Opening Speech ICPDR President

From its spring to the Black Sea, the Danube is almost 3000 kilometres long. It is drawing water from no less than 19 countries. On its journey, this remarkable river passes a broad range of landscapes: the hills of the Black Forest give rise to a Danube that is merely a small creek. Alpine rivers add much to the Danube, before it enters the Hungarian Plain. Now a mighty river, it breaks through the Carpathian Mountains at the Iron Gate. Transformed once again, finally into a broad, sandy river, the Danube flows smoothly towards the Black Sea, which it enters through an enormous delta.

This diversity in landscapes is reflected in the people of the Danube River Basin: there are more than 80 millions of them, speaking dozens of languages, some of them living in Europe’s poorest, some of them in Europe’s richest regions. These people may appear very different from each other, but they all are united though the Danube. They share the responsibility for protecting it together. Why would they care to do so?

Now, this is why we are here today: people will only care to protect something they know, something they understand. A river basin as diverse as that of the Danube is a complex and dynamic system. Understanding the ecology of such a system is difficult. The Joint Danube Survey will help us to improve our understanding of the Danube and its needs. The findings of this survey will feed into scientific papers and management plans and they will help to raise public awareness. They will provide vital support for the work of government bodies, NGOs and, of course, the ICPDR - which I have the pleasure of representing here today.

The ICPDR is an international organisation, established through the Danube River Protection Convention of 1994. Its 15 contracting parties include all major countries of the Danube River Basin. The ICPDR delegations meet twice a year in plenary sessions and are supported by a Permanent Secretariat in Vienna. However, the ICPDR entails more than that. Much of the ICPDR’s work is based on the activities of expert groups, comprising of delegates from members and observer organisations. These Expert Groups ensure that the work of the ICPDR is firmly anchored in the Danubian countries. In total, almost 300 national experts, mostly from ministries, water management authorities and other public bodies contribute to the work of the ICPDR. This is also the case for efforts such as the Joint Danube Survey.

The Survey draws support from all ICPDR countries – not just riparian ones! – and the European Union, as well as NGOs, academia, and corporate partners. It is the result of a striving cooperation of many passionate individuals from across the Danube River Basin. A core team of international scientists, the ICPDR with its expert groups, corporate partners such as Coca-Cola or Donauchemie – they all contributed time, money or other resources to make JDS3 a reality. I may take this opportunity to express my thanks and appreciation to them.

This survey takes place only once every six years. It builds a bridge between local and international research, and also between science and policy. In doing so, the “Joint Danube Survey” has become a remarkable success. Specific regions, such as the Danube Delta, have pursued their own survey, but even globally, the JDS has been noticed. The countries of the Orange River in southern Africa have pursued a survey modelled after the JDS. I am happy that representatives of our sister organisation ORASECOM will be present at parts of JDS3 to continue the close collaboration between our two river basins.

The final results of the survey will be published only in a year from now. Until then, however, they will already have contributed to the development of the next Danube River Basin Management Plan. This plan is the single most important work program for the ICPDR and a requirement of the EU Water Framework Directive. The next implementation cycle for this directive will start in 2015. The updated Danube River Basin Management Plan is currently under preparation and will likely rest of the same four key-issues as the current one: hazardous substance, organic and nutrient pollution; as well as changes to the river’s structure. All four of these key issues are linked to some of the research that will be pursued in the frame of the Joint Danube Survey. The JDS will help us to get a clearer understanding of the current condition of the Danube and how to address environmental pressures.

For this, it is important to understand that water quality is more than our conventional understanding of “purity”, which we would call “chemical water quality”. A river is much more than clean water flowing from point A to point B. We understand water bodies as dynamic, three-dimensional eco-systems. “Ecological water quality” is therefore linked to the river morphology, biodiversity, sediment transports and other criteria. A river with good water quality will provide good conditions for animals and plants. The Joint Danube Survey will look into both: chemical and ecological criteria: rare micro-pollutants from pharmaceuticals or industrial uses will be analysed as well as animal and plant communities, or the structure of shorelines. In the end, we will improve our broad, over-all understanding of the Danube environment. We will also be in a better position to adjust measures to improve environmental conditions.

Many measures that are being implemented through the current management plan have already positively influenced the water quality of the Danube. Supported by the findings from this Joint Danube Survey, the next plan will ensure that the positive development will continue and benefit both, the environment and the over 80 million people that call the Danube Basin their home.

2013 is the UN “International Year of Water Cooperation”. Transboundary cooperation is what makes the ICPDR strive and what allows efforts such as the Joint Danube Survey. You can see it in the scientists who will be on board of our ships: different countries, different backgrounds, but united by the goal to learn about the Danube. No single country alone would succeed in an effort like this. Together, we all will benefit from this survey. Dear friends, whether you contribute to JDS3 on board or ashore: I wish you a productive time, many interesting results and rewarding conclusions. Thank you!