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|Year: 2015||Revision date: --||Revision type: --|
|Regional report:||Eastern Europe|
Belarus is a landlocked country in Eastern Europe with a total area of 207 600 km2. It is bordered in the northeast and east by the Russian Federation, in the southeast and south by Ukraine, in the southwest by Poland and in the northwest by Lithuania and Latvia. It declared its independence from the Soviet Union on 25 August 1991. For administrative purposes, the country is divided into six provinces (oblasts): Brest, Gomel, Grodno, Mogilev, Minsk, Vitebsk; and 1 municipality: Minsk City.
Belarus is part of the east European lowland, covered with young glacial formations, mainly gravel and sand. From the southwest to the northeast the moraine Belarus rampart, where several larger rivers originate, crosses the country. In the south is the vast, marshy land of Polesye. The peak of the highest hill is at 345 m above sea level.
The agricultural area, which is the sum of arable land, permanent crops and permanent meadows and pasture, is estimated at 8.7 million ha, which is 42 percent of the total area of the country. In 2013, the total physical cultivated area was estimated at 5.7 million ha, of which 98 percent (5.6 million ha) consisted of temporary crops and 2 percent (0.1 million ha) of permanent crops (Table 1).
Belarus has a moderate continental climate, with cool humid winters and warm summers. The west of the country is characterized by the transitional climate between maritime and continental, the climate in the central and eastern parts is continental. Average temperatures vary across Belarus. The average annual midday temperature is 6°C, varying from -4.5°C to -8°C in January to 17°C to 18.5°C in July. Some parts of Belarus experience sub-zero temperatures for more than a third of the year. Belarus has an average annual rainfall of 600-700 mm, ranging from 550 mm in the southeast to 800 mm on the highest areas in the centre of the country. About 70 percent of the precipitation falls from April to October. The east of the country is covered with snow for up to 120 days per year, the west for fewer than 80 days.
In 2015, the total population was about 9.5 million, of which around 25 percent was rural (Table 1). Population density is 46 inhabitants/km2, rather evenly distributed over the country. The average annual population growth rate in the 2005-2015 period has been estimated at minus 0.2 percent.
In 2014, the Human Development Index (HDI) ranks Belarus 50 among 188 countries, while the Gender Inequality Index (GII) ranks it 31 among 155 countries, for which information was available. Life expectancy is 72 years and the under-five mortality is 5 per 1000 births, both progressing from 70 years and 17 per 1000 in the 1990s. With no significant distinction between boys and girls, around 93 percent of the children in 2013 are enrolled in primary education, and 97 percent for secondary education (World Bank, 2015). Adult literacy is 100 percent in 2012 (UNDP, 2015). In 2015, almost the entire population had access to improved water sources (100 and 99 percent in urban and rural areas respectively) and 94 percent of the total population had access to improved sanitation (94 and 95 percent in urban and rural areas respectively) (JMP, 2015).
In 2014, the gross domestic product (GDP) was US$ 76 139 million and agriculture accounted for 9 percent of GDP, while in 1994 it accounted for 10 percent.
Belarus was heavily affected by the accident at the nuclear power plant at Chernobyl, which is located just over the border in the southeast in neighbouring Ukraine close to the Pripyat river. The nuclear accident occurred in April 1986 and 70 percent of the radiation is estimated to have fallen on Belarus, as prevailing winds carried the heaviest radioactive releases into Belarus. About 1.8 million ha or 20 percent of the agricultural land in Belarus is estimated to be contaminated, including almost the entire drained area in the southern and southeastern Polesye. More than 2 million ha of forest areas were also subject to radioactive contamination. However, in spite of this contamination, cropping has not been totally suspended. As of January 2008 only 248 700 ha were reported to have been taken out of the agricultural use. The largest part of contaminated areas is in Gomel and Mogilev provinces in the southeast of the country (MNREP, 2009).
Traditionally, the farms in Belarus were state-run. In 1995, agriculture was almost exclusively in the hands of the sovkhoz (state farms) and kolkhoz (collective farms) and there were only 3 000 private farms in Belarus, owning a total of 62 100 ha of land. Many of the state-run farms have now been privatized and sold to foreign investors, greatly increasing their productivity. Several of the remaining state-owned farms are seeking foreign investment.
