3. An outlook of Moldova’s water policy journey to 2030

The Republic of Moldova (hereafter “Moldova”) and the European Union (EU) enjoy a close relationship, notably in the framework of the EU Eastern Partnership (EaP), which began in 2009. In June 2014, ties strengthened further with the signing of the EU-Moldova Association Agreement (AA), which entered into force in July 2016. Through the AA, Moldova committed to approximate its national legislation towards EU directives. It also committed to implement EU good practice, including in the fields of environment and water management. EU policies on environment, natural resources management and climate change entail nearly one-third of Moldova’s commitments in the AA, requiring the approximation of over 40 legal acts (“acquis communautaires”) and setting the grounds for their further implementation.

The AA defines timeframes in which Moldova is expected to align national practices with the EU directives related to water quality and resource management. All provisions are to be implemented within eight years of the AA’s entry into force, i.e. by 2024. Of these directives, the Water Framework Directive (WFD) is the most crucial legal act concerning the management of water resources. It aims to ensure the viable, socio-economic management of resources; protect the quantity and quality of water; and promote sustainable water use.

The AA transcends the WFD, extending to commitments more broadly related to the water sector. Table 3.1 summarises the water-related EU directives, including provisions, timeframes for implementation as defined by the AA and their status as of 2021. This study covers all water-related EU directives except the Floods Directive.

Moldova has made considerable progress in aligning national legislation with EU directives and developing its regulatory and institutional frameworks since 2016. However, it needs to strengthen implementation and enforcement. In particular, monitoring, data collection, information-sharing mechanisms, and assessments of water resources and their quality remain weak points in Moldova’s water resource management system.

In addition to these directives, Moldova is party to 19 international conventions and 10 protocols in the fields of environment, natural resources and climate change, including the Paris Agreement from 2015. These instruments are briefly discussed below.

A key instrument in international co-operation on integrated water resource management (IWRM) is the 1992 UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes (hereafter “the Water Convention). This lays down the principles for IWRM and transboundary co-operation.

The 1999 UNECE-WHO Regional Office for Europe Protocol on Water and Health takes a broader approach to protect human health and well-being. It focuses on better water management by building on IWRM principles. It also seeks to prevent, control and reduce water-related diseases, targeting access to water, sanitation and hygiene for all with a special focus on vulnerable and marginalised groups.

Moldova has been Party to the Water Convention since January 1994 and to the Protocol on Water and Health since September 2005. The principles of IWRM were first enshrined in the Framework Concept of the National Policy on Water Resources 2003-10, adopted by Parliament in July 2003 and implemented by subsequent water management development plans.

Other leading global initiatives include the Implementation Plan adopted at the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg. This sought to develop national IWRM and water efficiency plans by 2005. It also adopted the water-related Millennium Development Goals, which became an important framework to foster action on water supply and sanitation (WSS) at national level. This framework was strengthened on the global level by the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), adopted at the UN Summit in 2015. SDG 6 and SDG 14 apply directly to water resources.

Since its independence from the former Soviet Union, Moldova has also concluded four multilateral or bilateral agreements on transboundary water management, as follows:

  • Convention on Co-operation for the Protection and Sustainable Use of the River Danube. Moldova has been a Contracting Party to the Danube Convention since 1999 and a member of its implementing body – the International Commission for the Protection of the Danube River (ICPDR). Since 2000, the ICPDR has been the platform for implementation of all transboundary aspects of the WFD. Since 2007, it has been the platform for implementation of the Floods Directive in the Danube River Basin. Moldova held the ICPDR Presidency in 2020, promoting five main priorities: improving co-operation and collaboration between ICPDR members; focusing on non-EU members; reducing water pollution in the Danube River Basin; crossing sectoral divides; and strengthening resilience to climate change.

  • Bilateral Agreement between the Government of Ukraine and the Government of the Republic of Moldova on the Joint Use and Protection of Transboundary Waters (ratified in 1994). The Agreement is under revision to reflect the river basin management requirements of the WFD.

  • Agreement between Romania and the Republic of Moldova on co-operation in the field of protection and sustainable use of the Prut and Danube rivers (Chisinau, 2010).

  • Treaty between the Government of the Republic of Moldova and the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine on co-operation in the field of protection and sustainable development of the Dniester River Basin (Rome, 2012). The Treaty covers all aspects relating to river basin issues, except for navigation and hydropower. Its implementation is assigned to the Commission on Sustainable Use and Protection of the Dniester River Basin (the Dniester Commission), co-chaired by high level representatives of both countries.

From a macro-economic perspective, Moldova is defined as an agro-industrial economy. Approximately 70% of its rural population depend on agriculture for their livelihood, while agri-food accounts for about 45% of the country’s total export. Agricultural land covers about 75% of total land area, 73% of which is estimated as arable. Despite these features, only 12% of the arable land is under permanent cultivation and almost 90% of agricultural production is rain-fed (which makes it highly vulnerable to adverse weather conditions).

Moldova saw a considerable drop in the value-added share of its agriculture – from 30% to 10% of gross domestic product (GDP) over 2000-19 (World Bank, 2021[2]). This was due to high fragmentation of agricultural land among small-sized farms that affected its economic efficiency; the sector’s vulnerability to climate change; and lack of investments in new technologies and climate-adaptive practices (including for irrigation).

Still, the sector employs over 30% of the Moldovan population and ensures a high proportion of its export. Therefore, annual GDP growth will continue to be affected by agricultural productivity for some years to come. Policy decisions – for development of the agro-industrial sector but also for other economic perspectives – will have considerable implications to the decisions on water demand management and respective investment priorities in Moldova for the coming decade.

