Danube Floods: Long-term solutions needed for people and nature
Vienna/Bucharest/Sofia – Floodwaters have returned to Bulgaria and Romania, menacing towns, villages and human lives. Human interventions in the floodplains of the Danube River and its major tributaries have led to a dramatic situation in downstream areas of the Danube. Long-term solutions for flood management are required that work with nature, not against it, by giving space back to the rivers.
As an important step in this direction, WWF urges the Governments of Romania, Bulgaria, Ukraine and Moldova to put into practice the solutions agreed by them in 2000 in the “Declaration on the co-operation for the creation of the Lower Danube Green Corridor”.
“Facilitated by WWF, the agreement to establish the Lower Danube Green Corridor aims to make the Lower Danube a living river again, connected to its natural flooding areas and wetlands, reducing the risk of major flooding in areas with human settlements and offering benefits both for local economies - fisheries, tourism - and for protected areas along the river” said Orieta Hulea, Coordinator of the WWF Lower Danube Green Corridor Programme.
”The mechanism is simple: the floodplains are like natural sponges: they act as natural storage reservoirs allowing large volumes of water to be stored and slowly and safely released down rivers and into the groundwater. If we destroy these areas, by cutting them off from the main river beds and draining them for agriculture as has happened on the Lower Danube as across most of Europe, their potential for flood retention is lost and the risk for major flooding increases, as we have experienced in the last couple of years. ”
In 2000, the Lower Danube countries committed to restore 223,608 ha of the former floodplain areas, in the framework of the Lower Danube Green Corridor Agreement. Only 6% of this commitment has been accomplished to date, and the largest wetland areas that have been converted to agricultural polders are still waiting to be reconnected to the river, including those at Potelu, Belene, Seaca- Suhaia – Zimnicea, Gostinu- Prundu – Greaca, Kalimok – Tutrakan, Pardina, Sireasa.
The recent controlled flooding in selected areas undertaken by the Romanian Government has been a step forward toward this approach and underlines that giving more space to the river is crucial for reducing floodwater pressure on human settlements e.g. at Rousse, Calarasi, Silistra, Harsova, and Fetesti. It is important to keep these flooded areas as water retention zones in future and thus reduce the risk from future floods.
Still, an integrated and more transparent flood management approach is needed to stop the dangerous cycle of permitting farming or industrial activities in high risk flood areas, like floodplains, and then building higher and higher dykes to protect them. All economic, ecological and human factors must be considered and actions must be taken to provide long-term solutions, by reconnecting the rivers to their floodplains in the former wetland areas.
Beside their flood control function, floodplains have multiple values, such as keeping high water quality by trapping sediments and pollutants, providing habitats for plants and animals, supporting sustainable tourism, forestry and rich fisheries and replenishing groundwater tables through periodic natural flooding. 80% of the Danube River wetlands have been lost over the past two hundred years, due to human interventions.
Notes to editors:
• The former Greaca wetland from the Danube floodplain was drained into an agriculture polder in 1964 - 1966. 27.830 hectares of floodplain were lost. The area has been proposed and committed to be restored to its natural functions in the Lower Danube Green Corridor Declaration. Map of Greaca before drainage (1920) and nowadays (2004) attached.
• From a ten-year comparative study of the world’s great flood disasters from 1950 – 1998 by the German Insurance company, Munich Reinsurance, the number of global flood events increased threefold: 1950 – 1979 – 7/9 major floods per decade; 1980 – 1989 – 20 major floods; 1989 – 1998 – 34 major floods. For more information, see “Floods Trends and Global Change” report, by Thomas Loster( 1999)
• For over a decade WWF has been working to restore the floodplains of the Lower Danube and its tributaries in Bulgaria, Romania, Ukraine and Moldova, thus contributing to the practical implementation of the Lower Danube Green Corridor Agreement signed by the governments of Romania, Bulgaria, Moldova and Ukraine in 2000.
For further information:
Christine Bratrich, WWF Danube-Carpathian Programme
Tel: +43 1 524 547019
Orieta Hulea, WWF Lower Danube Green Corridor Programme Coordinator
Tel: + 40 744 980461