Danube Recovering from Pollution, but Faces New Threats from Growing Eastern Economies
VIENNA, Austria The fragile ecosystems in the Danube river have recovered from high pollution levels in the 1970s and 1980s but face new threats with the eastern expansion of the European Union, a U.N. official said.
Ivan Zavadsky, the head of a U.N. project aiming to clean the river, said that EU subsidies to Eastern European economies could lead to intensified farming, putting the river's wildlife at risk.
"At the moment we have the first signs of recovery of the ecosystems but the trend and the processes are not irreversible yet. It's still a very fragile equilibrium," Zavadasky said in an interview earlier this week.
Fertilizers used by farmers leak into the Danube, boosting the growth of algae that reduce the amount of oxygen available to other organisms, he said.
The United Nations Development Program in 2001 launched the Danube Regional Project to help countries along the river protect its water and that of the Black Sea. The project, set to end in 2006, has reached it's halfway point, and so far, experts have helped the 13 Danube countries develop policies and legal tools to protect the river, Zavadsky said.
The project also aims to educate the 80 million residents in the Danube River basin _ an area that stretches from Germany in the west to the Black Sea in the east, and from Poland in the north to Albania in the south _ about how their actions affect the Danube and the Black Sea.
"The fisherman in the Danube Delta is very sensitive; there is no other job for him other than to be a fisherman. If the pollution is reaching his point, and the diversity of the fish stock in the Danube Delta is shrinking, then he's out of business," Zavadasky said.
Project officials aim to reduce the level of nutrients in the river to the level that was measured in the early 1960s, a time when scientists say wildlife in the Black Sea appeared to be doing fine, Zavadsky said.
Zavadsky's office will now finance dozens of smaller, non-governmental organization projects ranging from ecological education in primary schools in Bosnia to promotion of organic farming in Moldova and Serbia-Montenegro. Successful projects will be replicated elsewhere.
"The solution is ... not repeat the mistakes that Western Europe did in the 1970s," Zavadsky said. "The solution is to use appropriate agriculture practices, to focus on more environmentally sound agriculture practices."
Source: Associated Press