Moldova is a predominantly rural society. As of January 2018, 57% of its 3.5 million population (2.5 million of whom are “usual residents”1) lived in rural villages and 45% in urban. Despite some gains in reducing poverty in the last decade, Moldova remains the poorest country in Europe, where poverty is most severe in rural areas. Weak governance and associated low economic growth after breaking from the Soviet Union have led to the emigration of almost one-third of the working age population. This has mainly affected rural areas, depriving them of needed labour for productivity. As a great many migrants originate from villages, remittances became a substantial part of the income benefiting the poorest segments of society. Remittances as a share of GDP reached as high as 31% in 2008 and gradually declined to 22% in 2016 (UNDP, 2017[3]). This influx of money, however, did not bring sustainable investments in the country’s development.

Apart from migration and the fluctuation of the population, fragmented administrative territorial governance makes water-use management planning a challenge. The country is divided into 32 districts (rayons), 3 municipalities and 2 autonomous regions (Gagauzia and Transnistria). The status of Transnistria is disputed and the region is not controlled by the central government. Therefore, national strategic planning (including in water management) does not cover the Transnistrian settlements on the left bank of the Dniester River. There are 1 682 localities on the Moldovan territory, 982 of which have their own local public authorities. The remaining 699 villages are too small for independent governance, and are administered by cities or villages with commune status.

Water use has been relatively stable over the past two decades in Moldova. Meanwhile, a shrinking population (-1.4% per annum between 2000 and 2017) has led to modest increases in water availability per capita (+1.3% over the same period). Although Moldova is far from facing severe water stress, the country experiences higher water stress conditions exacerbated by seasonal fluctuations than its more water-abundant neighbours, Belarus and Ukraine (European Environment Agency, 2020[4]).

In Moldova, nearly 50% of rivers and streams are heavily polluted and 27% are polluted, which makes them unfit for swimming, fishing and drinking. Meanwhile, less than half of groundwater reserves meet the required quality for drinking water. Water pollution is caused by both point and diffuse sources. Point sources include wastewater, also known as effluent, legally or illegally discharged from a manufacturing or food-processing enterprise, refinery or wastewater treatment plant.

To reduce point source pollution, Regulation 950/2013 established requirements for collection, treatment and discharge of wastewater in the sewerage system or in water outlets for urban and rural localities. However, enforcement remains poor. Water quality differs significantly between the portions of rivers upstream and downstream of urban areas. Inadequate treatment facilities, which are often equipped only for mechanical treatment, function poorly. Due to discharges of insufficiently purified wastewater, rivers downstream suffer from much higher concentrations of ammonia and other pollutants (European Environment Agency, 2020[4]).

In Moldova, where freshwater greatly depends on inflow from watercourses shared with neighbours (Ukraine and Romania), transboundary pollution is also a concern. Transboundary pollution can result from a disaster like an oil spill but more often from the downriver carriage of industrial, agricultural and municipal discharges. Cleaning surface water and especially groundwater from contaminants can be difficult, sometimes impossible, as well as costly. Therefore, precautionary measures should always be preferred to end-of-pipe solutions.

The hydrographic network of Moldova consists of more than 3 000 rivers and streams, although only 8 are longer than 100 km. The network forms three hydrographic basins that were grouped into two river basin management districts (RBMDs) in 2013. The Dniester (Nistru) RBMD in the east and north-east covers 57% of the country’s territory, while the Prut-Danube-Black Sea RBMD in the west and north-west spreads over 35%. Several small seasonal tributaries in southern Moldova cover about 8% of its territory and flow into the Danube after crossing the border with Ukraine. Therefore, all river basins in the landlocked Moldova form part of the larger Black Sea Basin. The total renewable surface water resources in the country are estimated at 11 970 million cubic metres per year (m3/year) (FAO, 2019[7]).

The largest surface water source is the Dniester River with a total annual discharge of about 10.7 cubic kilometres (km3) (hereinafter multiannual average figures are presented for run-off). The river’s total length is 1 352 km of which a 660-km segment flows through the territory of Moldova. The Dniester’s main tributaries in Moldova are the Botna River (152 km), the Bic River (155 km) and the Raut River (286 km).

The country’s second largest water source is the Prut River with an average annual discharge of around 2.9 km3. Prut’s total length is 967 km, about two-thirds of which (695 km) are on the territory of Moldova. All other inland rivers flowing within the country have an average annual discharge of about 1.22 km3 (Climate Change Post, 2021[8]).

Moldova’s hydrographic network also includes about 60 natural lakes and approximately 3 500 artificial reservoirs and ponds constructed for irrigation purposes, flow regulation and fishing pools. The two biggest reservoirs in Moldova are Costesti-Stinca on Prut (678 million m3), jointly operated with Romania, and Dubasari (235 million m3) on the Dniester River. Another trans-border reservoir is the Cuciurgan dam on the Cuciurgan River at the border with Ukraine. It has total capacity of 88 million m3, which is shared between the two countries. The total storage capacity of water reservoirs in Moldova is estimated at 2.6 million m3 (FAO, 2015[9]).

The main groundwater reserves are located in deep confined aquifers with total debit accounting for 1.3 km3, including 0.7 km3 of water that is drinking quality. According to the State Water Cadastre, the total volume of operational reserves of groundwater is 3 478.6 thousand m3/day, while the estimated resources are 77.9 thousand m3/day. These reserves belong to the main horizons of 10 water complexes, separated into 20 groundwater bodies – 8 within the Dniester River Basin and 12 within the Danube-Prut-Black Sea River Basin (UNECE, 2019[10]).

However, the natural recharge capacity of the confined aquifers is limited. The water is often too mineralised for domestic use or irrigation. Moreover, around 75% of the groundwater flow drains into the river system. Hence, it does not contribute much to the total renewable water resources (FAO, 2019[7]).

Climate change is projected to decrease surface flows in Moldova by 16-20% by 2030. More specifically, projections indicate continuous increase of annual average temperature by 2°C between 2010 and 2040. It will increase an additional 1°C every 30 years afterwards until the end of the century.

