EU inland navigation plans threaten Europe’s lifeline | WWF

EU inland navigation plans threaten Europe’s lifeline

Posted on 14 February 2006
Street action of WWF on the ocassion of the Inland Navigation Summit in Vienna, 13-15.02.2006
© WWF Austria

Vienna/Brussels – Inland waterway transport plans to shift road freight to rivers will be truly environment-friendly only if healthy river ecosystems are preserved. On the occasion of the conference on inland navigation, taking place in Vienna under the Austrian Presidency, WWF, the global conservation organisation, calls upon the EU to strike the right balance between economic and environmental needs in its plans to promote inland waterway transport on Europe’s rivers.

The conference will put its main focus on the Trans-European Transport Networks (TEN-T) programme and the European Commission NAIADES Action Plan, which aims to promote inland navigation in the EU. However the environmental aspects connected to the impact of navigation on river ecosystems failed to be included on the agenda.

“Inland navigation can be considered as a viable alternative to road freight only if both global CO2 emissions and local impacts on river ecosystems are considered equally”, says Christine Bratrich, Head of the Freshwater Team, WWF Danube Carpathian Programme. “The valuable functions of river ecosystems, such as drinking water supplies, flood control, natural filtering and fisheries must be considered when discussing transport plans. Otherwise in areas like the Danube the risks of damaging the environment outweigh the benefits”.

With more than 80 million people depending directly on the economic value of its river basin’s natural systems, the Danube is the lifeline of Europe. Yet 80 percent of the original floodplain areas in the Danube River Basin have been destroyed by human interventions in the last century.

As part of the TEN-T programme, new infrastructure projects are planned for the Danube, including the elimination of “strategic bottlenecks” on a combined length of 1000 km of the most valuable natural stretches of the Danube, such as one of the last free-flowing stretches in Germany, the Danube National Park between Vienna and Bratislava, and large stretches of the middle and lower Danube in Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria.
Current plans in Hungary would affect the national parks and the sites protected under the Ramsar Convention along the Danube in the country, which is also on the list of the Natura 2000 European Ecological Network. Proposed dredging works and closing of the lateral arms of the Danube in Romania will endanger the fish population due to the loss of the main spawning grounds, especially for sturgeon, which are already reduced as a direct consequence of the loss of the Danube floodplain.

WWF is calling for Strategic Environmental Assessments and Strategic Development Plans to be carried out for the Danube and other major waterways, in order to evaluate market opportunities and the environmental impacts of inland navigation. No new recommendations for the Danube should be made before this evaluation. At the same time, sustainable solutions should be adopted for waterway transport in Europe, such as new technologies (radar navigation, water flow forecasts), modernisation of the fleet to fit with the needs of rivers, and improvement in the rail transport of goods.

For further information:
In Vienna: Christine Bratrich, WWF Danube Carpathian Programme, Tel. +43 1 524 547019,  ; Ulrich Eichelmann, WWF Austria, Tel: +43 676 83 488 279,

In Brussels: Sergey Moroz, European Water Policy Officer, Tel. +32-2-7400923,  

Notes to editors
• European Commission Communication on the Promotion of Inland Waterway Transport - “NAIADES: An Integrated European Action Programme for Inland Waterway Transport”.
• Report of the High Level Group on the Trans-European Transport Network Report (so-called “Van Miert Report”), 27 June 2003  
• International Commission for Protection of the Danube River (ICPDR). Danube Basin Analysis (WFD Roof Report 2004, p.89/142): This report responds to reporting obligations of the Water Framework Directive 2000/60/EC regarding the first characterization and analysis of the Danube River Basin District.