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Danube Drought

The Danube is evaporating. The Danube is Europe's second longest river after the Volga, and extremely important for European cargo transport.

The summer was dry instead of the usual summer rainfalls. and it still hasn't got much better. In the Czech Republic for instance they had their driest November since meteorological measurements began in 1775. In fact the stretch from South Germany to the Black Sea has had practically no rain since June. The drought has lead to serious problems like low power supplies in Serbia and Bosnia, drinking water shortages in Bosnia, and crop harvest failure in Romania, Bulgaria and Hungary.

A maybe more visible effect is the low water level causing sunken World War II German battle ships to surface on the Danube and unexploded bombs that fell during the 1940s to emerge from the Sava river in Serbia. Furthermore hundreds of ships are stuck in sand banks waiting for rain to come, so that they can continue their travel. Budapest has been closed to cruise traffic. In short the drought threatens to paralyse transport on the Danube. Ports in the region have seen reductions of up to 25 % in traffic, while ferry services between Bulgaria and Romania are on the edge of closing.

Early December (2011), the Danube's flow rate in Turnu-Severin, a town in southwest Romania, home to the country's largest hydroelectric power plant, was 2,400 cubic metres per second, 63% of the usual average of 3,800 cubic metres per second. Hidroelectrica, the public corporation in charge of delivering the energy produced by the plant, is generating only 1,800 MW instead of the usual 2,100 MW. Hotel owners in the Danube delta (an otherwise wonderful birding area), who have lost some 10,000 tourists this year, with 250 boats and craft stranded, waiting for the rains before they can sail again. Losses are now counted in millions of euros.

Another problem to arise may be an increased risk of freezing in the coming winter months, as the lack of rainfall in Germany has led to sluggish currents. The Danube has not frozen in Bulgaria since 1985.

The drought is also threatening the fragile ecosystem. According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), the race to expand agricultural land in the 20th century has already eliminated 80% of the Danube's wetlands. The wetlands along the riverbanks were able to absorb water in the event of flooding and free it in periods of drought. The Danube Delta has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1991. Its wetlands (on the Ramsar list of wetlands of international importance) support vast flocks of migratory birds

Well, extreme weather with the worst drought for 200 years is of course mostly to blame. Global warming is leading to more frequent extreme weather situations, so maybe climate change is also partly to blame, although you cannot judge from just one event, of course. No doubt numerous more or less well planned infrastructures have added to some of the problems, while other works that might have minimised the effects, have not been carried out.

In the present financial crisis in the EU we could do without further problems like these.

Appropriately enough the International Commission for the Protection of the Danube River (with 15 member states) is gathering these days (13 and 14 December 2011) to discuss a range of environmental threats, that the Danube River Basin faces in the light of global warming, in order to find appropriate responses to these threats. | Impressum