Regarding precipitation, the model projections indicate seasonal variability where the annual run-off is expected to decrease by 13%. Meanwhile, annual flows are expected to become more unstable with more frequent spring and flash floods. Climate models predict a decrease in water availability and resources unless adequate adaptation measures are taken on time. 

Under climate change, there could be severe water shortages in the Raut Basin. The same is possible for the Upper and Lower Dniester (Nistru) basins, where irrigation demands are projected to increase by 10-15% until 2040. Areas with vulnerable, mainly rural, populations are already experiencing water shortages, as well as decreasing water depth in unconfined aquifers due to overexploitation. The Central region and Southern Transnistria are assessed as most vulnerable to changes in water availability (World Bank, n.d.[11]).

With respect to natural disaster risks, Moldova is considered prone to floods and droughts. Moldova is in the top ten countries worldwide with the highest proportion of people affected by climate disasters. In 2008, a flash flood matched historic highs in some places. The most affected regions were along the main Dniester and Prut rivers where total damages amounted to USD 120 million. Severe floods in 2010 affected more than 13 000 people in 60 villages, causing losses and damage exceeding USD 75 million. As a result, flood waters reportedly contaminated about 500 of 3 500 shallow wells and 13 of 120 artesian wells (UNDRR, 2015[12]).

On the other hand, it is projected that droughts will become longer and more severe in Moldova. What were considered 100-year droughts are projected to return every 50 years, with the southern region being especially vulnerable. Severe droughts already took place in 2003, 2007, 2012 and, most recently, from autumn 2019 to late spring 2020. As a result of reduced precipitation, the surface water flow shrank by 30-50% compared to the multiannual average of Dniester and Prut rivers, and by 20-40% for smaller catchment areas.

In 2013, to optimise management in line with IWRM principles, the three hydrographic basins in Moldova were merged into two RBMDs: Dniester (Nistru) Basin and Danube-Prut-Black Sea Basin. Accordingly, two river basin management plans (RBMPs) were developed along with two River Basin Committees to implement IWRM management principles. The country’s water agency, Apele Moldovei, has begun to reform its functions and structure. It has become responsible for RBMP implementation and co-ordination at the national level.

Each management district has a defined number of sub-basins of small and medium rivers. In total, Moldova is divided into 39 sub-basins. With respect to water quantity, which is closely related to quality and concentrations of hazardous substances, the volume of the two largest rivers in the basin districts – Prut and Dniester – depends essentially on the territory of Ukraine, where around 80% of the rivers’ flow is formed.

Each RBMP was developed in accordance with the requirements of the WFD and the country’s Water Law 272/2011. The two RBMPs for Dniester and Danube-Prut-Black Sea districts are implemented in cycles and revised every six years (they are both under revision). They guide the implementation of measures that align with the WFD and national strategic objectives. These objectives set a framework for the protection of surface waters and groundwaters to achieve the overarching goal of achieving a “good” water quality status throughout the river basins.

Public and stakeholder consultations were organised throughout the RBMP process, making good use of the National Policy Dialogue platform. The active participation in discussions by a large variety of stakeholders demonstrates increasing public awareness of the river basins’ sensitive issues and challenges, as well as a readiness to jointly develop solutions.

Danube-Prut and Black Sea District RBMP

The Danube-Prut and Black Sea District (DPBSD) RBMP was approved in October 2018. It had been initially developed with support from the EU regional project “Transboundary River Basin Environmental Protection” and the EUWI+ in 2016. The DPBSD was planned in co-operation with the Ministry of Agriculture, Regional Development and Environment (MARDE) and the water agency, Apele Moldovei. The second phase of the plan’s development focused on transboundary aspects, encouraging active co-operation between Moldova, Romania and Ukraine in designing joint activities in the basin. A comprehensive Programme of Measures (PoM) for the revised RBMP for 2021-27 is undergoing a second round of public consultations. The process aims to define priority objectives for improving water quality and quantity in the basin and outline a timeline for their achievement.

Dniester River Basin District RBMP

The first Dniester River Basin District Management Plan 2017-22 was approved in October 2017. It was developed as part of activities under the Compact Program of the Millennium Challenge Corporation between 2010 and 2015. The objectives include prevention of deterioration of surface waters and groundwater status, and a gradual reduction of pollution and improvement of water bodies’ status. Various measures were proposed to achieve these objectives. These included systematisation of groundwater quality information, improvement of water quality monitoring, assessment of small river status, and reconstruction and building of water treatment plants. However, a lack of reliable data and poor monitoring information undermined the quality of the first RBMP.

Transboundary management plans

Co-operation with Ukraine is crucial for improving the status of the Dniester River and ensuring more sustainable management. Ukraine accounts for 73% of the basin’s surface (Poland and downstream Moldova cover 0.6% and 26.4%, respectively). With this in mind, the new cycle of the plan (2022-27) is focusing on transboundary aspects. A team of Moldovan and Ukrainian experts jointly drafted the first part of the Transboundary River Basin Management Plan – “General characteristics and state assessment”. Following the structure established by the WFD, the document contains a description of the basin; identification of surface water and groundwater bodies, the main transboundary problems and their causes; and an assessment of anthropogenic influences on each water body.

Based on a Transboundary Diagnostic Analysis, a Strategic Action Programme (SAP) for the Dniester River Basin has been developed and is undergoing public consultation. The SAP is developed for a 15-year period, to be revised every five years. The analysis and the SAP provide a good basis for the second cycle of the Dniester RBMP, and will be used to develop Moldova’s country-specific PoM. However, they lack detail and monitoring data.

Despite different geographic and demographic features, the two river basin districts share similar challenges deriving from climate change and natural disaster risks, and negative anthropogenic impacts (see Table 3.2).

