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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:

  • Water is the only substance present in nature in three forms: as a solid, liquid and gas.
  • When a substance is dissolved in water it lowers the water’s freezing point, which is why salt is spread on the roads in winter to prevent the formation of ice.
  • Water is known as the universal solvent as it is able to dissolve more substances than any other solvent. There are scarcely any known substances that are not soluble in the water.
  • As well as binding to each other, water molecules bind to many other substances such as glass, cotton, plant tissue and soil. This is called adhesion.
  • Nearly all substances become heavier and thicker when converted from a liquid to a solid state. Water, however, increases in volume and becomes lighter when it turns into ice. This property is of vital importance for sustaining life in water bodies during winter.
  • A drop of rainwater dissolves atmospheric gases as it falls through the air, thus when rain reaches the Earth, it affects the quality of the soil, lakes and rivers.
  • Water can store huge quantities of energy, turning oceans, seas and lakes into giant heat reservoirs. This property has an impact on the climate of areas located near water basins. Because of its energy-retaining quality, water is also widely used for cooling and transferring heat in thermal and chemical processes.
  • Water surface tension is a measure of its surface film strength. The attraction between water molecules creates a strong film, surpassed only by that of mercury. This surface tension enables water to bear substances that are heavier and denser than itself. Some aquatic insects, such as the water spider, rely on surface tension to walk on water.
  • Water surface tension is essential for the transfer of energy from wind in the form of waves. Waves are necessary for the rapid diffusion of oxygen in lakes and seas.
  • In a thin glass capillary tube, when the water molecules at the edge reach for and adhere to the glass molecules just above them, they pull other water molecules with them. In turn, the water surface pulls the entire body of water upward until the downward force of gravity is too great to overcome. This process is known as capillary action and it is what enables a sponge to soak up water. Without this property, plants and trees would be unable to take up nutrients from the soil.
  • A large percentage of our blood is water. We need to consume around 2 litres of water per day in order to regulate our body temperature.
  • Water can be found in rivers, lakes and pools and beneath the ground, and it is a vital component of all animals and plants.

The impact of water on human health, animals and plants
  • The contamination of drinking water and food with microbiological agents can cause a variety of communicable diseases, such as hepatitis A, salmonellosis or shigellosis. In Europe, the microbiological contamination of bathing water results in over 2 million cases of gastrointestinal disease each year.
  • Concentrations of nitrates in groundwater in several areas across Europe where intensive agriculture is practised have been found to exceed guideline levels. These levels were established to protect children from life-threatening water-related diseases such as methaemoglobinemia.
  • Elevated concentrations of arsenic in water can lead to skin cancer.
  • Lack of sufficient oxygen (due to organic waste pollution or the presence of nitrates and phosphates in water) can kill fish and other forms of aquatic life.
  • Inorganic and organic compounds, oil, gasoline and pesticides harm fish and other forms of aquatic life and reduce crop yields.
  • Sediment (insoluble particles of soil suspended in water) clouds the water, inhibits photosynthesis and destroys the aquatic food chain.

Classes of common water pollutants
  • Disease-causing agents (pathogens) include bacteria, viruses, protozoa and parasitic worms that enter the water from domestic sewage and untreated human and animal waste. Every day about 14,000 people, half of them children, die due to this type of water pollution worldwide.
  • Oxygen-demanding waste refers to organic waste matter that requires aerobic decomposition by bacteria. Large populations of bacteria supported by the presence of such waste degrade water quality by depleting it of dissolved oxygen. This process can kill fish and other forms of oxygen-consuming aquatic life.
  • Water-soluble inorganic chemicals are the acids, salts and compounds of toxic metals such as mercury and lead. High levels of such chemicals make water unfit to drink, harm fish and other aquatic life, depress crop yields and accelerate the corrosion of machinery that uses water. Industry is the main source of water-soluble inorganic chemicals.
  • Inorganic plant nutrients are water-soluble nitrates and phosphates that can cause the excessive growth of algae and other aquatic plants. As these plants decay they deplete the water of dissolved oxygen, which fish need to survive. Drinking water containing excessive levels of nitrates leads to a reduction in the oxygen-carrying capacity of the blood. Agriculture is the main source of such pollution.
  • Organic chemicals include oil, gasoline, plastics, pesticides, cleaning solvents and detergents. They threaten human health and harm fish and other aquatic life. The main sources of such water pollution are transport, industry, urban activities and household cleaning.
  • Sediment comprises insoluble particles of soil and other solids suspended in water, mostly as a result of soil erosion. By weight, this is by far the biggest water pollutant. Sediment clouds water, inhibits photosynthesis and destroys the aquatic food chain.
  • Water is also vulnerable to radioactive pollution (from water-soluble radioactive isotopes), thermal pollution (following the use of water to cool down industrial and power plants) and genetic pollution (caused by the accidental introduction of non-native species such as mussels and phytoplankton).

