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Republic of Moldova

Year: 2015 Revision date: -- Revision type: --

Regional report: Eastern Europe

Print version:



(Click the map to obtain a detailed map)

Geography, climate and population


The Republic of Moldova is a landlocked country in Eastern Europe with a total area of 33 850 km2. It is bordered in the west by Romania and in the north, east and south by Ukraine. It became independent in 1991. For administrative purposes, the Republic of Moldova is divided into:

  • 32 raions
  • 3 municipalities: Balti, Bender, Chisinau
  • 1 autonomous territorial unit: Gagauzia
  • 1 territorial unit: Stinga Nistrului (Transnistria)

The 32 raions and Balti municipality are divided in 3 development regions: North, Centre, South.

The northern part of the country belongs to the Podole highland and the southern part to the Black Sea lowland. The average altitude is 147 m above sea level. The highest peak is 428 m above sea level on the Balanesti hill and 75 percent of the country lies below an altitude of 200 m.

The agricultural area, which is the sum of arable land, permanent crops and permanent meadows and pasture, is estimated at 2.5 million ha, which is 73 percent of the total area of the country. In 2014, the total physical cultivated area was estimated at 2.1 million ha, of which 86 percent (1.8 million ha) consisted of temporary crops and 14 percent (0.3 million ha) of permanent crops (Table 1).


The average annual precipitation is estimated at 450 mm. Two climatological zones can be distinguished:

  • The semi-arid and warm zone of steppe, covering the south of the country (45 percent). The average annual precipitation varies from 370 mm in the extreme south to 450 mm in the southern part of the Nistru (Dniester) valley, concentrated between May and October. Average temperatures vary between -3 °C in January and 22 °C in July.
  • The moderately warm zone of forested steppe, covering the northern and central parts of the country (55 percent). The average annual precipitation varies from 420 mm in the central part to 550 mm in the north, concentrated between May and October with the peak in June or July. Average temperatures vary between -4.5 °C in January and 20.5 °C in July.


In 2015, the total population was about 4.1 million, of which around 62 percent was rural (Table 1). Population density is 120 inhabitants/km². 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 the country 107 among 188 countries and the Gender Inequality Index (GII) ranks it 50 among 155 countries, for which information is available. Life expectancy is 69 years and the under-five mortality is 16 per 1000 births, both progressing from 67 years and 38 per 1000 in the 1990s. With no significant distinction between boys and girls, around 88 percent of the children in 2013 are enrolled in primary education, and 77 percent for secondary education (World Bank, 2015). Adult literacy is 99 percent in 2012 period (UNDP, 2015). In 2015, 88 percent of the total population had access to improved water sources (97 and 81 percent in urban and rural areas respectively) and 76 percent of the total population had access to improved sanitation (88 and 67 percent in urban and rural areas respectively) (JMP, 2015).

Economy, agriculture and food security

In 2014, the gross domestic product (GDP) was US$ 7 944 million and agriculture accounted for 15 percent of GDP, while in 2004 it accounted for 20 percent.

Agriculture has traditionally been a major component of the Moldovan economy. In the Soviet era, the country produced 40 percent of the Soviet Union's tobacco, 10 percent of its fruits and 5 percent of its vegetables, while it represented only 0.15 percent of the total area of the Soviet Union. However, the breakdown of collective and state farms due to the independence had a negative consequence for growth in the agricultural sector (World Bank, 2010). Main annual crops now are maize, wheat, sunflowers and barley. Vineyards and fruit trees are the main perennial crops (World Bank, 2010).

The country's location makes it prone to marked changes in weather conditions, resulting in fluctuating agricultural production. The agricultural potential is concentrated in two regions:

  • the north, with the rich black soils and the fertile Nistru river valley;
  • the south, with its calcium soils (carbonate black soils) and warm climate, which make it particularly suitable for irrigated vineyards, as well as for peach and apricot orchards.