Within the territory of the Dniester Basin in Moldova, 94% of water bodies are assessed at risk of “not achieving good ecological status”. The remaining 6% are “likely at risk”, and there are no water bodies at “no risk”. In the DPBS district, results are roughly similar with 97.6% of surface water bodies “at risk of not meeting the environmental objectives” at the end of the 2022-27 cycle. According to the RBMP, even if urgent measures are taken, two additional cycles (until 2039) are needed to reverse this trend. Regarding groundwater in both river basin districts, only 3-4% of deep aquafers are identified as “at risk of not achieving good quantitative and chemical status” (although mineralisation and microbiological parameters have not been monitored).

Regarding achieving “good” chemical status, only 3% of water bodies in the Dniester Basin within Moldova are assessed “at risk”, while the percentage of those “without risk” is 32%. However, “no information” is attributed to 65% of the water bodies subject to chemical status evaluation.

The Transboundary Diagnostic Analysis for the DRBD acknowledges these figures do not reflect the “true” state of the Dniester Basin. Rather, they indicate insufficient monitoring of priority pollutants. Data for only 4 metals of 45 priority pollutants were made available to assess the risk of achieving a “good” chemical status.

Impacts are primarily due to the high share of ploughed agricultural land, the significant hydromorphological changes along the rivers and the discharge of insufficiently treated wastewater from public utilities and industries.

Responding to the challenges summarised above, the two RBMPs identify a series of environmental objectives and measures for 2022-27. These measures aim at achievement of good environmental status for surface water and groundwater bodies in both basin districts. Many measures proposed in the RBMPs are already envisaged in respective national or regional strategies and programmes. These include the WSS Strategy and the National Programme for the implementation of the Protocol on Water and Health in the Republic of Moldova, among others.

Programme of measures for the Danube-Prut-Black Sea Basin District RMBP

The first cycle of the DPBS Management Plan covers 2018-23, but its implementation time will be reduced until the adoption of the new RBMP. The latter will synchronise Moldova’s second planning cycle with those of the other Danube countries (2022-27). Due to lack of funding, many planned measures have been excluded from the first RBMP and will be shifted to the next management cycle. The RBMP 2022-27 has recently undergone a second round of public consultations. Its adoption is foreseen for the middle of 2021.

Environmental objectives for surface water bodies (SWBs) within the DPBS RBD have been established for the categories of natural, heavily modified and artificial.

  • 37 SWBs aim to achieve a “good ecological and chemical status” in the 2021-27 planning cycle.

  • “Less stringent environmental objectives” are defined for 65 SWBs, which aim to achieve the 2028-34 planning cycle environmental objectives.

  • For the 28 SWBs, where the highest pressures are recorded, environmental objectives may be addressed in the 2035-40 cycle.

Because many water bodies are forecasted to fall short of environmental objectives, derogation is envisaged for most water bodies during the next management cycle, as described below.

Environmental objectives for groundwater bodies (GWBs) aim to achieve both good quantitative and good chemical conditions, and a guarantee of non-deterioration. The following environmental objectives have been established in the second RBMP cycle 2022-27:

  • achieving a good chemical status in two GWBs,

  • achieving a good quantitative status in two GWBs,

  • preventing or limiting discharge of pollutants from agriculture and point sources in two GWBs,

  • assuring non-deterioration of condition in three GWBs,

  • improving monitoring systems in two GWBs.

To achieve these targets, 50 measures are proposed in the second RBMP for the DPBS district, grouped into six priority areas (Table 3.3). They address point and diffuse sources of water pollution, improvement of WSS networks, hydromorphological pressures, and flood and drought risks. In the PoM, actions are prioritised and budgeted, which facilitate further investment planning for the basin. The selected measures include 52 actions (37 basic and 15 supplementary) costing an estimated MDL 3 billion (EUR 147 million).

Programme of measures for the Dniester Basin District RBMP

The RBMP for Dniester district (2017-22) prioritises key environmental issues relevant for both river basins, although it focuses on “softer” measures. Specific objectives were formulated for the first cycle of the Management Plan to improve the situation. They mainly targeted use of information technologies for digitising, collecting and processing information, revising data flows, modernising monitoring tools and defining new institutional competencies (Table 3.4). These, in essence, are being implemented by reengineering and optimising management processes.

The first RBMP identifies 71 actions for meeting its objectives, costing an estimated MDL 104 million (about EUR 5.2 million). However, this figure excludes required infrastructural investments in WSS systems for which feasibility studies have not been undertaken.

In all, 94% of water bodies in Dniester district are at risk of not achieving good ecological status during the next planning cycle. Therefore, the second RBMP must establish environmental objectives for all water bodies in the basin, with targeted actions and timeframes.

Transboundary objectives

The RBMP’s objectives are taken up on a transboundary level for Dniester River Basin SAP. This was developed from a Transboundary Diagnostic Analysis (TDA) of the district.2 The governments of Moldova and Ukraine were expected to adopt the SAP in 2021. Both the TDA and SAP are considered a good foundation for the second cycle of the Dniester RBMP and for development of Moldova’s country-specific PoM.

In this context, the following elements represent a snapshot of expected priorities for both river basins in Moldova during the next planning cycle (2022-27):

  • establishing norms for water use (prevention of overuse),

  • enforcing norms for wastewater discharges,

  • implementing the Code of Good Agricultural Practice (to prevent diffuse pollution),

  • saving water, developing economic instruments for irrigation, reuse and recycling,

  • investing in urban wastewater treatments (to prevent pollution from point sources),

  • improving water quality monitoring programmes,

  • implementing hydromorphological monitoring and from data, developing water balance restoration plans.

Implementation of actions will depend on the availability of funding and sustainability of the responsible institutions (e.g. River Basin Committees; subordinate bodies of MARDE, including the water agency Apele Moldovei, the Environmental Protection Inspectorate and the Environment Agency, and others). The actions will consequently contribute to achieving commitments under the Protocol on Water and Health and the SDG 6 objectives. Owing to this, well-coordinated planning and justified budgeting of interventions in the water management sector are key milestones of the 2021-27 programming period; national strategies and action plans will also be updated and donors’ priorities defined during this period.

