4. Next steps

The Republic of Belarus (hereafter “Belarus”) worked with implementing partners on the European Union Water Initiative Plus for the Eastern Partnership (EUWI+) project. It made significant progress towards an ambitious country programme that could drive improvements in its water policy framework. This is the first time that Belarus and the EUWI has engaged over a sustained period of time.

While Belarus has no formal legal obligations to align its laws to the EU’s water acquis, it has recognised the benefits of aligning with key principles such as the Water Framework Directive (WFD). To that end, Belarus has embraced requirements of international obligations and linked it to its water policy reform agenda, securing synergies and driving implementation. For example, it has enshrined key features in the water-related Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in its draft Strategy of Water Resource Management in the Context of Climate Change for the Period until 2030 (hereafter “Water Strategy 2030”).

Since 2016, Belarus has made progress with the development, consultation and launch of its new water strategy. It has also moved towards development and implementation of river basin management plans (RBMPs) for the Dnieper and Pripyat basins, and its progression of commitments under the water-related SDGs and Protocol on Water and Health.

This progress has been supported by data generated through significant efforts in monitoring and analysis of groundwater and surface water in line with WFD requirements. Indeed, stakeholder consultation and public participation have been key features of developing RBMPs. They have helped make water policy reform more inclusive and balance the interests and needs of a wide range of interested parties and water users.

Belarus has also increased inter-ministerial dialogue by creating the national “Inter-Agency Committee Managing the EUWI+ Implementation in Belarus”. This platform is chaired by the deputy minister of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Protection (Minprirody). Other participating ministries have included the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Housing and Communal Services, Ministry of Health, Ministry of Agriculture and Food Stuffs and Ministry of Economy, Belstat and representatives of organisations and territorial bodies subordinated to Minprirody. The platform has involved operators including Belvodokanal and also participation from academia, including the Belarusian State Technical University.

The platform has allowed inter-ministerial discussion of national-level priorities, including consultation on the development of Water Strategy 2030. It has also considered reporting against international obligations, including the progress achieved in co-operation with neighbouring countries (Russian Federation, Ukraine, EU member states) in the field of transboundary water management. While at an early stage, progress and participation have been promising. This platform may mature into an established National Policy Dialogue similar to those operational in other Eastern Partnership countries.

Water security has been at the heart of the national work programme under EUWI+. Pilot actions in Kopyl rayon (district) have focused on such issues as rural water supply, water quality and water efficiency. They have delivered recommendations that will influence water supply and consumption in Belarus for generations to come.

The recommendations on developing potable water supply will contribute to achieving SDG 6.1 in the pilot rayon. While by analysing the water consumption norms of the water-intensive industries in the rayon, EUWI+ has helped Belarus identify inefficiencies that have been “baked in” to the design process for many years. This will help inform future planning and forecasting exercises. Encouraging industries to be more water-efficient has a knock-on effect. It reduces the production of wastewater, preserving the environment from the impact of potential discharges. This project to review design norms has potential for replication throughout Belarus. Implementation should be monitored.

This work has highlighted the regional variation in water availability in Belarus. It has also demonstrated that water-intensive activities, notably agricultural activities, are often in areas with seasonal water shortages and high sensitivity to climate change. The irrigation study in Gomel oblast (region) aimed to estimate the wider economic benefits of rehabilitating legacy infrastructure to take advantage of seasonal shifts in water availability. Collecting water during peak times of availability and storing it for use in irrigation at times of lower water availability may offer wider economic benefits to the agricultural regions in the southern parts of Belarus. This study was ongoing at the time of drafting this report.

The co-operation with Belarus has also focused on capacity development and coaching the environmentalists, water specialists and economists of the future. Training materials, for example, were developed on the use of economic instruments for managing water resources and bodies, and water systems. These materials have been prepared for pilot testing at two universities in Belarus during the winter term of 2020.

The EUWI+ project is scheduled to complete its activities in Belarus in 2021, but the water reform journey will continue. While the country has made progress, the process has exposed outstanding issues. Proposed future actions are highlighted below.

With regards to national-level policy reforms, future work in Belarus should consider supporting implementation of Water Strategy 2030. This would necessarily include actions at the basin and local levels. Existing economic instruments and subsidies should be improved, for example, and new instruments introduced for water resources management. This might include discharge fees based on pollutant load.