Sources of water pollution

  • Bridge construction and riverbank alterations can cause changes in river flows and groundwater levels.
  • The extraction of sand and rubble from rivers destroys the riverbanks and increases sediment pollution.
  • Discharging industrial wastewater into rivers without sufficient pre-treatment is harmful to aquatic flora and fauna and affects human health.
  • Intensive pig and poultry farms release a huge amount of waste. Discharging this waste into rivers without proper treatment can kill aquatic flora and fauna and affect human health.
  • Petroleum product and chemical spills destroy aquatic ecosystems.
  • Rivers are often polluted by sewage and land runoff.
  • Many towns do not have wastewater treatment facilities. Direct wastewater discharges into rivers destroy aquatic ecosystems.
  • Agricultural activities such as the dispersion of pesticides, fertilisers and other chemical products cause significant air and water pollution.
  • Dumping rubbish into a body of water affects its quality and destroys aquatic ecosystems.
  • Wastewater treatment facilities themselves, if operating incorrectly, can cause water pollution.

Wastewater management

  • In rural and suburban areas, domestic sewage is usually discharged into a septic tank. To avoid groundwater pollution, septic tanks must be cleaned every three to four years by a specialist company.
  • In urban areas, most waterborne waste from households, businesses and factories, as well as storm runoff, flow through a network of sewerage pipes to wastewater treatment plants. Some cities have separate lines for storm water runoff.

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.

Rivers in Belarus

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.

  • The major rivers in Belarus, meaning those that are at least 500 km from source to mouth, are the Biarezina, Neman, Vilia, Zakhodniaya Dzvina, Dnieper, Sozh, Pripyat and Zakhodni Bug.
  • The Dnieper River and its tributaries form the largest basin by area, covering almost 64,000 km2 on the territory of Belarus. The river is 2,201 km in total, of which 700 km flow through Belarus. The largest right-bank tributaries of the Dnieper are the Pripyat, Biarezina and Druts; and the largest left-bank tributary is the Sozh. The Pripyat forms the second largest river basin in Belarus. The river's flood plain covers nearly 53,000 km2 in Belarus, and 500 km of its total length flow through the territory of Belarus. The Pripyat basin comprises over 800 small and medium-sized rivers and streams, thus it has the greatest flow of all the tributaries of the Dnieper. Riverbanks in the country are mostly swampy and feature many old river branches and passages. Water levels in spring tend to rise about 2 to 3 m, creating large areas of flooding.
  • The Neman flows for 459 km within Belarus and has a catchment area of about 35,000 km2. The Neman’s lowland river valley is wide and often swampy.
  • The northern regions of Belarus lie within the Zakhodniaya Dzvina River basin, which has a catchment area within the country of more than 33,000 km2 and a flow length of 328 km. The Zakhodniaya Dzvina runs predominantly along a low-lying area rich in scenic lakes, many of which form an interlinked riparian system of smaller rivers and streams.
  • The Zakhodni Bug basin is situated in southwestern Belarus. It flows for 154 km through the country and has a catchment area of 11,000 km2. Water levels vary according to the season, although spring usually brings flooding as snowmelt flows into rivers and lakes. In larger rivers, the high water period can last up to two months. In the Palessie marshes, high waters often flood the vast, flat terrain. Water levels are lowest during the low-flow periods of summer and winter. The water evaporates rapidly in summer, while during the winter the frost-bound earth tends to slow water flow. Low-water periods during summer and autumn are sometimes broken by heavy rainfall.
  • Most rivers freeze for three to four months, beginning in December. The average thickness of the ice is between 40 and 50 cm.

