The Danube
Danube and Europe
Living Force

Dr Graeme Kelleher

The blue Danube has, for hundreds of years, symbolised purity
and life to the Western world and to parts of the East. This
presentation examines the history and current state of this
great, now brown, river and identifies what must be done to
restore it and its surrounding ecosystems.

The four presenters approach the issue of the health of the
Danube, and the human and other communities that depend on
it, from different perspectives. Rabbi Hertzberg showed
that many of the problems of the river stem from two primary
sociological causes; firstly, a lack of ethics in the people
using the river and secondly, conflict between different groups
of people, including formal religions, in relation to the
river and its resources. Rabbi Hertzberg pointed out that
a change in the attitude of the people who use the river will
be essential if the river and its associated ecosystems are
to survive and revive. He rightly pointed out that people
using the river should have concern for others and ensure
that their use of the river does not impose costs and penalties
on others. This observation refers, not only to the effects
of today's activities on people of today's generation, but
also to the effects on later generations. This presentation
recognised the responsibilities of, and opportunities for,
the many religious groups that are associated with the people
who use or affect the Danube to provide the spiritual motivation
for the necessary changes in human behaviour.

The second presenter, Professor Schiemer, described
the biophysical problems of this great river and demonstrates
that the major causes of the degradation of the river and
its associated ecosystems have been either thoughtful or thoughtless
actions by people in control of, or using, the river. Such
actions include, not only inadvertent or deliberate destruction,
but also the unintended effects of major engineering projects
which changed drastically the way the river operates. Variations
in floods in the river have been diminished by man's works,
adversely affecting some plant communities; the channelling
of the river and adjacent wetlands has led to increased erosion
of the main river channel and the death or deterioration of
adjacent wetlands. Pollution has been and continues to be
a major problem. Professor Schiemer pointed out that major
changes are required in the approach to the construction and
maintenance of civil engineering works along the river, if
the river's ecosystem is to be protected and improved. Particularly,
every decision regarding the construction of a civil engineering
work needs to take into account, not only the primary purpose
of that construction, which is usually either to improve the
efficiency of river transport, to generate electricity or
to provide drinking water, but also to ensure that the river
can operate in a way that is compatible with the health of
river ecosystems, such as wetlands and adjacent forestry areas.
In summary, the planning and operation of the Danube should,
in future, be multi-objective - the first, focusing on the
socio-economic needs of the users of the river, and the second
being to maximise the quality of the river and its adjacent

The third presentation, by Professor Weiger and Ms
Christine Margraf, described some of the major animal
and plant communities that depend on the Danube and how they
have been affected by human activities. It detailed the deterioration
in the river ecosystem and linked each description of deterioration
with decisions and actions that have been taken, mainly to
increase the economic welfare of the users of the river. They
call for a new morality in the approach to managing human
activities and for greatly increased co-operation between
people. Particularly, they warn of the adverse effects that
will flow from existing proposals to further canalise the
Danube in Bavaria.

The fourth presenter, Mr Philip Weller, has for many
years been part of a group that has worked to restore the
health of ecosystems that depend on the river's qualities.
This presentation is very forward-looking. He described the
actions that can be taken in order to allow the river to continue
to function as an important economic resource and also to
ensure that the ecosystems that depend on the river are reconstructed
and will thrive for future generations. The aim is both to
retain the economic usefulness of the river and to contribute
to the maintenance and restoration of biological diversity
of the river and its surrounds.

Taken together, these four presentations illustrated that,
if humans are to live sustainably with their natural environments,
they will have to be inspired by religion and ethical values
and will have to act, using all the tools of science and engineering,
to ensure that the Danube once again becomes truly a river
of life, for both the humans that depend on it and the immense
variety of other life forms that defines this great, flowing

The flowing river Rabbi (Dr Arthur Hertzberg)
Wetlands: restoring the connection of the river (Professor Fritz Schiemer)
The importance of free flowing rivers (Professor Dr Hubert Weiger and Ms Christine
The Danube: a highway across Europe or a green lifeline? (Mr Philip Weller)