Water resources

Surface water and groundwater resources

The hydrographic net of Republic of Moldova is represented trough 3 621 rivers. The country can be divided into three main river basins, all of them part of the Black Sea basin:

  • The Nistru (called Dniester in Ukraine) basin in the east covers about 57 percent of the country. The Nistru rises in the Carpathian Mountains in Ukraine and forms the border between Ukraine and the Republic of Moldova in parts of the north, northeast and southeast before flowing back into Ukraine, where it continues for some 20 km before reaching the Black Sea with an average annual discharge of 10 000 million m³. The Nistru has a total length of 1 352 km of which 660 km are on the territory of the Republic of Moldova. The main affluents of the Nistru river in Republic of Moldova are the Botna river (152 km), the Bic river (155 km) and the Reut river (286 km).
  • The Danube basin in the west covers about 35 percent of the country. The Prut river, a tributary of the Danube, rises in the Carpathian Mountains in Ukraine and forms the border between the Republic of Moldova and Romania before flowing into the Danube just after crossing the border into Ukraine. The Danube river then continues for about 125 km before flowing into the Black Sea. Where the Prut river becomes the border between Romania and the Republic of Moldova, its average annual flow is estimated at 2 900 million m³. The Prut has a total length of 967 km of which 695 km are on the territory of the Republic of Moldova. There are a number of small seasonal tributaries of the Danube in southern Republic of Moldova that flow into the Danube after having crossed the border to Ukraine.
  • The southern basins in the south of the country, between the Nistru and the Danube basins, several other rivers rise and flow across the border into Ukraine and then into the Black Sea. Their basins cover about 8 percent of the country.

The total IRSWR are estimated at 1 320 million m³/year (Table 2). The inflow into the country is 10 650 million m³/year. Therefore, total RSWR are estimated at 11 970 million m³/year. About 45 percent of the discharge of the Nistru and Prut rivers takes place during the spring season due to snowmelt in their upper catchment areas in Ukraine.

The average annual renewable groundwater resources are estimated at 1 300 million m³, but the water is often too mineralized to be used for domestic or irrigation purposes. Around 75 percent of the groundwater flow is estimated to be drained out into the river system (overlap) and therefore does not contribute to the IRWR. This gives a total of IRWR of 1 620 million m³/year (=1 320 + 1 300 - 1 000) and TRWR of 12 270 million m³/year (=1 620 + 10 650) (Table 3).

There are approximately 4 810 artesian wells, and 166 542 shallow wells in the country (Eptisa, 2012).

In 2012, total municipal wastewater produced was estimated at 53 million m³.

Lakes and dams

There are few natural lakes in the Republic of Moldova. The largest one is Lake Beleu in the Prut valley with a surface area of 6.3 km², followed by Lake Salas (3.7 km²), Lake Dracele (2.7 km²), Lake Rotunda (2.1 km²), Lake Nistrul (1.9 km²) and Lake Rosu (1.2 km²) (NBS, 2014).

About 3 500 small and medium reservoirs and ponds have been constructed for irrigation purposes, flow regulation and fishing pools. Most are small tanks for local use with a surface area of up to 3 ha. Reservoirs in the northern and central part of the country are used mainly for seasonal regulation of water, while in the south they serve for inter-annual distribution due to the region's greater water deficiency (Climate Adaptation, 2015).

The largest reservoir in the country is the Costesti-Stanca, on the Prut river, with a total capacity of 1 285 million m³ and a total area of 59 km². It is jointly operated by Romania and the Republic of Moldova and half, 642.5 million m³, is counted for each country. It has a capacity of 32 MW. The Dubasari dam on the Nistru river has a total capacity of 485 million m³ and a total area of 68 km². Other estimates of reservoir capacity given for this dam vary between 164 and 278 million m³ and might have taken sedimentation into consideration. It has a capacity of 48 MW. The Cuciurgan dam on the Cuciurgan river is on the border between the Republic of Moldova and Ukraine, and its total capacity of 88 million m³ is shared between the two countries.