Lakes in Belarus

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.

  • Belarus has more than 10,000 lakes covering a total area of 1.6 million km2. Most of the lakes are small, with an average surface area of less than 0.25 km2. There are an estimated 470 medium-sized lakes with an average surface area of 0.5 km2. Only 10 lakes in the country can be classified as large, at over 20 km2. Among them are Lake Narach (the largest at 79.6 km2), and lakes Asveiskae, Charvonae, Lukomlskae, Drysviaty, Nescharda, Vyhanashchanskae, Svir, Snudy, Chornae and Miadel.
  • The 20 deepest lakes include Douhae (53.6 m), Rychie (51.9 m), Hinkava (43.3 m), Volasa Paudniovae (40.4 m), Balduk (39.7 m), Troshcha (38.2 m), Chornae (38.0 m), Sora (36.3 m), Vechelie (35.9 m), Lepel (33.7 m), Kakisina (33.5 m), Saminskae (33.5 m), Plissa (32.9 m), Volchyna (32.9 m), Palozna (32.5 m), Bobyna (32.3 m), Syanno (31.5 m), Kryvoe (31.5 m), Kruhlik (31.5 m) and Chornae (31.5 m).
  • Many of the lakes lie close together, connected by corridors to form lake groups. The most famous of these are the Braslauskaya group, which includes more than 30 lakes with a total surface area of 113 km2; the Narachanskaya group of four lakes, with a total area of about 100 km2; and the Ushachskaya group of 60 lakes with a total area of about 75 km2. All of these groups are located in the Paazer’e area of Belarus.
  • The Braslauskaya lake system is located in the northern part of Belarus, in Braslausky District, which borders Lithuania and Latvia. The Druyka River flows into the lake system.
  • The Narachanskaya lake system, which has a total surface area of 100 km2, is located in Miadelsky District in the Minsk region. The Narach River links these lakes, which have a total catchment area of 279 km2.
  • The Ushachskaya lake system includes more than 100 lakes that belong to the basins formed by the left-bank tributaries of the Zakhodniaya Dzvina — namely the Ushacha and Dziva rivers. The system is located in the Ushachsky, Polatsky and Lepelsky districts, and the total area of the lakes is about 75 km2.
  • The Palessie marshes are one of the two most famous lake districts in the country. This low-lying area features oxbow and karstic lakes. Oxbow lakes are small sections of river that have become separated from flowing rivers. Some of these lakes are heavily overgrown. Most such lakes are located on the floodplains of the Dnieper and Pripyat rivers. Karstic lakes are formed where an underground surface comprises a layer of sedimentary rocks that are easily dissolved in water. Such lakes are funnel shaped and quite deep. Lakes of this kind are found mainly in the Palessie.
  • The Dnieper River basin features a number of swampy lakes located in peat bogs.
  • Residual lakes remain from the period of high water levels, when most of the Palessie area was under water and formed one huge lake. When the water receded, several smaller lakes were formed in some low-lying areas. Lakes Charvonae, Vyganashchanskae and Sporauskae are good examples of this type of lake.

Reservoirs in Belarus

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 of water.

  • 153 reservoirs with a total surface area of 822 km2 can be found on the territory of Belarus. The main artificial reservoirs are in the Palessie area and belong to the Dnieper and Pripyat river basins. The largest reservoirs are Vileiskae (total area 63.8 km2) on the river Vilia, Zaslauskae (26.9 km2) on the river Svislach, Krasnaslabodskae (23.6 km2) on the river Morach, Saligorskae (23.1 km2) on the river Sluch, Lubanskae (22.5 km2) on the river Aresa, and Chygirynskae (21.2 km2) on the river Druts.
  • There are around 1,500 ponds in Belarus. Ponds are usually used to supply water to rural communities and businesses, and for water control systems, land reclamation and fish cultivation.

Canals in Belarus

Relatively 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.

