Water is a unique component of our planet. It is also a resource to be managed and sold, making it the object of conflicting economic interests and complex social interrelations.
Water is both simple
and complex. A water molecule is made up of just three atoms: two of hydrogen and one of oxygen. This building block,
however, produces a molecule with almost magical properties:
The lakes and rivers of Belarus have provided good drinking water and healthy, tasty fish for centuries. The earliest settlers built their towns, castles and fortresses on the banks of rivers.
Most of the major rivers flowing through Belarus have their source in another country. Many are no longer than 100 km, with just 42 rivers between 100 and 500 km in length.
Scenic lakes can be found throughout Belarus, and the northern part of the country in particular features many so-called blue pearls that attract large numbers of tourists. One such area is Paazer'e, or Land of Lakes. In the south, the fascinating Palessie marshes feature rich meadows, dense forests and impenetrable swamps.
There are many
artificial lakes (reservoirs and ponds) in Belarus, created
for various business purposes: to supply industrial and drinking
water, and for irrigation, landscaping, fish farming, recreation and
hydropower. Reservoirs and ponds differ in terms of water capacity: a reservoir containing more than 1 million m3
is referred to as an artificial lake or reservoir;
ponds contain less than 1 million m3
easy terrain and the large number of river basins have made the task of
building navigation canals in Belarus fairly easy.
The largest canals are the Dniepra-Bugski, Augustouski,
Ahinskaha and Mikashevichski canals, along with the canals forming the
Biarezinskaya and Vileika-Minskaya systems.
Springs in Belarus
Springs are a typical
component of the water resources in Belarus. Most can be found on the
banks of rivers and lakes, or in foothills. Springs help to
preserve a delicate natural balance. They are home to some
aquatic species that are unique to Belarus. Springs also provide a habitat for some rare plant species, including species listed in the Red Book of Belarus.
Groundwater in Belarus
About 250 freshwater aquifers are currently exploited in Belarus, providing fresh as well as mineral water. These natural reservoirs of pure drinking water can fully meet all the needs of the population and industry for high-quality water. However, not all Belarusian citizens receive their drinking water from these deep reserves.
The most common natural groundwater pollutants in Belarus are compounds of iron, manganese (and sometimes boron), fluorine and other chemicals. Iron and manganese are the result of natural deposits and are not anthropogenic in origin.
Anthropogenic sources of pollution
The intensive anthropogenic pollution of water (including industrial, agricultural, municipal and household pollution) began in earnest in the 1940s. Among the most common pollutants are nitrates, heavy metals, pesticides and volatile organic compounds. Groundwater and many water sources deep beneath the ground have become highly contaminated.
Secondary water pollution
A number of other factors also contribute to water pollution in Belarus:
The level of hardness usually depends on the amount of soluble calcium and magnesium salts the water contains, although other dissolved salts also affect hardness. Chemists have also identified the impact of iron, manganese and strontium salts, for example.
About 54 percent of the water consumed in Belarus comes from groundwater sources, while the rest comes from surface water sources. Almost half of the water is used for household and consumer services, about 20 percent by industry, and the remaining 31 percent for agricultural purposes.
According to 2009 data:
Wastewater discharges into water bodies affect the environmental health of rivers, lakes and reservoirs. Households and communal services account for approximately 60 percent of wastewater, while industry and agriculture are responsible for 16 percent and 24 percent respectively.
In Belarus, water resources management is addressed through national laws, programmes and activities, and environmental protection measures:
There are a number of international environmental conventions that address the issue of water management in Belarus:
Belarusian organisations active in the field of water conservation include: