1. Towards water security in Belarus – an overview of the progress achieved through the European Union Water Initiative Plus Project

The Republic of Belarus (hereafter “Belarus”) has embarked on a series of reforms in the water sector to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and transition towards a green economy model. Belarus has no formal obligation to implement the provisions of the Water Framework Directive (WFD) of the European Union (EU). Nevertheless, it has voluntarily committed to harmonising its water legislation and water management practices with those of the EU. The Water Strategy of the Republic of Belarus for the period up to 2020 (Water Strategy 2020) established this reform process as a priority. To that end, the country’s 2014 Water Code called for the development of river basin management plans (RBMPs), including for the Dnieper and Pripyat river basin districts. Belarus’s national water policy objectives align with those of the EU Water Initiative Plus for the Eastern Partnership (EUWI+) project. This aims to support Eastern Partnership (EaP) countries1 in bringing their national policies and strategies in line with the EU WFD (Box 1.1), integrated water resources management principles and commitments under relevant multilateral environmental agreements.

Since 2016, the implementing partners of EUWI+2 have actively supported Belarus’s reform efforts. These include implementation of a national work programme under EUWI+, which was developed and agreed upon with Belarus, the European Commission and the implementing partners following a six-month, in-depth inception phase. For example, the country’s new draft water strategy, Strategy of Water Resource Management in the Context of Climate Change for the Period until 2030 (hereafter “Water Strategy 2030”), was drafted with the support of EUWI+. It is designed to align with relevant national documents, including the Water Code and the National Strategy for Sustainable Socio-Economic Development to 2030. It also is intended to meet international commitments such as the SDGs, the UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) Water Convention, the UNECE-World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Office for Europe Protocol on Water and Health (hereafter “the Protocol on Water and Health”), and bilateral agreements on transboundary water bodies.

It defines achieving long-term water security as its main strategic goal and sets up specific strategic targets formulated in terms of SDG 6 actions.

When the EUWI+ started, Belarus lacked a platform for a multi-stakeholder policy dialogue on water that brought together actors from different sections and levels of the water governance system. With the support of EUWI+, Belarus created an inter-agency committee in 2018, which serves as a steering body for EUWI+ project implementation in the country. At the same time, the committee is a platform for policy dialogue on water management issues involving key stakeholders from various levels of the water governance system. This has included identification and commissioning of cross-sectoral pilot projects, including a study on water management in irrigation in the water-stressed south of the country.

Belarus has pursued various paths for strategic and mid-term planning. EUWI+ supported the preparation of Water Strategy 2030 and helped carry out a strategic environmental assessment (SEA) of the draft; adoption of the strategy was expected by the end of February 2021. Several studies under EUWI+ informed the development of the future national water supply and sanitation (WSS) strategy. These focused on improving potable water supply in rural settlements, and on options for improving sludge treatment. Drafting for the WSS strategy began in the second half of 2020. In addition, a study on environmental tax aims to help improve use of policy instruments for implementing strategic and mid-term plans in the water sector. Finally, activities took place to build local capacity regarding economic instruments for managing water resources, bodies and systems (Section 3.2.1).

The project also supported the development of river basin management plans (RBMPs) for the Dnieper and Pripyat river basins (covering the parts of the basin located within the territory of Belarus – see Box 1.2)3. The Dnieper RBMP was approved on 31 December 2019, while the draft Pripyat RBMP was to have firstly pass through public hearings: they were part of the second meeting of the Pripyat river basin council held in October 2020. After that, the official approval of the Pripyat RBMP is expected before the completion of EUWI+ in February 2021.

During 2020, Belarus aims to adopt a national action plan to implement water, sanitation, hygiene and health targets set under the Protocol on Water and Health. Setting national targets under the Protocol on Water and Health is a legal requirement for all Parties to the Protocol; Belarus has been an active Party since 2009. With support from EUWI+, the country was revising initial targets set in 2013. It aimed to align the targets with the objectives and principles of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and with relevant areas of the EU water policy. These areas included prevention, safety, risk-based management, equity of access and attention to hygiene.

The EUWI+ project also supported mid-term planning at the local level in a pilot rayon (district, a second-order subnational unit). Kopyl rayon in Minsk oblast (region) was selected. Belarus elaborated recommendations on developing potable water supply systems in rural settlements as a substantive input to the future mid-term rayon-level master plan for WSS. Finally, an OECD-led study examined options for resuming irrigation in pilot rayons of Gomel oblast (in Pripyat river basin) where the impact of climate change on water resources is most visible.

Strong transboundary co-operation is a key water policy objective of Belarus, which shares river basins with a number of EU member states, EaP countries and the Russian Federation (hereafter “Russia”). EUWI+ supported the work of intergovernmental bodies and their working groups on the upper Dnieper and Pripyat rivers. It also ensured inputs from Belarus to working groups under the UNECE Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes.

With support of the European Union under EUWI+, UNECE also facilitated the participation of Belarusian delegations in negotiations on transboundary rivers and expert work with neighbouring Latvia and Lithuania. In addition, under the project, Belarus received methodological support and capacity development under the Water Convention and reporting on SDG indicator 6.5.2 on transboundary water co-operation, in 2018 and 2020.