  • The largest and most important canal economically is the Dniepra-Bugski, which joins the Pina (a tributary of the Pripyat) and Mukhavets (a tributary of the Bug). The canal is 196 km long, including canalised sections of the Pina and Mukhavets. The canal was built in the 18th and 19th centuries.
  • One of the best-known canals is the Augustouski, which connects the Neman and Vistula rivers. Part of the canal is located in Poland, while the rest stretches through the Grodno region of Belarus. It has a total length of 102 km, including 22 km on the territory of modern Belarus. The Augustouski Canal is, in reality, a system of lakes, ponds and partly canalised rivers and streams. It was built at the beginning of the 19th century in order to facilitate commercial transport. The construction of railways and roads has rendered the canal obsolete in terms of transport, but it remains popular among tourists.
  • The Vileiska-Minskaya is another important water system. It works by shifting water from the Vilia River (in the Baltic Sea basin) to the Svislach River (in the Black Sea basin). The system was designed to supply water to Minsk and draws from the Vileiska-Minskaya Reservoir (or Minsk Sea), the largest in Belarus. The reservoir takes its water from the Vileiski Canal. The bottom was cleaned recently and the canal has been lined with beaches and re-landscaped, making it one of the most popular recreation areas among citizens of Minsk. The Krynica and Drazdy reservoirs, located downstream from the Zaslauskae, are situated on the Svislach River. Down from the Drazdy Reservoir is Kamsamolskae Lake, which is located inside the Minsk city borders. The cascade reservoirs on the Svislach bring water from the Vilia River to Minsk, some of which is used to meet municipal needs, while the rest continues on its way to Biarezina.

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.

  • In Belarus, springs (krynitsy) have long provided local sources of clean drinking water. This water is often used in religious and pagan rituals, as well as for medicinal purposes. Many folk legends and beliefs are related with krynitsy.
  • The number of springs in Belarus has significantly and rapidly decreased since the mid-20th century due to ameliorative measures, deforestation, constructions and roadworks.
  • There are two main types of spring: downstream and rising. The most common are downstream springs, which are created by the flow of water from aquifers located deep in the hills. These springs are active on a seasonal or periodic basis. The amount of water in them depends on the amount of atmospheric precipitation in the area and the aquifer capacity. The largest such spring is the Boltsik (up to 1.5 tonnes of water per day), which is located in the Narachanski National Park.
  • Rising springs, such as the Blue Krynica in Slauharadski District, are rare in Belarus. The Blue Krynica, the largest in the country, brings to the surface up to five tonnes of water per day. The water rises from a depth of nearly 2 m and forms a kind of lake on the surface, which takes on a stunning turquoise hue in sunny weather.
  • In Belarus, springs commonly have a relatively low water temperature, which changes slightly during the year. The deeper the aquifer from which the spring draws its water, the lower the groundwater temperature, and therefore the lower the spring temperature. Typically, water temperature in the majority of springs ranges from 0ºC to 3.5ºC in winter, and between 6ºC and 12ºC in summer. Many of the springs do not freeze, even during the coldest winters.
  • The dissolved salts and gases do not affect the taste of most spring water in Belarus, although there are springs with a high iron content. Some springs have a low mineral content and may contain hydrogen sulphide. The most famous source of hydrogen sulphide in Belarus is the Lazienki spring, located near the village of Vidzy Lauchynskiya in Braslauski District, Vitebsk region.
  • Springs are the smallest water bodies and are therefore vulnerable to a variety of disturbances. The number of springs in Belarus has declined sharply in recent years due to mechanical destruction during irrigation and drainage works, housing, industrial and road construction, deforestation, ploughing, and other activities that destroy the impermeable layers of upper aquifers. 
  • The quality of the water in springs has been affected by falling groundwater levels, leading to increased nitrite and nitrate content. Springs located in or near human settlements are particularly susceptible to contamination.
  • Springs are also negatively affected by poor management. So-called improvements consist merely of the installation of concrete pipes and manhole covers, or the addition of concrete structures at wellheads, which lead to aquifer damage in most cases. Reduced water exchange leads to stagnation, silting, and ultimately to the spring's complete disappearance.

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.

Groundwater pollution

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.

