WWF's European Freshwater Programme launches "Water and Wetland Index"

15/05/2001

Europe’s Rivers Ready for Revival

panda.gif (879 bytes)Originally scheduled for launch on World Wetlands Day 2001, the WWF European Freshwater Programme's Water and Wetland Index finally went public on 19 April 2001. Here is WWF's press release:

Brussels, Belgium - Rivers in EU and accession countries will have to be revived and restored to a more natural state to meet new water standards agreed by EU governments said WWF, the conservation organisation, at the launch of a new WWF study on the state of Europe’s rivers, lakes and wetlands.

The Rhône, the Seine, the Ebro, the Segura, the Severn, the Danube (in Austria), the Meuse and the Scheldt, are among the rivers that will need major restoration works and other actions to meet «good ecological status» before the end of 2015, as required by the EU Water Framework Directive.

«Although heavy pollution in Europe’s rivers is reduced, most European rivers are far from achieving their ecological potential» said Jane Madgwick, Head of WWF’s European Freshwater Programme. «The challenge now is to make Europe’s rivers suitable once again for all the life they used to support.»

According to WWF’s ‘Water and Wetland Index’ 50 out of 69 river stretches in 16 European countries [Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey and UK] suffer from «poor ecological status» due to canalisation, dams and locks, floodplain drainage, over-abstraction of water, industrial discharges, insufficient water treatment and heavy use of fertilisers. Of the rivers examined by WWF only a few already meet the future requirements of the Directive: these include the Wye and the Usk (Wales), the Teno (Finland), the Morava (Austria), the Coe (Scotland), the Derwent (England) and the Semois (Belgium).

Several of Europe’s more natural rivers are in accession countries – the Narva (Estonia), the Raba (Hungary), the Göksu (Turkey) and the Mesta (Bulgaria). WWF’s Water and Wetland Index shows that many rivers in accession countries are in a better condition than similar sized ones in the EU. In fact, Estonia, Slovakia and Hungary should have less difficulty meeting the new standards than some existing member states.

Restoring floodplains and allowing rivers to run their own course will be necessary in many parts of Europe in order to achieve the «good ecological status» required by law. This can have the added benefit of helping to reduce the impact of floods on towns and cities. Although water quality has improved in recent years, pollution is still a major problem for many rivers. Significant changes will also be needed in water consumption, farming and irrigation practices to allow rivers to sustain their flows, especially in Southern Europe.

«European Heads of Government have signed up for a big improvement in Europe’s rivers » said Jane Madgwick. « It will require a substantial investment but the costs of reviving Europe’s rivers will be more than repaid by long-term savings in flood damage, water treatment and public health. WWF will be keeping a close eye on EU countries to make sure they live up to these commitments.»

WWF also found that France, Spain, Greece, Bulgaria and Turkey have inadequate monitoring systems and lack the basic information needed to improve the state of their rivers, wetlands and scarce freshwater resources. Unless the situation is improved, the EU countries among them will be in violation of the Water Framework Directive by 2006.

For further information: Julian Scola, Press Officer, WWF European Policy Office, tel +32 2 743 8806 or visit the European Freshwater Programme's "Water and Wetland Index" Web site, http://www.panda.org/europe/freshwater/wwi/phase1/overview.html

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