The Nistru basin has a total storage capacity of 1 240 million m³, of which 601 million m³ from reservoirs larger than 1 million m³ and 639 million m³ from reservoirs smaller than 1 million m³. The Prut basin has a total storage capacity of 1 116 million m³, of which 665 million m³ from reservoirs larger than 1 million m³ and 451 million m³ from reservoirs smaller than 1 million m³. Other basins in the country account for 228 million m³, of which 102 million m³ from reservoirs larger than 1 million m³ and 126 million m³ from reservoirs smaller than 1 million m³. Thus, the total storage capacity is about 2 584 million m³.

International water issues

After the break-up of the former Soviet Union many problems related to transboundary water resources appeared. Since the early 1990s, to a greater or lesser extent all countries in Eastern Europe have taken measures to establish transboundary cooperation in use and protection of water resources. The Republic of Moldova has joined the following agreements (ECE, 2009, Gabor, 2008):

  • Bilateral agreement with Romania to operate the Costesti-Stanca dam (1982).
  • Agreement with the Government of Ukraine on Joint Use and Protection of Transboundary Waters (1994).
  • Convention on Cooperation for the Protection and Sustainable Use of the Danube River (1994). The Parties to the Convention are Austria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Montenegro, the Republic of Moldova, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Ukraine and the European Community. The International Commission for the Protection of the Danube River (ICPDR) was established in accordance with the Convention.
  • Memorandum of Understanding for the cooperation on the Prut river between 'Moldavien Waters' and the related institution from Romania 'Apele Romane'/'Romanian Waters' (1995)
  • Agreement with the Government of Romania with regards to the Cooperation in the Area of Protection of Fish Resources and the Regulating of Fishing in the Prut River and Stanca-Costesti Artificial Lake (2003).
  • The project "Transboundary cooperation and sustainable management in the Nistru (Dniester) River basin: Phase III - Implementation of the Action Programme" (Dniester-III) started in 2009 with the support of the Swedish and Finnish governments. It is implemented by OSCE, UNECE and UNEP in close collaboration with authorities and NGOs from Moldova and Ukraine.

Water use

In 2007 total water withdrawal was estimated at 1 065 million m³ of which 883 million m³ (83 percent) for industry, 146 million m³ (14 percent) for municipalities and 36 million m³ (3 percent) for agriculture (Figure 1 and Table 4). In 2013, total water withdrawal for agriculture was estimated at 38 million m³ (NBS, 2014).

Shallow groundwater is the main source of household water supply in rural areas. About 65 percent of the total population of the country, equal to 100 percent of the rural population and 30 percent of the urban population, uses groundwater as the main source of potable water supply. The remaining 35 percent of the population uses surface water as a source of potable water, including 32.0 percent from the Nistru river, 2.8 percent from the Prut river and 0.2 percent from other surface waters (Climate Adaptation, 2015).

Irrigation and drainage

Evolution of irrigation development

The irrigation potential has been estimated at 1.5 million ha. About 30 percent of this, or 500 000 ha, is located in the Nistru basin, 200 000 ha in the area surrounding the Costesti-Stanca reservoir on the Prut river, and another 200 000 ha in the extreme south, if using water stored in the Ukrainian Ialpug and Cahul lakes close to the border. The remaining areas consist of extension possibilities of the existing schemes (mainly in the Nistru basin) and of areas scattered all over the country. On most of these lands rainfed agriculture is currently practiced or they are used as pastures.

Between the end of the 1st World War in 1918 and the beginning of the 2nd World War in 1940, Bessarabia (which included the present Republic of Moldova) was under Romanian jurisdiction and during that period the first tanks were constructed in the Prut basin. Large-scale water resources development started after the Second World War when the country was part of the Soviet Union. Substantial investments were made in the large-scale irrigation subsector during the 1960s and early 1980s.

In 1992, just after independence, the area equipped for irrigation covered 312 000 ha. The irrigation water was stored in reservoirs and tanks, built on the rivers, and pumped into the main irrigation canals. The three largest schemes in 1992 were: the Rabnita in the Nistru valley, with a total area of 24 000 ha; and the Suklei and Etuliy irrigation schemes, with an area of 10 000 ha each.

