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A new flood forecasting system that could give countries along the Danube River Basin up to 10 days to prepare for potentially devastating water levels was launched Monday.

The system, known as the Danube European Flood Alert System or Danube-EFAS, includes rainfall and flood forecasts throughout the Danube River region and aims to serve as an additional tool for local authorities.

The information is available 24 hours a day on a password-protected Web site that is updated twice a day.

The system, accessible only by local officials and not to the public, was launched by the Vienna-based International Commission for the Protection of the Danube River and the European Commission's Joint Research Center.

So far, Austria, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Moldova, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia and Romania are taking part in the system and are feeding it with data from more than 4,000 rainfall stations. Negotiations are pending with Croatia and other countries in the area.

Speaking to reporters at the launch, EFAS project manager Ad de Roo said the system, which has already been operational unofficially, typically gives a five- to six-day warning and is mostly on target.

"I think EFAS-Danube is the first international system ... that really covers the entire river basin and I think in that respect it is also quite unique in Europe and I would say even in the world,'' de Roo said.

"The main added value of the system is you get an earlier warning potentially than in many countries because the system looks farther in time,'' he added.

Slovakia has offered to manage the project in the name of all the Danube Basin countries but that has yet to be finalized, ICPDR executive director Philip Weller said.

The Danube River Basin is Europe's second largest, includes the territories of 19 countries and has a total area of more than 800,000 square kilometers (around 310,000 square miles), according to information on the ICPDR's Web site.

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