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The Danube – the Lifeline of Europe

The Danube-delta
The Danube is one of the world’s greatest rivers. It is the second longest river in Europe after the Volga and the longest river in the European Union. It measures 2,857 km in length and up to 1.5 km in width, with depths between 1 to 8 metres and drains 817,000 km². The scenic silver stream of the only eastbound river in Europe originates in Germany's Black Forest as the much smaller Brigach and Breg Rivers, which join at the town of Donaueschingen. The Danube then flows eastward, passing through several Central and Eastern European capitals before emptying into the Black Sea via the Danube Delta in Romania and Ukraine.

Considered Europe's lifeline, the basin includes the territories of 19 countries and is home to more than 83 million people with a wide range of cultures, languages and historical backgrounds, making it the single most international river, affecting more nations than any other river in the world. The river itself touches or crosses ten countries: Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria, Romania, Moldova, and Ukraine. The European Commission now recognises the Danube as the “most important non-oceanic body of water in Europe” and a “future central axis for the European Union”.

People have been aware of the Danube's importance since the dawn of mankind. In Latin the Danube was known as Danubius, Danuvius, or Ister, and in Ancient Greek as Istros. The name Dānuvius is derived from the Indo-European word dānu, meaning “primeval cosmic river”. The Indo-European root dā meaning “to flow, rapid, violent, undisciplined” whereas the Ancient Greek word Istros simply means "strong” or “swift”.

The Waters of the Danube Basin

The Upper Basin extends from the source of the Danube in Germany, where it remains a characteristic mountain river until Passau, to Bratislava in Slovakia. The Middle Basin is the largest of the three sub-regions, extending from Bratislava to the dams of the Iron Gate Gorge on the border between Serbia and Romania. The lowlands, plateaus and mountains of Romania and Bulgaria form the Lower Basin of the River Danube. Finally, the river divides into three main branches, forming the vast Danube Delta, which covers an area of about 6,750 km².

Many tributaries flow into the Danube. The Inn is the third largest tributary by discharge, and the seventh longest. At the confluence in Passau, it contains more water than the mainstream of the Danube itself.

The River Morava/March enters the Danube from the north. Its catchment area includes parts of the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Austria, the Carpathians and the Pannonian Plain.

The Drava River is the Danube's fourth largest and fourth longest tributary, and connects the Alps with the Danube and the Black Sea.

The Tisza River is the longest tributary of the Danube (966 km), and the second largest by flow, after the Sava River. The Tisza River Basin is the largest sub-basin in the Danube River Basin.

The Sava has the largest discharge of water to the Danube of any tributary and is the second largest by catchment area. The Sava is shared by Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia and Montenegro.

The Siret flows from its source in Ukraine into Romania. The Siret River Basin is the third-largest catchment area of any Danube tributary, and is situated to the east of the Carpathians.

The Prut River is the second longest (950 km) and the last major tributary of the Danube, with its confluence located just upstream of the Danube Delta. It begins in the forests of the Ukrainian Carpathians, and later forms the border between Romania and Moldova.

Protecting a Valuable Resource

The flooding Danube
Although the Danube is widely known as the “Blue Danube”, its water is far from being blue in most places. In recent decades, many dams and locks were built that interrupt the natural flow of the river on its majestic journey to the Black Sea. On top of this, problems from pollution endanger its rich biodiversity and extensive land changes cause floods and droughts in many places.

People all along the Danube rely on this river for their livelihood. Transport along the river not only provides jobs but provides a greener alternative to roads. And the river has linked together a variety of cultures in the region, influencing and inspiring people throughout history.

Today this inspiration is bringing the many countries in the Danube region together to work hand in hand with expert organisations towards a better, bluer Danube for many future generations to come.