The country's main agricultural products are potatoes (being the world's eighth biggest producer) and cereals. Other agricultural products include vegetables, fruits, meat, diary products. Much is exported to neighbouring states, with the Russian Federation being a major market (Belarus.by, 2015).
Most of the Trans-European railway main lines and highways, oil and gas pipelines, air routes and waterways between West Europe and Asia, converge in Belarus. The shortest routes from Central and Eastern Russian regions to Western Europe, as well as between the Baltic and Black seas, go through Belarus. Belarus is rich in natural resources (MNREP, 2009).
There are around 20 800 rivers in Belarus with an overall length of 90 600 km. Seven major rivers have a total length of more than 500 km each: Western Dvina, Neman, Vilia (or Viliya), Dnieper, Berezina, Sozh and Pripyat. All of them, except Berezina, are transboundary rivers.
The country can be divided into four main river basins (Table 2):
Long-term total renewable water resources are estimated at 57 900 million m³/year, but can vary from 92 400 million m³/year in wet years to 37 200 million m³/year in dry years.
The renewable groundwater resources are estimated at about 15 900 million m³/year (Table 3), which are considered to be drained entirely by the surface water network (overlap). The total annual renewable water resources in the country are thus estimated at 57 900 million m³/year (Table 4).
In 2012, total municipal wastewater produced and treated was 1 078 million m³ and 666 million m³ respectively.
There are about 10 800 freshwater lakes with a total area of 1 600 km², or 0.8 percent of the total area of the country, and a total capacity of 6 000-7 000 million m³. 75 percent of the lakes are classified as small, having a surface area up to 0.1 km². The largest lake is Lake Naroch, with an area of 80 km² and an average depth of 9 m, following the Lake Osveyskoye, with an area of 53 km² and an average depth of 2 m. There are also about 1 500 small and shallow natural ponds in the country with a total area of 350 km² and a total capacity of 0.5 km³.
There are 153 reservoirs constructed in Belarus with an overall volume of 3 100 million m³ and an effective storage of about 1 240 million m³ (MNREP, 2009).
The most important dam is the Vileyka (or Vileyskoye) reservoir, with a total area of 64 km2 and a total capacity of 1 336 million m³, that gives birth to the Vileyka-Minsk system of canals along which water from the Vilia river is directed to Minsk (Export.by, 2015; NSC, 2013).
At present, 26 hydroelectric power plants, including mini hydroelectric power stations, are operational in Belarus. Their gross installed capacity is about 11 MW or 0.15 percent of the gross installed capacity of operating power plants of all types (MNREP, 2009).
Belarus is party to the UNECE Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes and under this convention has undertaken substantial activities on the shared transboundary water resources with other countries.
Cooperation in the field of protection and use of transboundary rivers between Belarus, Lithuania, Poland, the Russian Federation and Ukraine has been regulated basing on the following documents:
In the past decades, several international projects concerning protection and rational management of waters have been implemented in the Bug river basin which is shared between Belarus, Poland and Ukraine. The most important ones including Belarus are:
The Science for Peace and Security NATO pilot study project Sustainable Use and Protection of Groundwater Resources Transboundary Water Management, launched in 2006, focuses on development of international cooperation on implementation of water quality monitoring and assessment. It is also a scientific platform for experts from Belarus, Poland and Ukraine as well as from other countries to exchange ideas about water management, with special emphasis on groundwater and its protection. The Bug river basin is one of the main interests of the project (Nalecz, 2010).
The Nemunas River Basin District (RBD) is shared between three EU Member States, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, and two non-EU countries, Belarus and the Russian Federation (Kaliningrad oblast). The governments of Lithuania, the Russian Federation, Belarus, and the European Commission have initiated the preparation of an agreement on cooperation in the use and protection of water bodies within the Nemunas RBD. A draft agreement has been drawn up but has not been signed yet. No measures have been foreseen for Poland and Latvia, because the part of the Nemunas RBD in Poland constitutes only 287 km2 (the upstream reaches of the rivers with no significant pressures), and the part of the RBD in Latvia constitutes only 100 km2 (the upstream reaches of the rivers with no significant pressures), and the results of water quality monitoring showed that the ecological status of the rivers along the Polish and Latvian border were good.