Work in Belarus should identify and implement measures for facilitating equitable access to water supply and sanitation (WSS). Such work should include support to amendments of related legal acts and priority investments in WSS. The National Policy Dialogue and an expanded version of the existing inter-agency co-operation platform would oversee this work. It should build capacity of local stakeholders in areas such as the use of economic analysis and instruments.

To progress towards meeting its international obligations, Belarus should act in three areas. First, it should further support transboundary water co-operation (e.g. on West Dvina) and reporting under the UN’s Water Convention. Second, it should make progress in monitoring and reporting on water-related SDGs (SDG 6, SDG 3). Finally, it should support implementation of the revised targets under the Protocol on Water and Health.

Belarus should move forward on its river basin management plans (RBMPs) based on their state of evolution:

  • Formally approve the Pripyat RBMP and commence implementation of selected measures.

  • Pursue follow-up work on the Dnieper RBMP to ensure delineation of water bodies is closer to WFD requirements and begin preparing the second RBM planning cycle. Consider further selected measures under the Dnieper plan.

  • Assess consistency between the final Dnipro RBMP (Ukraine) and Dnieper and Pripyat RBMPs in Belarus given the transboundary nature of the country’s key rivers.

  • Develop RBMP for the West Dvina and Neman river basins, mainstreaming these principles in the broader policy context in Belarus. In this way, development of relevant technical secondary legislation would help strengthen the alignment of RBMPs with WFD requirements.

  • Support implementation of the EU’s Nitrates Directive in Belarus given the impact of agriculture on water management. Capacity building should target basin management at central and oblast level and at the basin scale. Belarus should support the functioning of basin councils, and aim to improve consultation and stakeholder involvement process.

  • Continue to collect and use high-quality data, which has been key to develop evidence-based policy and decision making under EUWI+. This would include the following:

    • moving towards a national master plan for data production and management

    • reinforcing national water databases

    • developing interoperability between information systems

    • reinforcing data processing and information production for decision making

    • facilitating public access to water data.

  • Ensure the highest quality of data is gathered under the proposed management system. Capacity building in surface water and groundwater monitoring should consider new biological and chemical quality elements. It should also improve and target monitoring systems for specific sites, parameters and data. Selected government laboratories should complete training in laboratory methods and deepen technical competence.

  • Support implementation of Water Strategy 2030 and of the future national WSS Strategy.

  • Explore synergies between technical work and political decisions with regard to objectives of the programmes of measures under the RBMPs. Such work would identify good practices that can inspire further progress in Belarus and other Eastern Partnership countries. It could also provide policy and methodological guidance for better recovery of the costs of good water management.

  • Provide further support to expand the frequency, capacity, quality and geographic and technical scope of biological, hydromorphological and chemical monitoring of surface waters. This would be in line with WFD practices, as well as with the strategic guidance on monitoring and assessment of transboundary waters under the Water Convention. Crucial follow-up is needed in the (re)accreditation and quality management of reference laboratories. Similar support should be provided for groundwater, including strengthening chemical and quantitative monitoring, its protection and sustainable use.

  • Expand work on developing, adopting and implementing the approved RBMPs to other river basin districts. This includes sharing experiences around methodology e.g. through secondary legislation. It should also support institutional reform, expand dissemination of lessons learned in the six countries; and initiate implementation.

  • Pursue establishment of basin councils and guide their work, including development and presentation of the business case for their sustainable financial operation. This would facilitate RBMP implementation and strengthen decentralisation of water management.

  • Support harmonisation and strategic prioritisation of parameters and indicators, and the adoption of strategic data management, with open access and exchange between stakeholders, feeding into sound data analysis. This would ensure that improved data, collected through enhanced monitoring infrastructure, are appropriately shared and inform decisions.

  • Continue to build capacity and raise awareness among stakeholders in the water sector. This would include increasing competences and involvement in pilot river basin councils. It would address water users’ awareness on behavioural impacts on the water balance within each basin. And it would promote regional exchange of good practices in sustainable water use. Work with universities and academic institutions should continue, with water management, monitoring and biological assessment systems established in the curricula. This long-term capacity building would provide the national environmental institutions and the private sector with better-educated staff with relevant water management competences.

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