Executive Summary

The Republic of Belarus has established water security as the country’s main overarching policy objective in the field of water resource management, notably in its draft Strategy of Water Resource Management in the Context of Climate Change for the Period until 2030 (Water Strategy 2030). The strategy’s primary focus is to achieve Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6, and Belarus plans to do so through six areas of reform. First, Belarus aims to introduce best available techniques and further improve water use efficiency. Second, it will better account for the impacts of climate change on water resources and adapt its water sector to climate change. Third, Belarus aims to improve surface and ground water monitoring systems. Fourth, it plans to introduce an integrated system of permits for nature users and reform its pricing system for water resources. Fifth, Belarus will adopt and implement river basin management plans, and lastly it will continue co-operation with its neighbours on transboundary rivers.

Under the European Union-funded project EU Water Initiative Plus (EUWI+), the OECD and the other implementing partners (Environment Agency of Austria, UBA; the International Office for Water of France, IOW; and the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, UNECE) have actively supported Belarus’s reform efforts towards achieving its water policy goals and its approximation of international legislation and good practice. EUWI+ has supported the implementation of the principles of the EU Water Framework Directive and of Integrated Water Resources Management, as well as Belarus’s progress towards its international commitments.

The present publication compiles the results of Belarus’s efforts since 2016 leading to greater levels of water security, including with support from EUWI+. For context, it provides an overview of the current state of water resources in Belarus in terms of quantity, distribution, quality, use and the challenges for current and future exploitation. It presents case studies on different regions of Belarus and their respective problems, including the comparatively water-rich Vitebsk oblast (region); the city of Minsk, which faces water stress due to demographic pressures; Gomel oblast, where water stress is of a seasonal nature; and rural areas like Kopyl rayon (district). Drawing on EUWI+ analysis, the publication identifies tools and techniques designed to respond to Belarus’s regional needs and improve water security at both the local and national levels.

  • The country’s water resources, though relatively abundant in per capita terms, are not evenly distributed across the country’s six oblasts and are vulnerable to climatic impacts and threats from human activities. The effects of climate change include significant shifts in terms of the quantity and seasonality of water volumes in Belarus’s river basins, and further changes are predicted. Other anthropogenic changes, both historic (e.g. the drying of wetlands due to Soviet-era irrigation works) and ongoing (e.g. wastewater discharges from households and industry, agricultural pollution), have significant impacts on water quality and availability.

  • The overall population of Belarus is declining while urban centres, particularly Minsk, are growing. This trend, combined with the infrastructural heritage of the Soviet Union, has led to oversized centralised domestic water supply systems that operate at only a third of their installed capacity. Despite an overall excess of capacity, only 65.9% of rural inhabitants have access to centralised water supply systems and only 37.9% have access to centralised sanitation systems. As a result, many rural communities rely on shallow dug wells for water supply, with insufficient water quality monitoring, increasing risks to human health from water quality issues related to pollutants from agricultural runoff and other sources.

  • Access to accurate, reliable datasets is a prerequisite for effective water resource management. Through its national statistics and monitoring systems (including on ground and surface water and on SDG 6.1-6.5 indicators), Belarus collects, manages and processes relevant datasets. The involvement of many different institutions in this domain necessitates good inter-institutional co-operation on data management to support decision making. The principles of the European Union funded Shared Environmental Information System (SEIS) provide a good framework for Belarus’s continued reforms to improve its data management.

  • Belarus has made considerable progress in adopting sound basin management in line with integrated water resources management principles, notably through the adoption of two river basin management plans and the creation of three basin councils. Under Water Strategy 2030, Belarus plans to establish two more basin councils by 2024, which would ensure coverage of all five of the country’s transboundary river basins.

  • Further improving water-use efficiency is a key component of Belarus’s plans to bolster water security. Belarus’s economy has become significantly less water-intensive over the past few decades. In 1990 52.1 m3 of water was needed per USD 1 000 of GDP, whereas by 2018 the same output was achieved with only 7.3 m3 of water. Focusing on four most water-intensive enterprises in the predominantly rural Kopyl rayon, EUWI+ helped develop new technological norms for industries on sustainable water use and wastewater discharge.

  • Given the transboundary nature of the vast majority of its watercourses, Belarus attaches considerable importance to enhancing transboundary water co-operation with neighbouring states. EUWI+ has facilitated dialogues between Belarus, Latvia and Lithuania on shared transboundary river basins, and an intergovernmental agreement between Belarus and Poland on transboundary water protection was signed in 2020.

  • Belarus has implemented an ambitious raft of reforms to its water management system, but areas for improvement remain. Through the implementation of Water Strategy 2030, Belarus aims to improve existing economic instruments and subsidies and introduce new instruments for water management, including discharge fees based on pollutant load. Belarus should also continue its efforts to ensure equitable access to water supply and sanitation, particularly in rural areas, and to progress towards meeting its international obligations (e.g. water-related Sustainable Development Goals, transboundary co-operation under the UNECE Water Convention and the UNECE-WHO/Europe Protocol on Water and Health). Belarus should continue developing and implementing river basin management plans, placing particular emphasis on high-quality data collection and management, local action as well as transboundary co-operation.


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