Since then the irrigation sector has declined for several reasons, but mainly due to economic factors and the unfit structure of old irrigation systems for the newly emerging pattern of private farming. In 2014, total area equipped for irrigation is estimated at 228 300 ha (NBS, 2014), of which 30 percent surface irrigation, 63 percent sprinkler irrigation and 7 percent localized irrigation (Table 5 and Figure 2). In 2007 actually irrigated area accounted for only 32 000 ha.

Irrigation is mainly concentrated in the central and southern parts of the country, in the Nistru and Prut valleys. The Prut and Nistru rivers are the main sources of irrigation water, although tributaries of these rivers are also important sources. No groundwater is used for irrigation. As the private agribusiness started to grow, the water supply from inland lakes and ponds became very popular and more convenient to access (World Bank, 2008).

Role of irrigation in agricultural production, economy and society

Of the actually irrigated area of 32 000 ha in 2007, 7 000 ha or 22 percent were cereals, 3 500 ha or 11 percent vegetables, 3 500 ha or 11 percent potatoes, 2 200 ha or 7 percent sugar beet, 4 800 ha or 15 percent fruit trees and 11 000 ha or 34 percent permanent meadows and pastures (Table 5 and Figure 3).

Status and evolution of drainage systems

In 1992, the drained area was estimated at 42 000 ha. About 70 percent or 29 400 ha was equipped with subsurface drains, usually pipes, located in the area equipped for irrigation (Table 5). Drainage is mainly concentrated in the central and southern parts of the country.

Water management, policies and legislation related to water use in agriculture


The most important institution involved in water resources development and management is the Ministry of Environment (MoE), which is responsible for the development of the legal and regulatory framework in the field of environmental protection, rational use of natural resources, including management of waste, water resources, water supply and sewerage system. Some of the functions of MoE are implemented by specialized bodies reporting to it: State Hydrometeorological Service (SHS), Agency for Geology and Mineral Resources (AGMR), State Ecological Inspectorate (SEI) and 'Apele Moldovei', which is the administrative authority responsible for implementing the state policy in the field of water resources management, hydrological, water supply and sanitation.

Other institutions related to water resources are:

  • Ministry of Health
  • Ministry of Agriculture and Food Industry
  • Ministry of Regional Development and Construction
  • National Energy Regulatory Agency (NARE)

Water management

The Government aims to rehabilitate deteriorated infrastructure at priority irrigation schemes where irrigation has been found to be economically viable, and where farmers are committed to developing Water User Associations (WUAs) and utilizing irrigation facilities (World Bank, 2008).

The Second Rural Investment and Services Project (RISP II) aims to provide long-term support to accelerate agricultural recovery and growth. In 2007, after a catastrophic drought, a new Drought Adaptation Component was added that focused on providing targeted investments for small-scale on-farm irrigation rehabilitation and the provision of technical assistance to farmers. The project financed 26 irrigation sub-projects totaling a rehabilitated on-farm irrigated area of 3 000 ha (World Bank, 2013).

A New Water Supply and Sanitation (WSS) Strategy for 2014-2028 aims to address key challenges faced by the sector, including its governance framework and information support. The strategy's main goal is to ensure access to safe drinking water and proper sanitation.

Policies and legislation

The national policy for water resources aims to prevent the degradation of water resources at all levels, taking into consideration social and economic changes, national plans and current trends in regions and river basins. The main objective of national water policies is to carry out sustainable management of water resources (Tafi, 2005).

The most important laws related to water resources in the Republic of Moldova are (Tronza, 2014):

  • The Water Law (2011) and eighteen sub-law regulations
  • The Drinking Water Law (1999)
  • The Public Water Supply and Sanitation Service Law (2013)
  • The Public Communal Services Law (2002)
  • The State Control over Public Health Law (2009)

Environment and health

Sources of pollution of surface water and groundwater are mainly due to households individual sanitation systems, poorly or non-treated municipal wastewater discharges from inadequate solid waste management sites and from power and industrial plants.