  • Iron is widely found in groundwater on the territory of Belarus. More than 70 percent of artesian wells in the country yield water with a high iron content, while the percentage is even higher out of the total water sources in the Palessie area (90 to 95 percent). The iron needs to be removed to make this water drinkable. Water from these sources is colourless when it comes out of the tap, although it turns brown when heated. Another sign of iron pollution is the presence of brown stains on plumbing fixtures. Clothing may sometimes turn yellowish after washing, and drinks such as tea and coffee may become unusually dark. In some rare cases, when the water has a high acidity, the iron may give it a metallic taste.
  • Manganese is often present in enriched groundwater. High manganese content can produce greyish or blackish stains on laundry or discolour white plumbing fixtures.

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.

  • Unlike agricultural and household pollution, which affect large areas, industrial pollution is mainly limited to local areas. The list of industrial pollutants is highly varied and depends on the nature of the production process and the substances being used or produced. Machine-building and metalworking industries produce mostly oil and metal pollution, while food-processing plants generate organic matter such as chlorides.
  • The most striking examples of the impacts of industrial pollution in Belarus are the areas near the Salihorsk potash plants and the Gomel chemical plant. The Salihorsk salt dumps and slime storage areas affect a 15 km2 zone of groundwater with sodium chloride, and also contaminate other deep water sources.
  • The facilities for the storage of solid waste (phosphogypsum dumps) and liquid waste (sludge collectors etc.) near the Gomel chemical plant heavily pollute the groundwater with phosphates, fluoride, sulphate, sodium and chlorine.
  • Agricultural pollution is lower in intensity but covers vast areas of farmland. Groundwater containing elevated concentrations of nitrates, chlorides and sulphates is found in areas where farmers spread mineral or organic fertilisers. Shallow groundwater in areas where farms and fields are irrigated with livestock effluent is also heavily contaminated.
  • The main municipal and household pollutants are nitrogen-containing compounds (nitrates, nitrites and ammonia-nitrogen), chlorides and sulphates, detergents and other compounds. Municipal wastewater also contains high levels of microbial contamination.
  • The most common contaminants of well water are nitrates. According to some data, the vast majority of wells that form the basic water supply for many villages and small towns (home to an estimated 3 million people) do not meet health standards in terms of chemical and microbiological parameters.

Secondary water pollution

A number of other factors also contribute to water pollution in Belarus:

  • Water pipes have been manufactured at different times using different materials. Some pipes are made of clay, lead or plastic, although the most commonly used material in Belarus is iron. Over time, these iron pipes become rusty, and rusty water can often be seen in areas where old pipes are removed.
  • Chlorine is added to the water as a preventive measure, typically at the beginning of each month, as it kills germs and reduces microbial contamination. Chlorine is sometimes added more frequently in autumn or during the spring flood season.

Water hardness

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.

  • Groundwater in Belarus contains many calcium and magnesium ions that are released into the water by the carbonate rocks that are common in the country. This problem, so-called temporary hardness, can be addressed almost entirely by boiling the water.
  • Non-carbonate water hardness, on the other hand, is due to the presence of chlorides, sulphates and nitrates of calcium, magnesium and other metals in the water. These salts do not turn to scale when the water is boiled.

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:

  • Per capita water consumption in Belarus was about 145 litres per day, a reduction of about one-third compared to previous years.
  • Underground sources were used for municipal water supply in almost all big cities in Belarus. The exceptions were Minsk and Gomel, which received part of their drinking water from surface water bodies.
  • Piped water supply was available to 86 percent of the population in Belarus. However, the quality of water from centralised sources was rather low in rural areas and small towns, due primarily to the higher iron content. An unacceptably high proportion (22 percent) of samples of public water did not meet national hygienic criteria for iron content in 2009. However, one possible reason was the introduction of more stringent requirements for drinking water in Belarus (the national standard is 0.3 mg of iron per litre of water, while the World Health Organization allows up to 2 mg per litre without danger to human health). Thus about 2 million people in the country use water that exceeds national standards for iron content.
  • Water loss during delivery represented about 8 percent of the total amount of abstracted natural water, although losses have tended to decline in recent years.
  • Some 1.4 million people received water from decentralised sources. In many cases, the water did not meet content standards for nitrate, a groundwater pollutant that is, however, linked to local use. According to data from the health services and agencies of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Protection, 40 percent of samples taken from public wells were contaminated with excess nitrate ions.
  • New technologies have been made more widely available to rural populations in recent years, and their number has risen sharply. The proximity of water supply technologies to buildings, however, suggests a high probability of the elevated nitrate pollution of water sources. The quality of water from such sources is generally unsupervised. It seems safe to say that representatives of scientific organisations possess better and more relevant information on water quality than the public authorities. According to scientific data provided in 1998, up to 76 percent of wells were contaminated with nitrate ions in excess of the maximum permissible concentration (MPC), while the respective proportion was 82 percent in 2010. It therefore remains to be established whether the quality of drinking water in Belarus meets national and international health standards.