SAP activities are differentiated according to their estimated costs. The PoM involves 28 low-cost measures (each under EUR 100 000), 28 medium-cost measures (between EUR 100 000 and EUR 1 million), and 17 high-cost measures (over EUR 1 million). However, SAP does not distinguish between proposed activities per country. This means Moldova will need further planning and budgeting.

Financing the RBMPs

Financing for the second Danube-Prut-Black Sea Basin District RBMP (2022-27) is estimated at EUR 157.7 million (MDL 3.2 billion). Meanwhile, the first plan for the Dniester River Basin District (2017-22) requires an estimated EUR 5.2 million (MDL 104 million), without infrastructure investments.

In 2016, Moldova made a concerted effort to reform its legislative, regulatory, institutional and policy environment to align with the WFD and associated directives. Broadly, Moldova is moving in the right direction in each area. However, the merging of large portfolios under a single management system, together with a drastic cut in staff of specialised water administration, has seriously impacted the targeted performance of key public water-related sectors.

Reforms have undoubtedly brought the needed economies of scale. At the same time, however, they have assigned more and new responsibilities to executive agencies. These entities do not always have the necessary knowledge, staff and financial capacities to implement them successfully. Consequently, they are unable to help ministries implement their goals effectively.

The National Development Strategy “Moldova 2020” recognised the provision of clean, accessible and affordable water as one of the highest priorities in the country’s development agenda. The National Environmental Strategy (NES) 2014-23 has partly addressed the water sector. However, it uses “soft” legal, institutional and awareness-raising measures. The NES was developed before a comprehensive needs assessment was completed for WSS. Therefore, the foreseen investment of EUR 177.7 million for WSS in its Action Plan is largely underestimated.

The WSS Strategy 2014-28 was recently revised and extended to 2030. It completed the national strategic framework in the sector by establishing ambitious targets to gradually ensure access to safe drinking water and proper sanitation in all settlements and for the entire population of Moldova by 2028. The national objectives are translated into four sectoral WSS programmes for the main development regions in Moldova, to be implemented between 2016-20.

The National Programme for the implementation of the Protocol on Water and Health in the Republic of Moldova for 2016-25 was revised in early 2021. It set new targets and deadlines under the Protocol on Water and Health covering water, sanitation, hygiene and health. The revision extended the programme until 2030.

With the view of contributing to overall sustainable development, the National Climate Change Adaptation Strategy aims to enhance the adaptive capacity and reduce the vulnerability of economies and societies. This follows the global goal on adaptation defined in the Paris Agreement (Articles 7 and 14).

Although policy improvements and efforts towards alignment are moving towards robust management, some shortcomings remain, including the following:

  • Inconsistency in setting policy goals and targets across various strategies and overlapping of strategic objectives. Targets for delivering SDG 6 are adapted to national circumstances. However, some are missing from the policy framework. Others are present in all strategic documents but with inconsistent values.

  • Fragmented planning, lack of capacities for programming and budgeting investments in an equitable and inclusive way. There is a lack of investment programmes for vulnerable and marginalised groups in rural areas. This results in a wide urban-rural gap in access to quality water services.

  • Insufficient data availability, quality assurance and control for evaluation of the SDG indicators. There is a pressing need to improve and enhance water quality and service monitoring. This would provide reliable data to serve decision making and indicator-based reporting of progress towards goals and targets.

  • Poor control and enforcement of water use and discharge. Monitoring on self-capture sites is inadequate or non-existent. Lack of on-the-spot metering devices for water abstraction causes high levels of data uncertainty, especially regarding the efficiency of utilities and commercial losses (non-revenue water) due to unauthorised water use.

  • Low level of public spending in the water management sector and disproportionally low investments in wastewater treatment compared to water supply. If unresolved, this is likely to hinder achievement of the main targets under SDG 6 requiring universal access to safely managed water services.

  • Lack of consistent measures targeting adaptation to climate change and disaster risk reduction. Floods and drought risk management and sectoral climate adaptation measures are limited in the strategic planning of water management until 2020, both on a national and river basin level.

Two main sectoral policy documents guiding Moldova’s water management and alignment with the European Union are noted below. They are the Action Plan for 2020-24 to Implement the Water Supply and Sanitation Strategy to 2030; and the National Programme on the Implementation of the Protocol on Water and Health in the Republic of Moldova in 2016-30.

In 2020, the WSS Strategy was extended to 2030 and a new Action Plan was adopted to support its implementation in 2020-24. The initial strategy made progress in implementation between 2014 and 2018. However, there were discrepancies in the provision of WSS services to urban and rural areas. Further, there was a large gap between investment efforts in WSS infrastructure resulting in a “non-realistic” goal of ensuring urban wastewater treatment in accordance with Directive 91/271/EEC by the end of 2018. This was considered in the next planning cycle until 2025.

The general objective of the 2020-24 Action Plan in the WSS Strategy is to cover the above-mentioned gaps. It aims to ensure that 80% of the population in urban areas and 75% in rural areas are provided with safely and sustainably managed WSS infrastructure by 2025. This represents a 15% and 10% increase, respectively, compared to the Action Plan for 2014-18. Other more specific objectives include the following:

  • improving management of public WSS services by developing guidance, norms, standards and respective trainings, improving water quality monitoring, metering water use and strengthening economic instruments to support national investment in WSS,

  • planning and developing public WSS systems to expand the population’s access to high-quality services by implanting 12 infrastructure projects to build WSS systems, completing the water security study by the World Bank, and developing a WSS investment plan (Master Plan) that covers both supply and sanitation in urban and rural areas,

  • harmonising national WSS legislation with community standards and international commitments by revising norms and standards (for example, for wastewater discharge) and designating agglomerations according to the Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive and developing an implementation plan for the directive.

The above objectives are transposed to the level of river basin districts through respective RBMPs.

