high floods on the Danube and on its tributaries. Do you think we will ever be able to reduce the damage from floods?
Ms Sršnová: Slovakia experienced high floods almost every single year of the last decade, as did neighbouring countries as well. In 2000 we developed the ‘Programme of flood protection in Slovakia till 2010’, and updated the programme in 2002. The overall costs of flood protection measures were estimated at almost €700 million. The Ministry of the Environment together with the Government of the Slovak Republic has been trying to find sufficient financial sources to cover the programme’s flood protection measures, not only from the state budget or local sources of state water management enterprises, but also from the available funds of the European Union.
Floods are a problem not only in Slovakia, but in each country in the Danube River Basin and in other river basins all over the world. It is my hope that in the future we can decrease the danger of floods and reduce the damage by taking all necessary measures and steps which are currently and urgently needed. It is a difficult challenge to meet, but only through common efforts will it be possible to reduce the possible flood risks, flood events and flood damage.
Danube Watch: how important is the involvement of stakeholders in the discussion?
Ms Sršnová: We are very pleased to organise the Stakeholder Forum for the Danube River Basin. It is widely confirmed by practice that consultation with stakeholders on development of any action is beneficiary for both key actors – the state administration and the public. The WFD is one of the most complicated and demanding pieces of EU legislation. Therefore, only if by working with stakeholders ‘on board’, can River Basin Management Plans in roof and national formats be successfully and broadly implemented. In another words – without positively approaching stakeholders, water cannot be efficiently used and saved now and for the future. This is especially true in the face of financial crisis.
Danube Watch: What are some of the ‘hot topics’ in the river basin?
Ms Sršnová: The ICPDR has played a significant role in the protection of the Danube River and its tributaries since its establishment, putting into practise the policies of international conventions and agreements and setting common priorities and strategies. The ICPDR has an important role, especially, for navigation and hydropower issues.
From the point of view of inland navigation and increasing transport demands, cooperation with relevant institutions – like the Danube Navigation Commission, the International Commission for the Protection of the Sava River Basin, the Rhine Commission and other commissions within Europe – is very important and will lead to environmentally sustainable navigation on waterways. For this, we need to develop common measures for the future: the maintenance of current inland waterways, common planning and investments for existing and new waterways with regard to environment protection. I believe the ICPDR is a strong component in this field.
Increasing demands for the exploitation of the hydropower potential of rivers is a very sensitive issue, which we are dealing with in Slovakia. It is necessary to approach this hot topic intelligently and consider the demands and benefits compared with degradation of life in rivers, which will certainly be influenced by construction of hydropower stations on a small or large scale. I would like to point out that the construction of hydropower stations is one of the most effective ways of utilising natural energy sources that have a small impact on the environment.
Danube Watch: What does the Danube mean to you personally?
Ms Sršnová: For me, coming from Bratislava, the Danube means a lot. First of all it is the symbol of the city of Bratislava, history, navigation and extreme flood events. Also it is the symbol of power, energy sources, water works, life and cooperation among nations living on its banks. For me, the Danube also means a river which connects and sometimes divides, connects problems and divides state borders. But one thing that is clear to me is that the Danube belongs to all people living on its banks with shared problems and demands. This means that we have to live, cooperate and connect our common ideas and strategies to improve life along the Danube and in the Danube itself.
Danube Watch: Thank you and all the best for your presidency