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Lower Danube green corridor: floodplain restoration for flood protection

Lower Danube green corridor: floodplain restoration for flood protection (2014)

In 2000, the governments of Bulgaria, Romania, Ukraine and Moldova pledged to work together – with the signing of the Lower Danube Green Corridor Agreement - to establish a green corridor along the entire length of the Lower Danube River (~1,000 km). All partners recognized a need and shared responsibility to protect and manage the Lower Danube in a sustainable way. The Lower Danube Green Corridor Agreement aims to protect and restore wetlands along the river and reconnect the river to its natural flooding areas, reducing the risks of major flooding in areas with human settlements and offering benefits both for local economies – e.g. through fisheries, tourism – and for the ecosystems along the river. To achieve this, sections of dikes have been removed and isolated river meanders have been reconnected to the river.

Case Study Description


In recent years (e.g. 2005 and 2006), severe floods occurred along the Lower Danube River. Even more frequent flooding is anticipated with climate change. A large part – about 80% - of Danube's wetlands have been lost in the past century because of human intervention. The construction of dikes reduced the size of the river’s floodplains considerably. In addition, large parts of the Danube are experiencing river bed erosion due to gravel extraction, dredging and dams, contributing to a lowering of water tables on adjacent agricultural lands.


The overall objective of the Lower Danube Green Corridor Agreement is to:

  • Protect 1 million ha of existing and new protected areas;
  • Restore 224,000 ha of natural floodplain;
  • Promote sustainable use and development along the final 1,000 km of the Danube, including the Danube Delta.

The restoration of floodplains is meant to provide room to retain and safely release flood waters.


In the Lower Danube Green Corridor Agreement it was agreed by the governments of Bulgaria, Romania, Moldova and Ukraine to restore 2,236 km2 of floodplain to form a 9,000 km2 Lower Danube Green Corridor. Cut-off from the river by dykes, these floodplain lands were of marginal value for primary industries. Once restored, these lands will be of similar scale as the area inundated in the 2005 and 2006 floods. As of 2012, 600 km2 of floodplain has been restored or is undergoing restoration; and enhancing flood protection and local peoples livelihoods through the strengthening of ecosystem services and nature conservation. Most flood plain restorations have been achieved by removing sections of dykes. During the 2013 flood in the Danube along the lower Danube there was no flooding, although the water level was above average. The flood peak decreased downstream of the Iron Gates dam, which was also due to the dam’s operations.


Case mainly developed and implemented because of other policy objectives, but with significant consideration of CCA aspects

Additional Details

Stakeholder Participation

WWF has taken responsibility for the Lower Danube Green Corridor initiative as part of the WWF Living Planet Programme which is aimed to secure the conservation of the world’s most important biological resources and ecosystems into the next millennium. WWF is a global conservation organisation which aims to stop the degradation of the planet's natural environment and to build a future in which humans live in harmony with nature. In the Lower Danube Green Corridor project, WWF works closely with the governments of the countries - Bulgaria, Romania, Moldova and Ukraine - that signed the Agreement, as well as local stakeholders. To achieve the objectives, each country prepared an action plan in which additional areas of floodplain were designated for protection and restoration. These action plans described for each designated area what specific measures were needed and what steps had to be taken to carry out these measures.

All stakeholders supported a regular exchange of information - through meetings and by establishing contact points at the Ministries of Environment in the four participating countries - in order to achieve effective protection of the Lower Danube Green Corridor. WWF played a facilitator role to increase communication and cooperation between the Lower Danube Green Corridor countries and supported implementation of concrete restoration projects, like models to be scaled up. Recent political changes, however, resulted in the termination of the contact points, hence currently WWF has substantial difficulty in communicating with the Ministries.

Both citizens and environmental NGOs were offered the opportunity to play an active role in decision making processes. WWF has conducted awareness raising campaigns and also directly engaged the general public and NGOs in the decision making process in the project area. Active lobbying has been done at national and international levels to boost implementation of the Lower Danube Green Corridor.

Furthermore, partners were sought locally and nationally as well as internationally, i.e. GEF, UNDP, UNEP, World Bank, EU, WWF, IUCN, Ramsar Convention and Governments (i.e. Austria, Germany, Denmark, Netherlands), to solicit their co-operation and assistance in the creation and maintenance of a Lower Danube Green Corridor. The main funding sources came from WWF, national governments, EU and the corporate sector. The International Commission for the Protection of Danube River strongly supported the implementation of the Lower Danube Green Corridor, the 10 years anniversary of Lower Danube Green Corridor being celebrated on the occasion of the endorsement of the Danube River Basin Management Plan by Danube countries governments. The first assessment of the potential for restoration of the Lower Danube Floodplain was funded by UNDP and set the basis for the Lower Danube Green Corridor agreement.