The State Hydrometeorology Service carries out monitoring of surface water, through a network with 49 monitoring sections on 16 rivers, and 6 reservoirs. The State Public Health Surveillance Service has a sampling network of 60 points on 11 water bodies checking chemical, microbiological and parasitological parameters. According to the most recent monitoring data, the level of pollution of rivers Prut, Nistru, and Danube do not seem to have changed significantly compared to earlier years. These rivers are considered moderately polluted. Lack of adequate sanitation systems and sanitary protection zones around groundwater sources means that 75 percent of the rural population is relying on groundwater of inadequate quality (Eptisa, 2012). Investigations indicate a strong correlation between groundwater quality in unconfined aquifers and land use. Degradation of drinking water quality is also attributed to increased livestock growing by households.

Due to the uncontrolled use of water from wells, the water table depth in these aquifers has increased drastically, leading to depletion of the aquifer in many regions of the country (Climate Adaptation, 2015).

Poor quality drinking water is estimated to cause up to 22-25 percent of cases of diarrheal diseases, 15-20 percent of cases of viral hepatitis A, and 100 percent of cases of dental fluorosis (Tronza, 2014).

Prospects for agricultural water management

Water resources in the Republic of Moldova are sensitive to climate change, both from the point of view of quantity and quality. According to estimations, the surface water resources that are available could go down by 15-20 percent by 2020 (Eptisa, 2012, Tronza, 2014). Thus, secure supply for all water users will be threatened by climate-related change in water resources already in the 2020s (Climate Adaptation, 2015).

Main sources of information

Climate Adaptation. 2015. Fresh water resources Moldova. Present situation in Moldova.

Eptisa. 2012. Republic of Moldova's water supply and sanitation strategy.

ECE. 2009. Capacity for water cooperation in Eastern Europe, Caucasus and Central Asia. Economic Commission for Europe.

EEA. 2012. Republic of Moldova country report. European Environment Agency.

Gabor, O. 2008. Hydrosolidarity in the Prut river basin - key element in transboundary flood management..

ICPDR. 2007. Danube facts and figures, Republic of Moldova. International Commission for the Protection of the Danube River.

INECO. 2004. State of the environment in the Republic of Moldova. The water resources. Institutul National de Ecologie.

JMP. 2015. Progress on drinking water and sanitation - 2015 Update and MDG Assessment. WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme for Water Supply and Sanitation.

NBS. 2014. Statistical Yearbook of the Republic of Moldova. National Bureau of Statistics.

Tafi, J. 2005. Water statistics and accounts in the Republic of Moldova. IWG-Env, International Work Session on Water Statistics, Vienna, June 20-22 2005.

Tronza, S. 2014. Water supply and sanitation strategy of the Republic of Moldova and transition to green economy. Annual meeting of the EUWI EECCA Working Group - Geneva, 24 June 2014. Ministry of Environment.

UNDP. 2015. Human Development Reports: Data. United Nations Development Programme. New York.

Vartolomei, F. 2009. Stanca-Costesti reservoir. The most important water management unit in Prut catchment area.

Water Sciencie and Technology Library. 2014. Management of water quality in Moldova.

World Bank. 2008. Project paper on a proposed additional financing credit in the amount of SDR 3.7 million (US$6.0 million equivalent) to the Republic of Moldova for the rural investment and services project II.

World Bank. 2010. The Republic of Moldova. Climate change and agriculture country note.

World Bank. 2013. Implementation, completion and results report on a credit in the amount of SDR 5.2 million (US$7.50 million equivalent) and a grant in the amount of SDR 5.2 million (US$7.50 million equivalent) and an additional credit in the amount of SDR 3.7 million (US$6.0 million equivalent) and an additional credit in the amount of SDR 6.8 million (US$10.0 million equivalent) to the Republic of Moldova for the second rural investment and services project in support of the second phase rural investment services program (adaptable program lending).

World Bank. 2015. World Development Indicators. World DataBank. World Bank. Washington.

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