The National Programme on the Implementation of the Protocol on Water and Health (2016) is instrumental for achieving the targets set under SDG 6 and the objectives set in “Moldova 2030”. The programme includes measures to improve water security; ensure an adequate supply of good quality water; guarantee a balanced and equitable use of water resources; and ensure optimal conditions for the prevention of water-borne diseases. Initially, 34 targets and 12 specific objectives were set for all 20 areas of the Protocol, covering four main areas of intervention:

  1. 1. ensuring safe drinking water supply to all users by gradually reducing non-compliant samples with respect to basic chemical and microbiological parameters,

  2. 2. reducing the number of epidemic outbreaks and water-borne diseases,

  3. 3. ensuring universal access to safely managed drinking water systems,

  4. 4. increasing access to basic sanitation, sewage systems and wastewater treatment.

To achieve these goals, the PoM lists 77 actions, such as strengthening the legal framework; creating information and disease surveillance systems; improving water quality monitoring; creating regional operators of WSS systems; and developing infrastructure for safe drinking water supply, for sanitation and wastewater treatment.

The 2019 National Report of the Republic of Moldova pursuant to Article 7 of the Protocol on Water and Health acknowledges the following progress:

  • introducing IWRM to the country’s water policies and legislation in 2009-18,

  • reducing outbreaks of water-related infections (with zero outbreaks recorded since 2015),

  • decreasing water-related diseases per 100 000 inhabitants,

  • slightly improving chemical parameters of drinking water sources and systems.

However, bathing water quality in the Dniester and Prut rivers, based on bacteriological indicators, does not comply with standards. In this sense, considerable efforts are still needed to improve water quality of all sources used for human consumption. In addition, access to clean water and safely managed sanitation has seen limited progress despite investments in water supply systems. Supply and sanitation services in rural areas are still lagging well behind urban settlements.

To address these issues, Moldova updated the National Programme in 2019. It now proposes 44 objectives for implementing the Protocol and 115 measures for achieving them with milestones for 2025 and 2030. The main targets set in the four intervention areas of the updated programme include the following:

  • ensuring safe drinking water for all by gradual reduction of non-compliant samples with respect to chemical and microbiological parameters:

    • compliant drinking water quality in 100% by 2025,

    • reduction of 25% by 2025 and by 15% by 2030 of non-compliant drinking water samples for basic chemical parameters,

    • reduction by 10% by 2025 and 5% by 2030 of non-compliant drinking water samples for microbiological parameters.

  • reducing the number of epidemic outbreaks and water-borne diseases:

    • establishing an integrated information system for surveillance of water-borne diseases by 2025,

    • implementing drinking water safety plans in settlements above 2 000 inhabitants by 2025 and for all water supply systems by 2030,

    • reducing, by 30%, by 2030, the number of epidemic outbreaks of infectious diseases and the occurrence of water-borne diseases.

  • ensuring universal access to safely managed drinking water systems:

    • providing access to safely managed drinking water supply systems for 100% of schools and medical institutions by 2025,

    • providing access to safely managed drinking water supply systems for 95% of the urban and 75% of the rural population by 2030,

    • ensuring equal access to water supply services for vulnerable groups, with a legal framework by 2022 and financial mechanisms by 2025.

  • increasing public access to basic sanitation, sewage systems and wastewater treatment

    • providing access to safely managed sanitation systems for 100% of schools by 2025 and 100% of medical institutions by 2030,

    • achieving a 50% reduction in the discharge of untreated sewage and storm water into natural reservoirs by 2025,

    • providing access to sustainable sanitation systems to 95% of the urban and 50% of the rural population by 2030.

Moldova embarked on a new approach to managing national water resources when it embraced IWRM principles. This move was in line with the country’s international commitments and part of global efforts to improve the status of water resources. Table 3.5 identifies the legislation that underpins these efforts and highlights some shortcomings.

Legislative gaps and issues vary according to alignment to the specific EU directive required. However, similar issues could be addressed to strengthen the legal framework. Broadly, gaps and issues include inefficiencies in monitoring and metering; lack of information sharing and publication; lack of analysis and assessment of water resources and their quality, particularly relating to groundwater; weak enforcement of legislation and regulations; and issues in funding priorities. Addressing these legislative issues could provide a more solid basis for regulation and institutions to undertake robust water management.

Table 3.6 considers the major regulatory acts that govern water sector management.

The major gap in water regulation involves a lack of direction in wastewater treatment. Specifically, a permit system for water use and wastewater discharge lacks implementation and enforcement. Overcoming these gaps would help resolve management issues stemming from the steadily increasing anthropogenic pollution of water resources and dually provide more equal treatment of water users.

Sound and stable institutions in Moldova remain an important precondition for developing and implementing water policy. Regular vertical and horizontal co-ordination and joint planning involving different stakeholders is of utmost importance for good governance in this area. It is equally important that co-ordination is well organised and functions smoothly between various management levels from national to basin and sub-basin levels, as well as at local and service-related levels. However, institutional stability and weaknesses in institutions contribute to problems in implementing the new integrated water management policy introduced by Moldova for its approximation with the EU legal and regulatory framework. To assist in this co-ordination, it established a National Policy Dialogue (NPD) platform in 2006. The NPD aims to provide good opportunities for engaging and empowering stakeholders in the water management sector. The steering mechanism of the NPD process has become a valuable platform for providing the needed horizontal co-operation between different sectors.

The provision of WSS services has been decentralised to local public authorities (LPAs) pursuant to the Law on Public Services of Communal Management from 2002. An administrative territorial reform for consolidation of local governance structures was launched in 2016. However, the process is slow, influenced by political instability and still based on voluntary amalgamation. This reform should be closely followed as it is expected to affect local governance and, consequently, arrangements for local public services such as water and waste management.

Table 3.7 outlines the institutions undertaking main water resource management functions. It also provides a brief history of the reforms, mostly begun in 2014, that led to their creation.

