Wetenschap - 14 november 2002

Student conference points the way for environmental cleanup

Student conference points the way for environmental cleanup

Countries seeking EU membership such as Romania and Hungary need to improve their environmental standards. In particular industrial companies that cause pollution should be held responsible for their wrongdoings. This was one of the outcomes of the conference 'Twinning of River Basins' held in Budapest last month, jointly organised by students from Wageningen UR and TU Delft.

At the beginning of 2000 a cyanide spill from a Romanian gold mine killed all life in the Tisza River. The pollution spread through eastern Hungary, downstream through Serbia and Romania, entering the waters of the Danube. This environmental disaster triggered environmental activists as well as scientists and water managers to take new measures to safeguard the large rivers of Eastern Europe. "It's especially foreign companies that are exploiting the natural resources of Romania, and they do not care about the environmental problems they cause," says Judith van Dijk.

Recently graduated in land use and planning at Wageningen University, Van Dijk was one of the organisers of the conference in Budapest. Together with scientists and representatives from environmental NGOs and from Romania and Hungary, and Annemiek Verhallen of the sub-department of Water Resources at Wageningen University, Van Dijk discussed the environmental problems in the Tisza river basin and what the future holds.

The right to know

Given that Romania and Hungary want to join the EU all participants at the conference agreed that water management and policies in these countries are highly inadequate. Alex Antypas, professor of environmental sciences at the Central European University in Hungary, stressed that Eastern European countries should change their policies in order to hold mining companies and other industries responsible for the environmental damage they cause. Local inhabitants in mining areas tend not to protest as many work in the mines. "Luckily more and more NGOs are joining the fight against environmental disasters in Eastern Europe," says Van Dijk. For example Petruta Moisi, president of the NGO Centrul de Consultanta Ecologica in Romania, is trying to gather as much information as possible on environmental pollution and its dangers in her country. "The people have a right to know," she says. At the moment this kind of information is very difficult for members of the public to get hold of. In Moisi's experience the information is more easily found in universities outside her country.

Hungary and Romania are already working on integrating EU policies and guidelines such as the new EU Water Framework Directive into their national policies. The problem however is that EU laws are often not adapted to the national situation and enforcement is weak, as the conference participants confirmed. They are optimistic though that joining the EU will act as important driving force in solving the problems of river basins such as the Tisza. The first step is to create an integrated management plan for the Tisza river basin.

Hugo Bouter


Participants at a workshop during the 'Twinning of River Basins' conference in Budapest. This was part of an educational multinational and multidisciplinary project for students and young professionals. The aim of the project is to build an environmentally, socially and politically sustainable river basin management scheme for the River Tisza, as has been done for the River Scheldt. Photo Judith van Dijk