Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Moves to Save the Not-So-Blue Danube

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Moves to Save the Not-So-Blue Danube

Article excerpt

When Johann Strauss gazed upon Europe's grandest waterway 140 years ago, it inspired him to compose the Blue Danube Waltz, went on to become an unofficial anthem of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

Today, the river that flows beneath the bridges of the Hungarian capital is anything but blue. Befouled with sewage, fertilizers, and industrial waste, the opaque, brown Danube has become a drainage canal for half a continent, so poisonous that it has devastated life in the Black Sea, which lies at the end of the 1,800-mile long river.

Last week, the Switzerland-based environmental group WWF- International (a branch of the World Wildlife Fund) named the Danube one of the world's 10 most threatened rivers, along withthe Yangtze, Nile, Ganges, and Rio Grande.

"Some of the rivers on the list are so damaged that they may really be lost, but others are in a better state and could still be saved if correct action is taken," says Christine Bratrich of WWF's Vienna-based Danube-Carpathian Programme. "The Danube still has the potential to be preserved."

More than 80 percent of the Danube's floodplains and wetlands have been lost to development and navigational projects, exterminatingthe river's sturgeon stocks and lowering water quality in the main channel. Extensive sewage and agricultural pollution - particularly in the former Communist nations of the middle and lower basin - triggered algae blooms that snuffed out much of the life in the Black Sea in the early 1990s.

Solving these problems is complicated by the fact that the Danube basin is shared by 19 countries. Cooperation on environmental issues was all but impossible during the cold war, which divided the basin in two, and little better in the 1990s, when the Yugsolav wars turned swaths of it into a battleground.

The past five years have seen considerable progress, however, as the European Union - with its strict environmental regulations - has expanded to include Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, and other nations located in the middle and lower basin. …

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