Institutional stability and weaknesses in institutions hinder implementation of the new integrated water management policy introduced by Moldova for its approximation with the EU legal and regulatory framework. Further, merging ministries and drastic cuts in specialised staff have seriously impacted the targeted performance of key public sectors (e.g. agriculture, environment, natural resources management, and regional and rural development). Although reforms yielded financial savings, they also gave additional and new responsibilities to executive agencies that sometimes lack the knowledge, staff and financial capacities to implement them successfully. This hinders the effective implementation of objectives.

The scenarios explored outline three broad strategic approaches that either fully or partially address the challenges posed by potential water scarcity or worsening water quality. The missed opportunities scenario envisages little improvement and failed national targets. The business-as-usual scenario foresees some improvements, although a failure to reach all targets. The optimal scenario envisions drastic improvements and either reaching or overshooting targets.

The optimal scenario achieves robust and sustainable water management, fully aligning with commitments in EU directives and reaching water-related goals by 2030. The scenario envisages increasing the amount of water allocated to environmental uses. It would also connect all urban and most rural households to safely managed water systems. Finally, it would achieve greater social equity and environmental protection through both carefully designed but steady reforms in the water sector and sound government action.

The scenario foresees reasonably higher prices for water and higher water-use efficiency than under the business-as-usual scenario, resulting in reduced consumption. Water would be dedicated to environmental uses, over time resulting in improved quantity and quality of water resources. This would increase reliability of supply for domestic needs, irrigation and production.

The scenario envisages improvements to domestic water supply through universal access to safely managed water systems for rural and urban households, while addressing affordability issues. In the scenario, investments are well balanced between water supply and wastewater treatment measures. It introduces economic instruments and social incentives to improve water-use efficiency, conserve water and generate revenues that are re-invested into the water system in an inclusive and transparent manner.

Broadly, the missed opportunities scenario foresees a moderate worsening of trends in the water sector, water policy and targeted investments. In the scenario, the 2030 targets will not be achieved. This will be due to forgone opportunities to strengthen water management. The scenario is dire, with large amounts of available water being wasted. In the scenario, expanding the environmental use of water would require reduced consumption of irrigation, and/or domestic or industrial water. In the absence of sound policy and investment reforms, competition over water will increase between households and industries, and between farmers and environmental uses.

The scenario misses opportunities in adopting water-saving technology improvements, regulatory reforms, institutional strengthening and capacity building. This leads to a breakdown in domestic water services, a loss of wetlands and considerable reduction in agricultural food production. The conditions within the scenario do not enable sound water management policies that would steer the country towards achieving its water-related goals.

In the business-as-usual (BAU) scenario, trends in water policy, management and investment continue. The scenario envisages some improvements in the IWRM system. However, they are not enough to achieve the 2030 targets set by national policy documents and EU commitments. Overall, the water sector development under the BAU scenario for water policy would leave Moldova ill-prepared to meet major challenges in the water sector.

Within each scenario, numerous challenges arise that may impede attainment of ambitious national targets. The low baseline, from where the country starts, is the major inhibitor, particularly for achieving targets in the optimal scenario. Moreover, Moldova has not recorded any progress in improving the status of water bodies in the last five years (nearly 95% of water bodies do not meet these standards). This means that spurring action will also require effort and pose challenges for meeting national targets.

Despite recent progress, Moldova has the largest urban-rural gap and the lowest level of access to WSS services among countries in the Danube region. Rural and urban populations had 72% and 97% access in 2018, respectively. This makes it difficult to connect all households to safely managed water supply systems by 2030.

Another challenge is the quality of drinking water. Water supply often fails to meet the established sanitary-chemical norms. In 2017, for example, 54% of samples by the National Public Health Agency did not meet standards. The problem is due to a combination of factors. First, rural water supply is sourced from shallow groundwater affected by natural or anthropogenic pollution. Second, rural localities and households have low budgets, limiting investments in water treatment plants or on-site sanitation. Third, investments would prompt price increases, further exacerbating affordability issues for rural populations.

Drinking water quality issues are compounded by the low share of the population with access to public sanitation services. In 2018, only 29.3% of the country’s usual residents3 were connected to centralised sewerage systems (of which 64% and 2.8% in urban and rural localities, respectively) and only 18.17% of wastewater was sufficiently treated before discharge into receiving water bodies.

Moreover, some investments in sewerage systems were ineffective because the population refused to pay to connect to the network. This reluctance stemmed from economic reasons, regulatory gaps and low awareness around the need for proper wastewater management. These problems make it difficult to build and rehabilitate sewerage systems (including proper on-site sanitation) and treatment plants. They also limit the possible success of investments in wastewater treatment solutions.

Enforcement authorities largely ignore proper management of industrial wastewater and offer no economic mechanisms to stimulate more responsible behaviour. Despite regulations, enforcement and oversight of compliance with environmental legislation are weak. This fails to make industry accountable, jeopardising the operation of wastewater treatment processes that are the responsibility of local public authorities.

Ignorance around risks and vulnerabilities related to climate change further hinder Moldova’s resilience, particularly in water resources management and agriculture. Despite adoption of the Climate Change Adaptation Strategy in 2015, streamlining adaptation measures in sectoral strategic planning is not common practice. The strategy estimates the total cost of inaction on climate adaptation in Moldova at USD 600 million. This figure is expected to more than double by 2050 to around USD 1.3 billion. This ignorance and inaction severely limit the capacities of other water management policies to function effectively, creating flow-on effects for attainment of national targets.

In this baseline context, both decision-making and oversight authorities should focus on increasing investment in the wastewater management sector and strengthening control over compliance with water legislation. These measures will significantly increase the quality of both surface water and groundwater. That, in turn, will improve the quality of water supplied to consumers, and make objectives and targets in national strategic documents more achievable. Climate change considerations must be streamlined in all key sectors’ development planning and investments, especially in agriculture, forestry and water resources management. In this way, Moldova can avoid the costs of inaction and capture opportunities for more resilient and sustainable development.

