The Living Danube Partnership

The Living Danube Partnership is a unique, cross‑sectoral partnership that has brought together WWF‑CEE, the Coca‑Cola Foundation and the Coca‑Cola system as well as the International Commission for the Protection of the Danube River (ICPDR) to promote the conservation and restoration of wetlands in the Danube basin. Supported by a USD 4.4 million (EUR 3.73 million) grant from The Coca‑Cola Foundation, the eight‑year partnership has sought to restore vital wetlands, rivers and floodplains along the River Danube and its tributaries, aiming to increase the river capacity by the equivalent of 4,800 Olympic sized swimming pools (12 million m3) and to restore over 7,422 football pitches worth of wetland habitat (53 km2) by 2021.


The Danube River Basin is the most international  river basin in the world and a very significant lifeline for Europe. On its 2,800 km journey from the Black Forest to the Black Sea, the river passes through 10 countries and drains all or part of 19 countries. Approximately 83 million people live in the Danube River Basin and more than 20 million people depend directly on the Danube for their drinking water. The basin not only unifies and sustains a wealth of diverse cultures and traditions, but also supports unique wetland habitats like the Danube Delta and the Mura‑Drava‑Danube Biosphere Reserve. However, over the past 150 years, the Danube basin  and its wetlands have been much abused. Dikes, dams, cuts, bank fixation and dredging have modified large parts of the river system. More than 80% of wetlands have been lost, and with them the ecosystem goods and services they provide. The effects have been wide‑ranging and include plummeting fish and wildlife populations, decreases in water quality and damage to wetlands, which are no longer able to provide much needed biodiversity hotspots or to act as buffers to floodwaters - services that are becoming all the more valuable in the face of climate change.

Although water quality in the Danube has improved in recent years, over  80% of the floodplains along the river and its main tributaries have been lost, and with them significant populations of fish and other valuable ecosystem goods and services  – services that are especially important to strengthen the resilience of people and nature in the face of climate change.


8 years of a great partnership

The aim of the Living Danube Partnership is to promote river and wetland restoration across the Danube basin  – not only through the partnership’s own actions but also and especially beyond. In this spirit, we hope that the lessons and recommendations we have gathered can benefit further efforts to restore rivers and wetlands, for the benefit of people and nature.


Restoring rivers and wetlands depends on cooperation between a broad range of different stakeholders, from local land owners and users, to relevant authorities, government officials and interest groups. Indeed, the Living Danube Partnership has been above all about partnership  – both across the Danube river basin and within the individual projects and initiatives implemented across six countries. It has involved not only our own cooperation, but also close work with a myriad of local stakeholders and authorities. Partners from a range of backgrounds and perspectives, from water management to nature and forest management, municipalities and county governments, land owners and land users, local anglers and hunters as well as entrepreneurs, have come and worked together to restore rivers and wetlands for the benefit of people and nature. Their cooperation promoted knowledge and awareness, built trust and gave inspiration that will be carried forward in future initiatives.

If there is one key lesson that we have learned over the past eight years, at basin level and through individual projects, it is the power of partnership  – that by working together we can achieve more than working alone.

Together possible.



  • In 2020, Coca-Cola Europe received the Partnership of the Year Award for its Partnership with WWF-CEE and the ICPDR. Presented at the REUTERS Responsible Business Awards 2020, the Award was given for the Living Danube Partnership’s unique model of cross-sectoral co-operation. The judges particularly noted the partnership’s long-term commitment and complex approach.


  • Experience from all projects underlines the importance of building good relationships and a common understanding with all partners. Clearly stated shared goals, restoration vision and project outcomes are important to put cooperation on a firm footing and avoid later misunderstandings.
  • Personal meetings with partners are important for getting to know each other and building close and trustful relations. Where there are significant differences in perspective among partners, neutral experts that are respected by both sides can help mediate relations and facilitate cooperation – as the REVITAL company has done in the project to restore Drava side‑arms.
  • It is important to build and maintain the motivation and ownership of the project by all partners. For this, it is important to stick to deadlines and maintain a smooth flow of information among project partners. Good cooperation and positive feedback from partners and stakeholders is the best advocacy and promotion for river and wetland restoration.
  • A successfully implemented restoration pilot can motivate project partners to initiate and implement further initiatives. A trustful group of experts are the guarantee of the effective results and smooth progress.



One focus of the Living Danube Partnership is on demonstrating the feasibility and benefits of river and wetland restoration. River and wetland restoration projects are by their nature complex and need time to sort out technical challenges and align interests of land owners, land users and relevant authorities. The Partnership has supported nine restoration projects across six countries (Austria, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Romania and Bulgaria) and identified further sites for future restoration. The projects are concentrated in and thus contribute to realising the Lower Danube Green Corridor (shared by Romania, Bulgaria, Moldova and Ukraine); and the Mura‑Drava‑Danube Transboundary Biosphere Reserve (shared by Austria, Slovenia, Hungary, Croatia and Serbia).


The second focus pillar of the Living Danube Partnership is on water stewardship. We demonstrate and promote good water stewardship, particularly with regard to watershed management, nature-based solutions, and agriculture. In order to reach good status of the Danube basin,  a change in mindset and awareness of water and water stewardship among decision-makers from politics and business is necessary. WWF-CEE works towards achieving a greater awareness among the private sector in the Central and Eastern European region and willingness to become active stewards of the watershed they are active in or source value from. Collective action on the pilot watersheds Iskar Basin (Bulgaria), Upper Tisza watershed (Bereg region in Hungary) and Upper mures watershed (Romania) is underway.





Bulgarian project video - Persina, the island of pelicans

The island of Persina is an important natural treasure, where pelicans, once a rarity throughout Europe, nested. The island, rich in freshwater swamps, floodplain forests and agricultural areas, is surrounded by a flood protection embankment, through which sluice gates let the water of the Danube into the interior. By modernizing these structures and thanks to the up-to-date monitoring of the water level, we have achieved that life is returning to the area again.


Romanian project video - The huge floodplains of Gârla Mare and Vrata

Gârla Mare is a huge swamp in the former floodplain of the river. The wetland habitat was originally separated from the Danube for fish farming, but in recent years it has been proven that we have lost an important water-retaining area, consequently the restoration of the connection between the area and the Danube began as part of the WWF project in 2016.

Speakers from WWF Romania: Hanny Bratu - Communication Lead, Iulia Puiu - Senior Project Manager and Camelia Ionescu - Freshwater manager



Hungarian project video 1. - The Old Drava backwater

The Old Drava backwater is located in one of the most beautiful parts of the Croatian-Hungarian border, rich in natural values - but its water level has gradually decreased in recent years. To save the area’s valuable wildlife and improve the backwater’s water supply, we built a water-retaining structure with fish ladders in partnership with local water and nature conservation directorates.



Hungarian project video 2. - The Lankóci Forest

The Lankóci Forest, located on the left bank of the Drava, consisting mainly of oak-ash-elm groves and alder swamp forests, is in great need of abundant water supply. During our restoration work, we have developed drainage channels in the area, thus helping to retain water.


Authors and contributors: Laurice Ereifej, Szilvia Ádám, Andreas Beckmann
Project descriptions: Bernhard Kohler, Branka Španiček, Tamás Gruber, Duška Dimović, Camelia Ionescu, Philip Penchev; Editor: Andreas Beckmann
For more information: Laurice Ereifej, Regional Lead for Freshwater, WWF‑CEE,
Maps Source: Esri, Maxar, GeoEye, Earthstar Geographics, CNES/Airbus DS, USDA, USGS, AeroGRID, IGN   and the GIS User Community