In 2013 total water withdrawal was estimated at 1 514 million m³ (NSC, 2014). This includes water loss during transport of 141 million m³, which has been estimated to be equally distributed over industrial and municipal water withdrawal. Of these 1 514 million m³, 117 million m³ (8 percent) was for irrigated agriculture, 372 million m³ (25 percent) for aquaculture, 547 million m³ (36 percent) for municipalities (including 70 million m³ of water loss during transport) and 478 million m³ (31 percent) for industries (including 71 million m³ of water loss during transport) (Table 5 and Figure 1). Approximately 851 million m³, or 56 percent of the total withdrawal, comes from groundwater sources and 663 million m³, or 44 percent, from surface water sources (Figure 2) (NSC, 2014). Water withdrawal decreased steadily over the last decennia, from 1 980 million m³ in 1995 and 1 706 million m³ in 2005 (NSC, 2014).
Groundwater is the main source of water supply for drinking purposes. However, residents of Polotsk and partly of Minsk and Gomel cities receive their drinking water from surface sources (NATO, 2005).
Minsk and Minsk Oblast remain Belarus' largest of water users, with 35 percent of total water withdrawal, 42 percent and 33 percent of surface water and groundwater respectively (MNREP, 2015b).
All irrigation takes place on land that has been excessively drained. In fact, there is no real need for irrigation, except in areas where the groundwater has been lowered too much by excessive drainage. For this reason, no figure on irrigation potential is available.
Irrigated areas first appeared in the statistics in 1974. In 1993, the area equipped for irrigation was equal to 131 000 ha. It was largest in 1980 when it still was part of the Soviet Union, with 163 000 ha, but the Chernobyl nuclear accident in 1986, combined with the difficult economic situation, resulted in a deterioration of the drainage and irrigation systems, and cultivation on part of these lands was abandoned. In 1993, the whole area was reported to be sprinkler irrigated, using moving sprinkler irrigation systems. With this type of irrigation, the area equipped for irrigation may vary from year to year and is in fact equal to actually irrigated area. The variation depends mainly on whether precipitation is sufficient or not, but has decreased considerably during the last 5 years. While it was still 114 100 ha in 2006, it went down to 52 900 ha in 2009, 56 900 ha in 2010 and 30 600 ha in 2011 (NSC, 2011). Of the 114 100 ha in 2006, 85 percent was irrigated by surface water and the remaining 15 percent by groundwater (Table 6 and Figure 3).
In 2011, total harvested irrigated crop area was estimated at 30 600 ha, of which around 66 percent permanent meadows and pasture, 17 percent fruits and vegetables, 10 percent potatoes and 7 percent leguminous crops (Table 6 and Figure 4).
Due to the climatic conditions, there is a need for drainage rather than irrigation in the country, except in areas where the groundwater level has fallen too much due to excessive drainage.
The history of drainage in Belarus dates back to the second half of the 18th Century in the then Polish state. On huge private estates marshes were drained, mainly by open canals, to turn them into meadows. In the final quarter of the 19th Century, large-scale drainage works were carried out in the Polesye region, where about 4 700 km of canals were built with an average depth of 1.1 m. These works were also intended to facilitate wood exploitation and the floating of timber down to Ukraine. Drainage work stopped at the beginning of the 20th Century but restarted in the 1920s, independently in the western part (Poland) and the eastern part (the Soviet Union). During the Second World War, work was suspended and when it restarted after the war it was initially on a small scale. Following the âLand Draining and Sovkhoz Building Actâ of 1966, large-scale drainage work started again. Most of the drainage work was concentrated in the Polesye region, where 85 000 ha had been drained by 1939, and this drained area amounted to 560 000 and 1 400 000 ha in 1966 and 1986 respectively. In the period 1966-1986, mainly subsurface drainage systems were built. Most of this drained land in the Polesye region was contaminated after the accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant which, combined with the difficult economic situation, resulted in a deterioration of the drainage systems and cultivation on part of these lands was abandoned.
