A sustainable future for the Danube River Basin as a challenge for the 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. 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. 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 cannot be planned – unless the common past of nature and humankind is known.


The humanities have hitherto not been stimulated to bring their expertise into the necessary interdisciplinary portfolio of knowledge 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. 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.


A new type of interdisciplinary methods and approaches – driven by humanities –, can support comprehensive understanding of changes of biodiversity, sediment mobility, soils, climate, precipitation, discharge patterns and water quality in combination with changes in governance, or in the social, economic and legal situation. This will enable developing 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. Cooperation with state-of-the-art natural sciences is mandatory for success, but communication skills and cooperative structures have yet to be developed.