Americans abroad

May 27, 2011

Illes addresses University of Minnesota students at REC

By Natalya Yakusheva

THINGS ARE PICKING UP: State Secretary Zoltan Illes hopes to bring environment to the forefront of Hungary's political agenda. Photo: REC Archive

A group of environmental students from the University of Minnesota in the US visited the Regional Environmental Center (REC) from May 22-24. Among other activities, the group attended a lecture from State Secretary and Central European University Professor Zoltan Illes, who covered a range of scientific, environmental and political topics.

Illes spoke first about water management systems, international cooperation in environmental protection, and crisis management during environmental disasters. He began by identifying some of the water management-related challenges that Hungary faces. As a predominantly flat basin country, Hungary receives almost 80 percent of its water from inflows, mostly via the Danube and Tisza rivers. Thus an essential part of the country's water management system involves cooperation with neighbouring countries. And, as in other countries, climate change has growing consequences for Hungarian water quality and flow rates.

The speaker moved next to the topic of topic of international cooperation for environmental protection. Illes discussed the European Union in general and Hungary in particular within the Natura 2000 framework, which aims to protect biodiversity in Europe's most vulnerable habitats. Hungary's largest protected area comprises the area along the Danube, as well as the river itself. Europe's longest river is an important transport route, but is also a fragile ecosystem; thus Hungary would prefer to develop ecotourism and water-sport activities instead of harmful industrial practices. This, however, requires close cooperation between each of the seven countries through which the Danube flows.

Finally, Illes touched on the problem of crisis management during environmental disasters, pointing particularly to last October's toxic red sludge catastrophe Kolontar. This was a case, Illes claimed, in which company negligence cost several people their lives and caused significant environmental harm. He added that the Hungarian government is currently working to re-cultivate the contaminated areas.

The visiting students were grateful for this opportunity to learn about some of Hungary's current environmental challenges and what is being done to address them.