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.

  • Larger settlements in Belarus typically have well-developed systems for treating municipal and industrial wastewater. However, the quality of many treatment systems is decreasing. In addition, the mixing of different types of wastewater with sewage affects the quality of the treatment, as industrial wastewater often contains contaminants that are toxic to the living organisms used in biological treatment methods.
  • State agencies have also reported that new technologies are not being adequately implemented in wastewater treatment plants.
  • Storm runoff collection systems are also inadequate, allowing sewage and untreated wastewater to enter water bodies.

In Belarus, water resources management is addressed through national laws, programmes and activities, and environmental protection measures:

  • The Water Strategy of the Republic of Belarus to 2020 enshrines the basic principles of state policy on the use and protection of water resources and the conservation of ecosystems, and sets out guidelines and measures to protect the country’s water resources. The main objectives of the strategy are to achieve good-quality surface water and groundwater; provide the population, industry and agriculture with water of appropriate quality; mitigate the adverse effects of floods and droughts; and make more water bodies available for recreational purposes.
  • The Water Code of the Republic of Belarus regulates the social relations arising from the ownership, use and disposal of water, and aims to create conditions for the sustainable use and conservation of water bodies, the restoration of water bodies, and the conservation and improvement of aquatic ecosystems. A new version of the Water Code is under preparation in response to changes that have affected economic activities in water protection zones and coastal strips. For example, it is currently permitted to graze livestock or wash cars within 300 m of a water protection area. The damage to the environment from such activities is obvious. The current version of the Water Code can be read here:
  • Safe drinking water is provided in the framework of the state-run programme Clean Water, which aims to address important social and environmental issues while ensuring a high-quality drinking water supply and improving the living conditions of the population. The main goals of the programme are to eliminate discrepancies in the quality of water supplied to the population; and to promote a variety of technologies and schemes for supplying water to cities, towns and villages. The Clean Water programme was developed for the periods 2002–2005, 2006–2010 and 2011–2015.
  • Water management, water supply and sanitation in Belarus are regulated by a number of documents. Further information is available from:

International conventions

There are a number of international environmental conventions that address the issue of water management in Belarus:

  • Belarus is a party to the Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes (the Water Convention), which came into force on October 6, 1996. The convention entered into force in Belarus on August 27, 2003. An example of international cooperation in the framework of the Water Convention is the UNDP/GEF project "Ecological Recovery of the Dnieper Basin for 2000–2004", the aim of which was to develop and implement measures and mechanisms for the sustainable protection of the transboundary Dnieper River. The project was implemented by three riparian states: Belarus, the Russian Federation and Ukraine. More information about the project can be obtained from: and
  • In 2009, Belarus acceded to the Water and Health Protocol under the Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes (Presidential Decree of March 31, 2009, No. 159). Focal points for protocol implementation at national level are assigned by the Ministry of Health of the Republic of Belarus and the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Protection of the Republic of Belarus.
  • The Convention on Wetlands of International Importance Especially as Waterfowl Habitat (the Ramsar Convention) was ratified by Belarus on May 25, 1999 (Presidential Decree No. 292) and entered into force in Belarus on September 10, 1999.
  • Further information about international environmental conventions in the field of water resources management in force in Belarus can be found here:

Belarusian organisations active in the field of water conservation include: