On 9-10 September the 5th meeting of the Ecological Expert Group, set up by the International Commission for the Protection of the Danube River (ICPDR), took place at Orth, a small historical town hosting the headquarters of Austria's Danube Floodplain National Park (Nationalpark Donau-Auen) established in 1996, after massive protests of the civil society in 1984 against the plans to construct a hydro-power plant with a large reservoir barring the Danube river. Having protected the natural floodplain with its oxbows and extensive riverine forests proved to be a good choice during the exceptional floods in August 2002 that caused extensive damage further downstream. In this area, this was not the case, because the natural floodplain basin of the National Park was sufficiently large to retain the floods and slow down their runoff. The area is covered by two adjacent Ramsar Sites: the Untere Lobau in Vienna Federal State and the Donau-March-Auen in Lower Austria, the latter still threatened by the possible plans to construct a main trans-European shipping canal.
The Expert Group shows how synergies between multilateral agreements and other institutions can work. Several of the ICPDR experts from the 13 Danube catchment basin states are also national focal points for the Ramsar Convention. Others can provide the necessary link between the water management authorities and those in charge of wetlands and natural areas. The main policy instrument guiding the Experts' work, besides the Danube and Ramsar Conventions, is the European Union Water Framework Directive that introduces the river basin approach for integrated water management and requires EU member and accession states (together 27 European countries) to make comprehensive assessments and inventories of wetland ecosystems in river floodplains, mainly in view of their water purification, flood retention and biodiversity preservation capacities. In addition, the Expert Group presents a forum to exchange information about international funding opportunities and to prepare multilateral project proposals and funding submissions, notably to the International Waters programme of the Global Environment Facility. This work is efficiently supported by the scientific and inventory work of WWF's Floodplains Institute and Danube-Carpathian Programme, the International Association for Danube Research (IAD) and others. A major UNDP/GEF Danube Regional Project is in preparation to strengthen the implementation capacities for nutrient reduction and transboundary cooperation in the Danube/Black Sea basin.
The summary of the final report of ICPDR's Joint Danube Survey (May 2002), the Joint Action Programme for the Danube River Basin 2001-2005, and the Annual Report of ICPDR's activities in 2000 can be obtained in print format from the Ramsar Bureau, or directly downloaded from the website www.icpdr.org.
An excursion to see the river restoration works (re-connecting oxbows with the main Danube riverbed, also to provide habitat for the endemic and threatened fish Umbra krameri, cofinanced by the European Union LIFE programme) in the riverine forest next to Orth.
Ramsar's Tobias Salathé on the left
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Whither the Danube?