Navigation & Economics

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Navigation & Economics

The great Danube is known to be one of the world’s largest, most diverse, and most international river basins. It passes through 10 countries, most now a part of the European Union.

The Danube Basin extends approximately 800,000 sq. km, inhabited by approximately 10 million people. This amounts to about 250 inhabitants per sq. km, with higher density around the four capitals that it traverses.

The European Commission recognizes it as the single most important body of water in Europe, apart from the surrounding seas, and a central infrastructural connection for the European Union and its prospective members.

The anticipated geo-political, geological, climate, economic, policy changes, and policy responses are first analysed at the European level, as the river spans several EU nations. Direct and indirect impacts of trans-boundary management are focused on trans-border navigation, surveillance, and control. With the EU expanding, the Danube's importance is increasing, and so the necessity of a unified trans-border coordination is of high priority.

It is a major transportation and navigation network of the entire region, connecting the communities it passes through, from the central European countries to the Black Sea. Historically, the Austro-Hungarian rule was nicknamed the Danube Monarchy, indicating its navigability between the east and the west.


Even though it springs in the deep of the German Black Forest, the Danube is navigable from Ulm in the Upper Basin, although only at Kehlheim (km 2411) it becomes an international waterway. There are 78 harbours between Kehlheim and the Black Sea, across the Slovakian plains, where it turns into a Middle Basin, as it is known in Hungary, Croatia and Serbia, and through the Iron Gate, or Djerdap Gorge. At this point the Carpathian mountains from the east converge with the Balkan mountain range, with Danube their natural frontier. From the tripartite border between Serbia, Romania, and Bulgaria, it becomes the Lower Basin until its mouth into the Black Sea, on the border with Ukraine.

All along the course there is a wealth of different sceneries to experience; navigating between these shifting sceneries, naturally beautiful islands, floodplains, and wetlands, encountering various cultural influences, it is one of the most rewarding passageways through Eastern and Central Europe.

The Danube has some stunning expanses that are made all the more navigable when the waterways and harbours are kept in good condition and regularly maintained, ensuring that both the present and future communities benefit from its offering. If the waterway is not easily and efficiently navigable, it simply results in the reduced market potential, and a loss of revenue. It is in the interests of all participants and stakeholders to keep it open and properly maintained.

For example, Hungary decided to invest in the protection of the fisheries and flood-plain areas in the Gemenc-Beda Karapensca region, which required shortening the navigation of its part of the river by about 55km. This was achieved in a number of ways, mainly by improving the water exchange so that the fisheries and floodplains can get repopulated.

Clearing out sediment depositions tends to help unclog reservoirs and improve navigation and transportation. Certain sections of the river in Serbia could benefit from time to time from maintenance of ecologically valuable bank sediments. It has to be carried out with care, so as not to inundate the habitats, as has been the case of the artificial irrigation process in Gabickovo side-canal in Slovakia.

There are both positive and negative implications in navigating the Danube. The former include the river's capacity to transport large volumes of people and goods across great distances, the reliability - in most cases, not withstanding extreme weather events - of the waterways, and a lower carbon footprint than road transportation or rail freight. The latter takes into account the variations in water levels and the complications from low water or flooding in adhering to schedules, as they reduce the speed of travel and make docking uneasy.

There are different kinds of cargo transported along the Danube, either for import, export, or local haul and deliveries. It includes anything from raw materials, such as resources like petroleum, construction materials, metals, to commercial products: vehicles, various goods, agricultural products and foodstuffs, even cattle.

The advantages of transporting cargo on the Danube lies in the infrastructure - instead of building new roads and railway networks to support the greater flow of traffic, the river is already there and available for use. The river can be a more faster mean of transport, depending on the water level, but generally having the advantage of less traffic.

The shipping companies and cargo operators can more easily get in touch with the customs and, as there are limited areas that can sustain certain freight volume, they are more easily monitored and more secure.

Transportation of cargo on the river is limited port-to-port, therefore getting it to its final destination must account for port capacities and manage the necessary multi-modality, such as logistics and subsequent services and distribution.


The Danube links non-EU zone with the EU-countries, thus calling for holistic solutions, and better networking and cooperation, both economically and socially.

Opening up the borders to trade, using the waterway as a main asset can help stimulate local development, boost cooperation between communities, and boost the potentials of small or remotely positioned communities. It also presents a unique opportunity for entire areas to become more prominent on the international stage.

The Danube Treaty allows for the freedom of movement anywhere along the river and its immediate tributaries, custom-free trading among the riparian nations and communities, and access to anchorage, moorage, and harbour facilities. Moreover, the Act is backed up by an international commission, assuring the Act is followed.

The waterway is a unique opportunity to cooperate at an international level, a chance to emphasize the sustainable development practices of the trans-boundary river system. Extension of agreements between all the neighbouring countries are creating a cooperative network that will focus on positive and constructive plans and solutions, sustainable use of biodiversity and a dynamic, continuous development of the region.

This sustainability framework is to be used to further promote conservation means and the protection of natural resources that the Danube Basin communities are fortunate to have. Also, with the help of international network of conservation organizations, efforts to enforce the implementation of environmental standards and the framework of cooperation on environmental issues will help assert the responsibilities and dedication to protecting the natural values of the river and its preservation for future generations.

The Upper, more affluent regions of the river can help strengthen economic and social status of the Lower regions, especially among newly annexed EU members. As it is a reliable infrastructure, it encourages the utilization of the river for creating logistical solutions that will tackle the growing traffic and transportation needs in economically and environmentally sustainable way. When that is achieved, the European industry will realize that its competitiveness and prosperity depend on the health of its natural axes.

Assuring cooperation on a local community level, as well as within a greater national and regional context ensures a continuous and long-lasting economic prosperity based on committed partnership: sharing best practices, mutual assistance, and interdependence. For example, during the Balkan Wars the navigation on the Danube and its tributaries in the former Yugoslav countries was compromised. As the countries were under the economic sanctions, it has also impacted the surrounding regions. It was important for them to restore the situation after the war.

As the economies develop, they must take into account the forecasts and trends of the industry and plan accordingly for navigation changes, pressures, and efficiency improvements that they may have to accommodate.

Continual negotiations, reciprocal development plans, and the coordination of interests in the areas sharing an international watercourse help form an objective, balanced, and continuous supervision and operations. In this way efforts will render better and more effective results, and it's important for economic development.

Coordinating internal and external financial means helps ease the constrains on improvement of environmental resources. Cost management is necessary in order to avoid the depletion of natural resources and promote conservation and protection of the ecosystem and the river's ecological balance.

In the long term, it will reflect on the commitment of local people and communities and their responsibility to perpetrate trade and industry relations that will require less resources and cost less money, but would result in the well-being and a stable economic and physical condition of the communities of the region.

For more numbers and statistics of the various ports visit