Flood protection biggest task of Hungary-led Danube Commission

Le Danube

Hungary has taken over the Presidency of the International Commission for the Protection of the Danube River and will hold it through 2005. The presidency and the Commission also cover another major European river - the Tisza. It's the Hungarian Minister of Environment and Water Istvan Ori, who will chair the commission and one of his main goals is to improve flood protection without damaging the rivers' natural environment. This follows devastating floods in Central Europe in August of 2002.

Philip Weller is the General Secretary of the commission and he told us about plans for flood management:

"The International Commission for the Protection of the Danube River has developed what we call an action plan for sustainable flood management. It recognises that floods are going to happen and the issue isn't to stop the floods but to stop the damage that occurs from the floods. You do that by allowing waters to spread out over the land in the way that they naturally would, ensuring that people and buildings and things that are of economical value are not built in flood plain areas, where they will be damaged or destroyed."

Traditionally and to this day, many cities and towns are built along the river area, very close to flooding areas. How do you stop this and is there a political will to do this?

"Well, it clearly has been a recognition in recent years that building higher and higher dykes that are going to be continually flooded or breached is not the answer anymore and that we have to recognise that we have to live with floods. We have to learn to ensure that the waters don't move as quickly from the areas where they are falling as rains or melting snows into the rivers.

"We have traditionally done that through the building of cities, the quick transport of water off the land, and we have to go back to the way the natural systems are in the sense of retaining the waters in the head-water areas, making sure that they don't build too quickly.

"Cities like Vienna, Bratislava, or Budapest do need flood protection works. There's no question about that. But they should be reduced to the minimum so that it isn't the primary strategy for protecting from floods but to try and minimise the peaks of water that do have them."