The water-related SDGs, enshrined in the draft Water Strategy 2030, require the nationalisation of indicators and the establishment of a corresponding monitoring network to track implementation. To address these demands, with EUWI+ support Belarus developed methodologies to calculate and monitor SDG 6.3-6.5 and integrated them into the State Water Cadastre. This allowed for the automated production of time series at different levels of data aggregation (by basins and territorial-administrative units, by main economic sectors), and facilitated the exchange of data on respective SDG indicators with all interested bodies. The National Statistics Committee of Belarus (hereafter “Belstat”) endorsed the indicators and the methodologies, which were then approved by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment in November 2019. In parallel, EUWI+ provided support to strengthening local capacity for national reporting on indicator SDG 6.5.2.

Before EUWI+, Belarus had well-established surface water and groundwater monitoring systems compared to other EaP countries.4 Still, they fell short of WFD standards. Belarus needed to improve the capacity of data management, laboratory equipment and staff to carry out hydrochemical, hydrobiological and hydromorphological monitoring in the field and in the laboratory. In response, the EUWI+ project developed laboratory staff capacity and procured a range of modern laboratory equipment.5 By the end of the project, laboratory equipment was to be installed and fully operational, and laboratory staff trained in its use and in overall quality management. This effort was expected to significantly increase confidence in the country’s analytical data, bringing them in line with good EU practice and WFD requirements.

To build on investments in the production of high quality analytical data, Belarus sought to improve the management of water data. The aim was to achieve maximum transparency and value of data collected to inform decision making. The EUWI+ project mapped all relevant actors in data management and intended to support the purchase of a data server. This would set the stage for a platform for multi-stakeholder data exchanges. This platform would ensure access to available datasets produced and managed by national organisations. Belarus would need a national data management strategy to ensure appropriate governance and confidence around the data hosted.

It will be challenging for Belarus to prioritise and manage implementation of Water Strategy 2030, the RBMPs, the Protocol on Water and Health, the WSS strategy and associated mid-term plans and programmes of measures. To assist in this process, under EUWI+ several pilot actions were supported.

The pilot work in Kopyl rayon (district) of the Minsk oblast (province) was aimed to develop a comprehensive solution for sustainable water use at local level. In this predominantly rural subdivision of the Minsk oblast, the local government has welcomed in-depth analytical work to tackle water management challenges. The work included new water use and water discharge norms in water-intensive industries, as well as recommendations for a future master plan on potable water supply in rural settlements. Successful pilot activities in Kopyl could be considered for wider roll out in other rayons of Belarus.

Sub-basin management plans, such as those supported through the Dnieper RBMP (covering the Uza river and a number of small water courses in Mogilev city), could also help solve local issues as part of the broader basin-level planning process.

During its six-month inception phase, EUWI+ identified the need to develop local capacity in a number of areas. These included strategic planning and the application of economic instruments in water resource management and reporting under SDG 6.5.2. At the river-basin level, EUWI+ has strengthened experts’ capacity through workshops and surveys for planning, monitoring, data management and public consultation.

To develop local expert capacity in using economic instruments for water resource management, EUWI+ helped develop training materials that use examples from both Belarus, the EU and other countries in the region of Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia. Interested national universities have already started using these materials to support training of future water economists and specialists in developing and implementing water policy.

EUWI+ also helped build capacity in SEA after it became mandatory in 2017. Specifically, it helped deliver a SEA of the draft Water Strategy 2030. National experts took part in two training sessions in July 2019 and March 2020 in Minsk to deepen their knowledge about SEA process and techniques and to prepare reports.

The impact of capacity development efforts on surface and groundwater body delineations, RBMPs and field surveys (biology, chemistry, hydromorphology), as well as enhanced laboratory analysis, is discussed in Section 2.3.


[1] European Commission (2019), Introduction to the EU Water Framework Directive, http://ec.europa.eu/environment/water/water-framework/info/intro_en.htm.

[2] OECD (2016), OECD Council Recommendation on Water, OECD, Paris.

[3] OECD (2015), Water Resources Governance in Brazil, OECD Studies on Water, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://dx.doi.org/10.1787/9789264238121-en.


← 1. The Eastern Partnership is a joint initiative launched at the Prague Summit in May 2009 that aims to deepen and strengthen economic and strategic relations between the EU and six of its eastern neighbours: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine.

← 2. EUWI+’s implementing partners are the Environment Agency of Austria (UBA, Umweltbundesamt), the International Office for Water of France (OIEau, Office international de l’eau), the OECD and UNECE.

← 3. In the Republic of Belarus, the Dnieper RBMP covers the area of the Dnieper River Basin inside the country without its main tributary Pripyat, which is covered by its own RBMP. The confluence of the Pripyat and Dnieper rivers is located in Ukraine.

← 4. Specifically, the Republican Centre for Analytical Control in the field of Environmental Protection (RCAC) in Minsk was accredited according to the international standard EN ISO/IEC 17025.

← 5. The Minsk RCAC received a liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry and mass spectrometry equipment. This allowed the determination of additional WFD priority substances, such as perfluorinated compounds, pesticides and hexabromocyclododecane. The RCAC in Gomel received an atomic fluorescence spectrometer to determine trace-level amounts of mercury in surface waters. In 2020, the Central Laboratory of the Research and Production Centre for Geology received consumables for operating the groundwater laboratory.

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