A sustainable future for the Danube river basin as a challenge for interdisciplinary humanities.


Riverine landscapes have been changed by humankind for millennia. This is particularly true for the Danube River Basin (DRB), which consists of highly dynamic ecological and political systems. The river basin of the ca. 2,800 km long Danube is shared by 19 countries with approx. 81 million people, and covers an area of ca. 800.000 km2. Humans have lived in it from at least the Mesolithic period onwards. The DRB is the most international river basin in the world.


The DRB hosts a plethora of environmental problems; environmental legacies abound; and conflicts over resource use are particularly intense in its riverine landscapes. The Danube plays an important part for the development of a climate-friendly trans-European transportation network.


Rivers are neither cultural nor natural spaces. They are socio-natural sites, where the interplay of humans with the environment has taken place over long periods. Communities have had and still have to deal with cultural and natural legacies of past interventions. The current situation of the DRB cannot be understood – and hence a sustainable future not be planned – unless the common past of nature and humans is known.


European research and higher education funds do not generally foster interdisciplinary co-operation. In particular, the humanities have hitherto not been stimulated to bring their expertise into the interdisciplinary portfolio of knowledge necessary for a transition to sustainability. Danube:Future is based on the fact that planning a sustainable future is impossible without a sound knowledge of the social as well as the natural past.


Among the most pressing environmental problems of the DRB are hydromorphological change, pollution, flooding, loss of biodiversity and the almost total demise of fisheries. Many of those problems will be exacerbated by global climate change. A humanities’ perspective on the effects of global climate change and on mitigation options is urgently needed, as legacies of the past play a crucial – but currently underestimated – role in the study of possible sustainable futures.


If we use a new type of interdisciplinary methods and approaches – driven by humanities –, changes of biodiversity, sediment mobility, soils, climate, precipitation, discharge patterns and water quality can be studied in combination with changes in governance, or in the social, economic and legal situation, which will enable us to develop policies for sustainable development of the Danube river basin. The multilingualism of the DRB is a major challenge for which solutions have to be developed. Co-operation with state-of-the-art natural sciences is mandatory for success, but communication skills and co-operative structures have yet to be developed.


Danube: future aims at developing interdisciplinary research and education in the DRB simultaneously as a basis for the solution of pressing environmental issues and a sustainable future of the region.

The Danube Strategy developed by the European Commission, is addressed by Danube:Future in multiple ways, potentially contributing to all 4 priority areas. As a project of enhancement of knowledge it is based in Pillar 7 “To develop the knowledge society :research, education and ICT”, with an aim to contribute to the goals of priority area 2: Results will be useful for the restoration and maintenance of the quality of waters, for the management of environmental risks and for the preservation of biodiversity, landscapes and the quality of air and soils.  Within Priority areas 1, a particular contribution can be to culture and tourism. Danube:Future is an investment into people and skills, therefore also connected to Pillar 9 of priority area 3. 


A comparative perspective with other river basins (e.g. Po, Seine, Rhône) will bring knowledge and methodological skills from existing research teams into the project.


Project endorsed by the Alps Adriatic Rectors’ Conference (AARC), and the Danube Rector’s Conference (DRC)