111 kilometres of "Europe’s Amazon”, comprising parts of the natural meandering river stretches of the Danube, Drava and Mura rivers in Croatia could be channelled in a way that would destroy Europe’s largest river protected area without bringing any real economic benefit to the region. What is more, this old fashioned way of river management is being enforced ahead of the country’s official accession to the EU, criticises WWF, EuroNatur, Green Osijek, Drava League and the Croatian Society for the Protection of Birds and Nature.
Since 2008 Croatia has tried to enforce three major river regulation projects in the border area to Hungary and Serbia for the construction of 190 new river structures, including dredging of gravel and sand from the natural river beds to increase navigation and flood protection. However NGOs believe that this is not necessary.
“These projects are an enormous waste of public money, which will only benefit a small group of profiteers in Croatia and will leave citizens with old and damaging water management infrastructure that destroy their environment”, said Martin Schneider-Jacoby from EuroNatur.
EU-Foreign Ministers meeting in Luxembourg on 20 June are expected to give the green light for Croatia’s accession to the European Union in 2013, just days after the enforcement of these regulation projects. Conservationists appeal to the European Commission and the EU-Foreign Ministers to act immediately to help to stop these outdated plans and avoid the irreversible destruction of Europe’s natural treasures.
“The enforcement of such outdated projects just before Croatia’s admission to the EU is a big scandal and a slap in the face to all those who take EU accession and environmental protection seriously. The Croatian Water Management board is obviously trying to quickly approve projects that would never normally comply with the stronger and more modern EU legal system”, said Arno Mohl, Project Coordinator of the “Mura-Drava-Danube" Biosphere Reserve project at WWF Austria.
Even though the Environmental Impact Assessment of this regulation project is still underway, regulation measures have already started across 53 kilometres of the natural Danube in Croatia, destroying natural river landscapes unique in Europe.
Already in 2009, independent EU experts proved that the planned regulation of 56 kilometres on the Lower Drava in Croatia was outdated, environmentally destructive and not in accordance with international standards and EU laws. They also concluded that the Environmental Impact Assessment of the project was done not “in compliance with international standards and EU law” and that “the project should not be realized“. Nevertheless, the project has not been revised and was still approved by the Croatian Ministry of Environment, Spatial Planning and Construction and promoted by the Water Management Authorities.
A similar case is the planned regulation of the natural Drava-Mura confluence. Though the Croatian Ministry of Culture has given negative opinion to the project, as it does not comply with Croatian and EU legislation, the Water Management Authorities still persist to implement it.
“These plans are the biggest threat to the Danube, Drava and Mura in Croatia in the last 30 years”, said Arno Mohl. “The illegal activities along the Danube must be stopped immediately.”
In March 2011 Croatia jointly agreed with Austria, Hungary, Serbia and Slovenia to protect the Danube, Drava and Mura as part of a transboundary UNESCO Biosphere Reserve - Europe’s largest river protected area.
“The commitment to protect this area would not be worth more than the paper it is written on if these plans will be executed”, Mohl said. “We expect the Croatian government to immediately step back from these outdated projects”, he stressed.
Photo: © WWF / Lisa Simon