Overall, there is a large gap between Moldova’s level of investment and the investment needs of the water sector. According to a World Bank assessment from 2015, EUR 12 million was invested annually in the water sector between 2009-13, on average. Moreover, two-thirds of these investments have been financed by international donors and one-third by national and local public budgets.

For 2010-20, the National Ecological Fund (NEF) Council approved 2 366 new projects, amounting to MDL 3.1 billion (about EUR 154 million). Most NEF-financed projects are for WSS, although investments in sanitation are considerably lower. The balance between water supply and wastewater treatment should guide future investments. Otherwise, the quality of water resources will be further deteriorated.

No budget funding since 2016 has been allocated for flood protection infrastructure, watershed rehabilitation or river restorations. As such, RBMPs do not foresee acting on measures. However, the medium-term budget framework (MTBF) 2019-21 has additional measures and resources to maintain flood protection dams, as well as for operational monitoring and investment in some monitoring equipment.

Regarding investment planning, WSS is designated as a separate budget line in the 2019-21 MTBF. More than MDL 1 billion is allocated to WSS projects (through both NEF and the National Regional Development Fund [NRDF]). Nevertheless, as a share of GDP, this expenditure remains low at 0.9%.

Across water resource management, WSS and irrigation services, a strategic long-term financing framework for water is missing. The core functions of IWRM are underfunded; there are opportunities to reinvest fees for water use and pollution discharge into management. Furthermore, preliminary estimates of investments required in the water sector until 2030 far exceed the real volume of work financed and implemented annually since 2010. Investments must be carefully weighed against needs, and adequate programming and use of scarce resources. Improving or introducing economic instruments to ensure continuous investments should be prioritised.

The main sources of environmental and water-related financing at the national level are state budget allocations through the NFRD and the NEF, and funds from development partners. In 2017, NEF was established as a budget line. Since this inclusion, expenditures for environmental protection within the state budget vary between MDL 176-297 million (or 0.1-0.3% of GDP, respectively). Table 3.9 presents the estimated financing needs for the optimal and BAU scenarios.

Moldova has recently expanded national water monitoring with support from the European Environment Agency within the SEIS II East project. However, there is still some room for improving data quality and completeness and expanding monitoring to capture policy implementation more thoroughly. Further, despite recent developments in handling environmental (including water) data, indicators are not yet used as a tool for results-based management. This means they are not used to identify national priorities or define budget allocations.

Shortcomings in data completeness and quality can be overcome by targeted development of water monitoring and monitoring stations, which are envisaged in each RBMP. A systematic sector performance review based on policy-relevant indicators is needed. This should inform decision making for integrated water resources management and measure progress towards targets set in national programmes and plans.

Table 3.10 presents a proposed set of 15 indicators, intended for assessing progress from a baseline to the aspired future state of water management in Moldova. Moldova already reports on these indicators for various purposes (e.g. for SDG 6 and the UNECE Water Convention). Consequently, the sector performance review indicators may not be considered an additional burden. Rather, it is a systematic exercise that can support planning, management and investment decisions in the area of IWRM.


[8] Climate Change Post (2021), Moldova, https://www.climatechangepost.com/moldova/fresh-water-resources/.

[4] European Environment Agency (2020), Water availability, surface water quality and water use in Eastern Partnership countries: An indicator-based assessment, https://www.eea.europa.eu/publications/regional-water-report.

[1] European Union (2014), “Association Agreement between the European Union and the European Atomic Energy Community and their Member States, of the one part, and the Republic of Moldova, of the other part”, Official Journal of the European Union L 260/4, https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/PDF/?uri=CELEX:22014A0830(01)&from=EN.

[7] FAO (2019), Computation of long-term annual renewable water resources (RWR) by country (in km3/year, average), https://storage.googleapis.com/fao-aquastat.appspot.com/countries_regions/factsheets/water_resources/en/MDA-WRS.pdf.

[9] FAO (2015), Country profile - Republic of Moldova, http://www.fao.org/3/ca0329en/CA0329EN.pdf.

[6] Statistica Moldovei (2021), “Environment” - Statistical Databank, https://statbank.statistica.md/PxWeb/pxweb/en/.

[5] Statistica Moldovei (2020), Statistics for Sustainable Development Goals, https://statistica.gov.md/public/files/SDG/docs/Statistics_for_SDGS_Moldova.pdf.

[3] UNDP (2017), National Human Development Report 2015/2016, http://hdr.undp.org/en/content/national-human-development-report-2016-moldova.

[12] UNDRR (2015), The Human Cost of Weather Related Disasters (1995-2015), https://reliefweb.int/report/world/human-cost-weather-related-disasters-1995-2015.

[10] UNECE (2019), National summary country report in accordance with article 7 of the Protocol on Water and Health, 2019 Reporting cycle, https://unece.org/fileadmin/DAM/env/water/Protocol_reports/reports_pdf_web/2019_reports/Republic_Moldova_summary_report_4th_cycle_7May19.pdf.

[2] World Bank (2021), World Development Indicators, https://databank.worldbank.org/source/world-development-indicators.

[11] World Bank (n.d.), Climate Change Knowledge Portal: Impacts: Water, https://climateknowledgeportal.worldbank.org/country/moldova/impacts-water.


← 1. For the 2014 census, the national statistics data have been recalculated by applying the international definition of usual residence (defined as the place at which the person has lived continuously for most of the last 12 months, not including temporary absences for recreation, holidays, visits to friends and relatives, business, medical treatment or religious pilgrimage).

← 2. Within the “Enabling transboundary co-operation and integrated water resources management in the Dniester River Basin” project financed by the Global Environment Facility and implemented by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe.

← 3. For the 2014 census, the national statistics data have been recalculated by applying the international definition of usual residence (defined as the place at which the person has lived continuously for most of the last 12 months, not including temporary absences for recreation, holidays, visits to friends and relatives, business, medical treatment or religious pilgrimage).

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