Success and Limiting Factors

International agreements for better water and river management have been a powerful tool for change in the Danube River Basin. Restoring the natural resilience of the environment to climate events (in this case large-scale adaptation) by decommissioning under-performing water infrastructure and thereby improving the natural capacity to retain and release peak floods, brings additional benefits both for nature and people. New opportunities for eco-tourism, fishing, grazing and fibre production strengthen local economies, and the resulting higher quality habitat attracts wider range of species, including endangered ones. Once the land ownership issues were settled and local communities were aware of the project, the works could start.

The Lower Danube Green Corridor agreement served as an excellent basis to translate governmental decisions into actions. In countries like Romania and Bulgaria, the implementation of the Natura 2000 network significantly contributed to increasing the area under protection. Also, the harmonisation of the environmental legislation with the EU requirements, especially the implementation of the Water Framework Directive, opened new opportunities to restore lateral connectivity. In other cases, the need of the local communities to have access to enhanced natural resources was the main driver. Change of land ownership after the land restitution reforms in the Lower Danube Green Corridor countries make restoration projects challenging.

Proper attention to the issue of land ownership was the key for success in the project. In each restoration project a few to a dozen land owners - depending on the size of the restoration area - had to be convinced that a change in land use would be beneficial for them. In case of private land owners it was important to ensure them that they don't lose the property rights. WWF started two pilot projects in Romania, where local communities and individuals gave their land to be flooded. The trigger to accept such rigorous change in land use was the understanding of the benefits deriving from changing the unproductive arable land into wetlands. The implementation of the restoration projects would likely be accelerated if compensatory schemes for land owners are in place, however, this is not the case in any of the participating countries. That is why WWF is currently lobbying for EU funding of floodplain restoration and the development of green infrastructure along the Lower Danube.

Another success factor was that an independent organisation with know-how - in this case WWF - took the lead and kept putting effort in bringing the countries together, providing technical and financial support for meetings and background documents, encouraging governments to stay committed, etc. The most convincing argument for signing the agreement was the need to have a holistic approach in nature conservation and environmental protection for the Lower Danube. Certainly, the availability of financial resources has been important, but in the end the political will in each country is believed to be the decisive factor to actually move to implementation on a larger scale. 

Costs and Benefits

Floodplain restoration along the Lower Danube Green Corridor has been estimated to cost 183 million euro. Economic benefits are through:

  • The avoidance of damages due to floods (e.g. the 2005 flood resulted in 396 million euro in damages);
  • Expected earnings of 85.6 million euro through ecosystem services (e.g. fisheries, tourism) per year. Each hectare of restored floodplain is estimated to provide 500 euro per year in ecosystem services, helping to diversify the livelihoods of local people.

The Lower Danube Green Corridor reduces the risks of major flooding in areas with human settlements and offering benefits both for local economies – e.g. fisheries, tourism – and for the ecosystems along the river.

Legal Aspects

The Lower Danube Green Corridor found its legal basis in:

  • A worldwide scientific assessment of biodiversity by WWF, in which the lower Danube was identified as one of the world's most important ecoregions with a representative selection of the world’s most outstanding and distinctive biological resources;
  • The Strategic Action Plan for the Protection and Restoration of the Danube River Basin;
  • The Danube River Basin Climate Adaptation Strategy;
  • The GEF Danube River Pollution Reduction Programme Transboundary Analysis;
  • A series of wetland related activities in the Danube basin funded by the EU Phare Multibeneficiary Programme for Environment which emphasized the need to take actions to protect and restore wetlands and floodplain habitats throughout the entire Danube River Basin;
  • The Convention on Wetlands of International Importance Especially as Waterfowl Habitat (Ramsar, 1971);
  • The Convention on the Conservation of Wildlife and Natural Habitats in Europe (Bern, 1979);
  • The Pan European Landscape and Biological Diversity Strategy;
  • National strategies and commitments to protect biodiversity;
  • The Convention on Co-operation for the Protection and Sustainable Use of the Danube River (Sofia, 1994);
  • The reinforcement of the principle of joint action from Danube countries to protect and restore the water quality and environmental conditions of the Danube river ecosystem;
  • The Danube River Basin Management Plan.
Implementation Time

5-20 years.

Life Time

> 100 years.

Reference Information


Dr. Orieta Hulea
Conservation Director WWF International
Danube-Carpathian Programme
26A, Ioan Caragea Voda str., Bucharest, Romania


WWF International Danube-Carpathian Programme


Biodiversity enhancement, Danube, ecosystem services, floodplain, green corridor


Coastal areas, Disaster Risk Reduction, Water management

Climate impacts

Droughts, Flooding

Governance level

Transnational region (stretching across country borders)

Geographic characterization


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