In 1993, about 3 million ha had been drained for agricultural purposes. In addition, land had also been drained for non-agricultural purposes, such as construction. On average, in 1993, there were 250 m of drains per ha of drained land. Subsurface drains existed on more than 75 percent of the drained area, the remaining 25 percent being drained by open canals. The total length of the irrigation and drainage network exceeds 800 000 km, which is almost nine times the total length of the natural rivers in the country. The total area where drainage infrastructure could be developed has been estimated at 7.9 million ha.
In 2011, the area of drained lands of the republic was 3.41 million ha, of which 2.95 million ha was drained agricultural land: 43.1 percent croplands, 56.8 percent meadows and pastures, 0.1 percent permanent crops (MNREP, 2009; NSC, 2011).
During the Soviet period, all water investments were the responsibility of the Ministry of Water Administration (Minvodkhoz). At present, several institutions are involved in water resources management:
The government is making it a priority to bring safe drinking water to people, and to build good wastewater treatment and sanitation facilities (World Bank, 2013).
The Ministry of Natural Resources has adopted a Water Strategy of the Republic of Belarus by 2020 outlining the main issues and setting the goals in the area of water management and protection which have to be addressed taking into consideration the next stage of the socioeconomic development of Belarus. This strategy aims to achieve the goals of the International Decade for Action Water for Life 2005-2015 and UN Millennium Declaration, Protocol on Water and Health to the Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes (MNREP, 2015b).
There are two types of water supply systems in Belarus: centralized and non-centralized. At the end of 2008, centralized water supply systems reached 100 percent of urban and 23 percent of rural settlements, and provided water to 85 percent of the population (96 percent of urban population and 56 percent of rural population). The management and development of the centralized system is within the competence of local authorities while the requirements to the quality of water are established by the Ministry of Public Health at the state level and supervised by public health services. The quality of sewage treatment and its conformity to the standards is supervised by the Ministry of environmental protection and its territorial bodies (Alena, 2011).
The main legislation related to water resources is (Alena, 2011):
The radioactive contamination after the Chernobyl nuclear accident affected a large part of the country, especially the southeast. Although these lands should have been completely excluded from agricultural production on health grounds, this was not the case. In those areas farming never stopped entirely. During the first few years after the accident, the levels of radioactive materials in agricultural plants and animals decreased quickly because of factors such as weather and decay. In the past decade, the radioactivity levels have still gone down, but much more slowly. At present, the levels of caesium-137 in agricultural food products from Chernobyl-affected areas are generally below national and international action levels. However, problems persist in some rural areas with small private farms where dairy cows are grazing in pastures that are neither ploughed nor fertilized. The state's farms adopted measures to minimize contamination of crops, including the use of certain fertilizers. Some crops absorb less radiation and those that absorb more have been grown only for fodder (GreenFacts, 2015; Myers, 2005).
The quality of centralized and non-centralized water supply sources is controlled by laboratories. In 2004, it was revealed that in major cities drinking water did not meet hygienic standards: 30-78 percent of water samples of centralized sources failed to meet sanitary-chemical standards. The main reason for failure was high concentration of iron. Some investigations suggested that it is dangerous to locate sources of water supply on city territories (NATO, 2005).
Due to the rehabilitation, upgrading and construction of sewage treatment plants water pollution has reduced considerably. In the last five years 49 sewage treatment facilities were put into operation in line with the Clear Water Program and with the assistance from local and national funds of environmental protection. Over the last two years the general state of rivers such as the Dnieper, Western Dvina, Neman and Pripyat has been greatly improved. There are signs of stabilization of the Western Bug (MNREP, 2015b).
Groundwater quality is much higher than surface water quality (Ysoveev et al., 2011).
The Strategic Plan for Conservation and Sustainable Use of Biodiversity for 2011-2020 stipulates that by 2020 at least 17 percent of land and inland waters and, in particular, of the areas having particular importance for biodiversity conservation and performance of ecosystem services, will be preserved through efficient and fair management and operation of ecologically representative and well-linked systems of protected areas (Republic of Belarus, 2014).
In terms of water management, possible future low-water years would bring the following negative effects (Climate adaptation, 2015):
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Ysoveev M.G., Shershnev O.V., Flerko T.G. 2011. Freswater resources and perspectives of safe water supply in the Republic of Belarus.
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