Waterway developments on the Danube


Our longest river and its environs are of inestimable value for all of us. The river's subfamilies, floodplain forests and peat meadows host rich wildlife, and there is a huge layer of drinking-water deep under the river's gravel bed, available for inexpensive extraction. The Szigetköz and the Danube downstream region are home to some last remaining plant and animal species. The unique beauty of the Danube Bend is the pride of our country, and for the people who live in towns near the river, the Danube constitutes their chief livelihood. Be that as it may, the Trans-European Transport Networks (TEN-T) development program focuses on rather different aspects.
The European Union Transport Policy's priority project set the restoring of the Rhine-Main-Danube inland waterway axis' navigability as its goal along a 1500 km long section, and this also impacts the Hungarian section of the Danube. Experts set to elaborating the "Underlying Study for the Development of the Danube Navigation Project" for the then Ministry of Economy and Transport. The study aimed to achieve the ensuring of 2.5 metre deep draft for freight vessels at a width of 150-180 metres along the entire section of the Danube in Hungary through the drastic regulation of the river bed. Such river bed regulation, however, has serious cost ramifications not just in terms of the Hungarian section, but also along the other (German, Austrian and Romanian-Bulgarian) sections.
The implementation of such intervention was envisaged during the elaboration of the project's previous plan and would have resulted in the deterioration of the river's ecological status on the whole. The demolition of reefs and the construction of man-made underwater regulator stations would transform river wildlife habitats and further accelerate the subsidence of the river bed. The odds of survival for spawn in decreased water levels near the river bank are further worsened due to increased shipping traffic and ship generated swells. In consideration of all the facts, we do not think that developing the waterway on the basis of river bed transformation would be appropriate. The outlined suggestion about developing navigability raises issues not just regarding aspects of nature, but also from the economic and social viewpoint. WWF produced an analysis of Danube trucking in conjunction with experts and environmental economists , and it confirms, through economic arguments, that riverbed transformation is not absolutely necessary. Shipping traffic could be reinvigorated much more efficiently through market regulation, the development of docks and other infrastructure, more accurate water level forecasting, cargo standardisation and the technological development of fleets. In one word, the WWF thinks the aim should be the development of the whole shipping industry, not only that of navigability.

Danube flows through 10 countries from the Black Forest until it reaches the Black Sea. The navigation interest requires from Danube countries that the actual size ships can travel safely on the river. In order to do so, a wide and deep waterway must be constructed and maintained. Danube has some stretches, which are too shallow and narrow to support safe navigability, unless the riverbed is modified with river training structures and sediment re-locations. However, these shallow and narrow river stretches are the most valuable ones from ecological perspective.

The Danube and its floodplains represent a significant ecological value in Europe. Therefore, it is our priority to preserve the floodplain forests (Gemenc, Kopácsi-rét) and the unique Danube Delta region, as natural resources are the basis of priceless ecological services for people (drinking water, recreation, ecotourism).

Danube countries have various funds available for the maintenance of the navigation route. From the early 2000s, the EU pays more attention to the development of European waterways including the Danube. The suddenly available resources generated development programs, in which the ecological interests were pushed into the background. There were other mistakes in the planning process as well. There were no surveys conducted about the cumulative impacts of the planned interventions, or about the effects the intervention might have on drinking water resources. Also, there was no evaluation how the local people and visitors, who arrive to the banks of the Danube to rest and relax, would react to the changes caused by the waterway development. WWF offices along Danube countries wanted to change the national and international planning in a direction that takes into account these aspects as well. Ships don’t necessary run together in opposite directions along bottlenecks, and there are available professional navigation tools, which can prove to avoid fotó: Michael Gunthersafety these bottlenecks by. If the bank filtration drinking water resources, or the ecological conditions of the riverbed are threatened by the widening of the navigation route, then maintenance of one-way navigation is necessary instead of shipping in two directions along bottlenecks, where the professional navigation tools can support the shipping traffic. Fewer interventions can be accepted in the riverbed, which threaten the conditions of habitats. Restoration of a few river and tributary backwaters near the Danube, won’t compensate the degradation of habitats in the riverbed.

In 2015, new EU funds have opened up for the development of the Danube waterway, which, besides Hungary, are available in Bavaria, Romania, Bulgaria and the Danube Delta. WWF Danube-Carpathian Programme Office’s countries promote that the decision on the elimination of certain narrow sections should be decided on the basis of individual analysis, including the assessment of their cumulative impacts. If the planned waterway endangers an outstanding natural or social value, then maintaining the conditions only for one-way traffic will be sufficient. We have to minimize the damaging effects derived from the waterway development and ship traffic. If this can‘t be avoided, then we need to establish mitigating measures, which follow Danube countries’ and EU’s recommendations for conservation and water management.



Photos Day of Hungarian Nature 2016Big Jump 2016Autumn hike with the WWF Green Generation Program


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