At the first meeting of the International Commission for the Protection of the Danube River an Austrian official was elected to head the body for the next year, during which time parties will build on progress already made before the convention entered into force. The two main achievements to date are the creation of an early warning system for pollution or accident alerts and a strategic action plan.
Twelve alert centres make up an early warning network operational since April 1997, since when four oil spills have been reported, none of which had transboundary affects. The centres are at Passau, Germany; Tulln, Austria; Brno, Czech Republic; Bratislava, Slovakia; Budapest, Hungary; Ljubjana, Slovenia; Zagreb, Croatia; Bucharest, Romania; Sofia, Bulgaria; Kishinev, Moldova; Uzgorod, Ukraine; and Ismail, Ukraine.
Pollution "hot spots" have been the early focus for development of a strategic action plan for the convention. There are over 300 such areas in the region, according to Teun Botterweg of the commission's secretariat, including both areas of diffuse pollution and point sources such as industrial facilities and untreated sewage outfalls.
"Romania is the largest country with the most inhabitants in the Danube Basin, so it's [not surprising] that it has the greatest share of hot-spots," Mr Botterweg told ENDS Daily. "The process of assessing hot spots has not been finished yet," he went on. "Agriculture is the major problem in Austria and Germany and hardest to combat - that brings a lot of problems to the countries downstream."
Addressing the problems caused by hot spots will be expensive, according to Timo Mäkelä, an official in the European Commission's environment directorate. Up to Ecu30bn will be needed to clean up hot spots and bring environmental standards up to EU level, he says.
International financing for this process comes through EU programmes such as Phare and Tacis, as well as the Global Environmental Facility (GEF), which is administered by the UN Development Programme. Additional money is available for countries on track to join the EU, though Ben Griepink, a senior official in the process stresses that only 25% of spending comes from international donors. "The rest has been financed by the countries on their own," he told ENDS Daily.
Danube Programme Coordination Unit, tel: +43 1 26060.
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