A. Socioeconomic Context

24. Differences in gross domestic product (GDP) per capita are still significant across the countries within the Danube watershed. In 2017, the average GDP per capita in the region was US$20,055 PPP, ranging from US$5,190 PPP in Moldova to US$45,437 PPP in Austria (Figure 11). The economic crisis of 2008 resulted in economic recessions for the years 2009 to 2012 and has slowed down the economic catching up process with the western part of the European Union (EU). Over the past 10 years, Moldova, Kosovo, and Albania have witnessed the highest increase in their GDP per capita, which rose by 30 percent or more (in the period). On the contrary, over the same period of time, Austria, Croatia, and Slovenia have seen their GDP per capita progress by only 3 percent or less. In the meantime, Ukraine GDP per capita decreased by 10 percent mainly because of the political situation the country has faced since 2014. Although GDP growth seems to be common to all countries, the GDP per capita spread remains high. As a result, one of the challenges of the region is to improve economic convergence between countries.

25. The continued declining trend of population (from 132.6 million in 2015 to 131.9 million in 2017) in countries within the Danube watershed is due to a combination of low natural population growth and outward migration, which continues to be a concern for some countries in the region. Although five countries in the region (Austria, Czech Republic, Kosovo, Montenegro, and SIovenia) present increasing population trends (albeit at slow rate), the overall population of the basin is expected to continue decreasing in the coming years (Figure 12). In some countries (Bulgaria, Macedonia, Ukraine), the decline could reach -6 percent or -7 percent (ICPDR 2015). However, over the past five years, the pace of depopulation in the overall region has slightly slowed down compared to previous years, stabilizing at a yearly level of -0.24 percent. Since the end of the Soviet era in 1990, the split between urban and rural populations has remained relatively unchanged or has shown a slow urbanization rate, with rural inhabitants representing 39 percent of the watershed’s total population in 1990 and 37 percent in 2017. In 2017, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, and Moldova were the only countries of the region where the rural population exceeded the urban one. Although mostly rural areas are depopulating, some urban areas have also declined, especially those located remotely and isolated from global markets and transport corridors. This has resulted in several cities facing an oversized infrastructure that lacks economies of scale and is costly to maintain and upgrade.

26. About 2.5 million people within the Danube water region live on less than US$2.50 per day (PPP), which represents a slight increase in measured poverty since the last SoS report. On average, this means that about 1.7 percent of the total population in the area is poor. As Figure 13 shows, by far the largest incidence of poverty is in Romania with 9.5 percent of the population living under US$2.50 per day, which in absolute numbers represents about 1.8 million people.