Danube Watch 1/2019 - Presidency 2019: Exploring New Partnerships Strengthening Water Security and Securing the Future


Presidency 2019: Exploring New Partnerships Strengthening Water Security and Securing the Future

a large body of water with a city in the background

Hungary has taken over the ICPDR Presidency for 2019, the 25th anniversary of the signing of the Danube River Protection Convention (DRPC), the major legal instrument for cooperation and transboundary water management in the Danube River Basin, and taken up the challenge of forging new partnerships, strengthening water security, and paving the way for the next generation of management plans, sustainable cross-sectoral cooperation, and knowledge transfer.

Peter Kovács has had an illustrious career as Water Director at the Ministry of Interior in Budapest and Head of Delegation for Hungary to the ICPDR. He has more than 20 years of experience in water issues and river commissions, and is also a former Chairperson of the UNECE Water Convention. Now he brings his wealth of experience and expertise to the ICPDR as its President for 2019. Mr. Kovács also brings his light-heartedness and sense of good-natured fun, reflected in the array of comic-character ties that he is well known for wearing by all his colleagues.

Danube Watch: You have steered water policy in Hungary for many years. How does it feel to be taking responsibility for the entire Danube River Basin now? What differences in approach do you envisage?

It is a great honour to take over this kind of extended responsibility. Fortunately, I have gained lot of experience on regional and sub-regional levels since my junior years. I have always been involved in trans-boundary water management in every position, which will give me a level of confidence. At the Danube Basin level, we are faced with the same problems as on a national level (climate change adaptation, water scarcity, flood challenges), so the approach to coordinating measures should be very similar. We have to move in the direction of digital (precision) water management, using all available technological tools for future planning. But beyond technical issues, trust building and political agreement are also key factors in our work.

Danube Watch: You have a reputation of being highly committed with a high level of expertise. How do you intend to utilise these attributes in your work with us?

As a civil engineer, later specialising in surface water quality protection, but also having gained a general overview in other fields, I would also like to actively contribute to expert group level activities in an advisory role. I have a personal interest in some topics, e.g. tailings management and water allocation, where I still act as an expert.

Danube Watch: One of your main priorities is to further improve the financial framework and sponsoring system, and to explore possibilities of involving new partners from the basin to support the activities of the ICPDR. What actions do you foresee as necessary to achieve this?

We have to realise that a thorough review is needed relating to the sustainability of the current financing system. A country’s contribution has basically remained at the same level, but the responsibilities and new tasks have been growing exponentially at the same time. I am fully aware that some countries suffering financial crises would have difficulties if we were to significantly raise the level of contributions. However, I feel that the use of the business sector in finding additional funds would be an option. We should look for big internationally recognised companies which have a close relationship or are situated close to the water and have a presence in many countries of the Danube Basin. As president, I would like to start negotiations with such companies in the hope that they would support our work.

Danube Watch: You are also concerned about the possibility of water scarcity caused by climate change in the Danube region. What do you think are the main strengths of the ICPDR’s Adaptation Strategy to Climate Change and what other measures can be taken to reduce and mitigate its effects?

In my opinion, climate change adaptation is one of the biggest challenges of this century. Whether one believes in it or not, the fact is that we are facing extreme floods, record low water levels in our rivers, as well as more frequent and longer droughts. The ICPDR’s CC Adaptation Strategy provides guidance for all the countries in the basin. Only coordinated actions can lead to a solution.

We are concerned that more frequent or prolonged droughts could increase competition between water uses, which could lead to water scarcity in the long-term. We need to start thinking about this on a transboundary level and ensure that all means are used to identify robust measures and promote the mitigation of the effects of drought.

Irrigation development is one of the answers to the high pressure on both surface and groundwater resources. We have to build up a real partnership with the agricultural sector, pointing out the use of water saving irrigation schemes as good agricultural practice; natural water retention can save the productivity of the farmlands and, at the same time, allow for the sustainability of water resources.

Danube Watch: The further implementation of the existing plans and preparation of their updates in 2021 is also of great importance to you. What challenges do you expect to encounter and what are the opportunities?

The 3rd RBMP (River Basin Management Plan) and the 2nd (Flood Risk Management Plan) FRMP will be a challenge, even though we are not doing them for the first time. Data collection is a huge task, which will start this year. The 4th Joint Danube Survey (JDS4) will be a key activity, as it will provide additional information for the updates. I would highlight the importance of bilateral cooperation between the countries on their national parts of the RBMP, especially on the Program of Measure. We should also provide help to non-EU Member States who have no legal obligation to develop those plans, but have a politically approved commitment to do such.

Danube Watch: Finally, what do you hope to have achieved by the end of your Presidency?

I wish to establish a sound financial framework and a sponsoring system for the extended activities of the ICPDR, to classify drought as a significant water management issue, to increase the visibility of the ICPDR, partly by reaching out to an even broader public by using social media, and to extend partnerships with stakeholders (e.g. Danube Strategy, UNECE, etc.).

My wish is also to explore possibilities of involving new partners from the basin who can actively support ICPDR-related activities. I see the engagement of the private sector in individual partnerships with the ICPDR as an opportunity to harmonise efforts towards joint concerns and objectives.

I also hope that we will assure the availability of a sufficient quantity of clean water for all water users, assuring the sustainability of those water resources at the same time. We hope that our joint efforts in 2019 will result in reaching a cleaner, healthier, and safer Danube River Basin.