Managing the Black Sea and the Danube River Basin

An ecosystem at risk

The Danube River flows through many Eastern European countries before reaching the Black Sea. For decades, the discharge of polluted water into the Danube resulted in nutrient over-enrichment in the Black Sea, affecting fish stocks, beaches and the incidence of waterborne disease.

The dissolution of the Soviet Union provided an opportunity for countries in the region to launch a collaborative endeavor to address this issue. With support from the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and UNDP, countries collectively identified their transboundary problem and agreed to environmental programmes that led to measurable improvements in the Danube and Black Sea.

A joint response to a shared challenge

In 1993, the Bucharest Convention on Protection of the Black Sea led to the first UNDP/GEF project: a transboundary diagnostic analysis to inform a rehabilitation and protection programme for the Black Sea. The environmental plan, called the Strategic Action Programme, was adopted by six countries in 1996. In the following decade a coordinated series of intergovernmental programmes supported regional and national implementation of environmental programming for both the Black Sea and the Danube River.


  • The steady increase in pollution in the Danube/Black Sea basin was a result of excessive agricultural, industrial and poorly or untreated wastewater discharge.
  • Between 1991 and 2000, two UNDP/GEF-led Danube River Basin Programmes drove the Danube side of the integrated approach, while another two programmes addressed the Black Sea.

UNDP worked closely with the GEF in its Danube and Black Sea programmes, benefiting from GEF’s financial resources and methodology for addressing the ecological challenges of shared water systems. For its part, UNDP brought extensive experience and neutrality in convening governments, building
national and international institutional capacity, and coordinating partners to advance multi-country governance reforms. Along with the GEF, the European Union, the World Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development funded the programmes.

Between 1991 and 2000, two UNDP/GEF-led Danube River Basin Programmes drove the Danube side of the integrated approach, while another two programmes addressed the Black Sea. In 2001, a strategic partnership was established, bringing together the key stakeholders in a ‘basin-wide approach’ with three components:

The UNDP/GEF Danube Regional Project was implemented by UNDP and involved the International Commission for the Protection of the Danube River.

The UNDP/GEF Black Sea Ecosystem Recovery Project was developed under the GEF and involved UNDP, the UN Environment Programme and the UN Office for Project Services.

The World Bank/GEF Investment Fund for Nutrient Reduction was an investment fund created by the World Bank to provide GEF grant support to leverage World Bank financing for nutrient reduction investments.

Deterioration reversed and prospects transformed

The Danube and the Black Sea countries now have legal, institutional, policy and financial mechanisms in place to manage nutrient pollution. Specific achievements include:

* The GEF Strategic Partnership for the Black Sea and Danube Basin — a $US97 million framework providing investment finance and capacity-building support to 17 countries.

* Over $3.5 billion in investments in pollution reduction and habitat restoration, including municipal wastewater treatment, agricultural nutrient management, industrial pollution reduction and wetlands restoration.

* Demonstrable reductions in pollution loads resulting from nutrient reduction investments and implementation of reforms targeting the management of nutrient pollution sources.

* Demonstrated improvement in the ecological status of the Danube River and the Black Sea, including the return of a number of key species.

* Development of pilot monitoring exercises, capacity-building workshops, quality assurance guidelines, and acquisition of equipment that can monitor nutrient levels.

* Development and involvement of a Black Sea non-governmental organization network.

Monitoring and enforcing the nutrient management commitments of each country requires continued attention, and capacity development and national programme development has not been wholly successful in all 17 countries. Nonetheless, real, transformational progress has been made.

Supporting Transformational Change
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Lessons Learned

The 15 years of UNDP/GEF support to improving multi-country environmental governance in the Danube River and Black Sea basin offers an array of lessons:


Intergovernmental processes take time and sustained support. Intergovernmental programmes are more complex than national ones. Donors should expect a long-term investment if they hope to successfully foster and sustain the multi-country governance reforms and investments needed for sustainable management regimes for shared water bodies.


Political will born of national ownership is essential for sustained intergovernmental
This can be driven by substance or by political context. In this case, the severity of
environmental deterioration may not have been sufficient without the drive of post-Soviet countries to integrate with Western Europe.


Multiple partnerships are essential. Each national and international partner brought something to the table. UNDP played an important facilitative and coordinating role. The partnership approach from the initial phases onward was key to ensuring that each organization played its role towards the overall objective.


Robust technical analysis is the starting point. The longer-term UNDP/GEF engagement was based on a transboundary diagnostic analysis that GEF and UNDP uses for ‘fact-finding’ and prioritysetting in most international waters programmes. The methodology provides a technical basis for identifying and prioritizing transboundary issues and ensures a strategic approach to addressing root causes of pollution. This analysis set the direction for the next 15 years of national actions, international collaboration and UNDP cooperation.


Capacity development is at the heart of successful development cooperation. From the
outset, the Danube and Black Sea programmes focused on national and regional capacity development. Without this, the extensive funding from the GEF and others could not have been