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Water In South Eastern Europe – Unique Opportunities And Challenges

Press Release No:2003/326/ECA
Contact: Merrell Tuck-Primdahl
Tel: (1-202) 473-9516

WASHINGTON, May 6, 2003—Water needs to be higher on the development agenda of countries in the Balkans, since better river basin management can pre-empt floods, drought, coastal erosion and river pollution, according to Water Resources Management in South Eastern Europe, a World Bank report released today. 

The report examines seven countries in detail -- Albania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Romania, and Serbia and Montenegro -- as well as sources and consequences of poor water resources management in the South Eastern Europe (SEE) sub-region. It also provides examples of successful water programs and projects.

The two-volume report is being issued ahead of a May 6-7 conference on Sustainable Development for Lasting Peace: Shared Water, Shared Future, Shared Knowledge, hosted by the Government of Greece during its Presidency of the European Union (EU) and co-organized by the World Bank in Athens, Greece. The event will bring together government officials from SEE countries, the Mediterranean and the Middle East, as well as representatives from various international financial institutions to discuss the management of transboundary water resources.


Box 1: Shared rivers, shared problems

International river basins are prominent in South East Europe’s geography and have helped   trade to flourish for centuries. Indeed, 90 percent of the sub-region’s territory is in international river-basins, making cooperation among countries essential.

In addition to the Danube and its five tributaries, ten smaller international river basins flow into the Adriatic and the Aegean.  For example, the Drin includes FYR Macedonia, Serbia and Montenegro and Albania and challenges include watershed degradation, lake and fisheries management, unplanned developments along shorelines, untreated wastewater and poor solid waste management and wetland ecosystem management.  These issues affect all three countries.


“Given the momentum for European integration and the environmental standards that aspiring countries in the sub-region must meet to join the EU, more financing as well as policy and institutional reforms are urgently needed to tackle pressing water problems—action now will avoid a bigger price tag later on,” says Marjory-Anne Bromhead, Sector Manager for Natural Resources and Agricultural Services in the World Bank’s Europe and Central Asia Region and co-author of the report.

A key finding from the report is that poor river basin management increases economic damage and loss of life from floods, droughts, landslides and erosion as well as water pollution. Low quality water carries health risks, damages fisheries, tourism and recreation industries and leads to ecosystem losses. Poor drinking water service delivery affects the well-being of local communities, while unreliable irrigation water leads to loss of livelihoods. The misallocation of water can lead to insufficient supplies for irrigation, hydro-electric energy, municipal water supply and ecosystem maintenance. 

The state of water resources in the sub-region

 The report identifies South Eastern Europe’s key water challenges, detailing the diverse conditions in the seven countries.  In the northern countries of Croatia and Romania, water resources are generally abundant and the challenges are primarily flood and watershed management and improving water quality.  In the southern states, such as Bulgaria and FYR Macedonia, water is scarcer and countries need to balance use between competing sectors, such as summer irrigation versus winter hydro-electric energy, and using water for towns and industries versus maintaining ecosystems and wetlands.  All countries are developing water management institutions that reflect multiple interests, but some are facing more difficulties than others, such as Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and FYR Macedonia. 

“South Eastern Europe has faced difficulties of deteriorating infrastructure for water and sanitation, irrigation, drainage and water regulation, linked in part to weakness of public sector institutions and broader fiscal and governance issues,” notes Rita Cestti, Senior Water Resources Economist in the Bank’s Europe and Central Asia Region and co-author of the report. “Governments are working to put in place institutional frameworks, regulations and economic incentive regimes that reflect multi-stakeholder consensus, and at the same time provide for efficient use of water and adequate service delivery,” she adds.


Lake Ohrid:  Straddling Albania and Macedonia

Lake Ohrid, one of the oldest lakes in Europe, straddles Albania and FYR Macedonia. In 1996, both countries agreed to carry out the Lake Ohrid Conservation Project—financed by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and executed by the World Bank—with the goal of conserving and protecting its unique biodiversity and watershed through a joint management arrangement. A Lake Ohrid Management Board was set up and a bi-national monitoring task force has produced a State of the Environment Report.

The project has facilitated cooperation between local authorities on both sides of the lake and has helped mobilize substantial investment assistance, including for the funding for sewage treatment, solid waste management, and water supply system improvements.

A separate Bank-financed Albania Fisheries Project will also benefit the lake.

Transboundary cooperation

The second volume of the report is comprised of Country Water Notes and Water Fact Sheets individually tailored to the seven focus countries, which share transboundary water resource problems. The Country Water Notes specify the differences in socio-economic conditions, geography, water resource management institutions and country legislation, and provide a wealth of examples on interstate cooperation.

World Bank Assistance for Water Resources Management in the Balkans

While Bank cumulative assistance for water resource management in SEE countries has been small to date, there has been considerable assistance with improved water service delivery.   Urban water supply projects, such as the Eastern Slavonia Reconstruction Project in Croatia, have focused on developing financially viable institutions, improving service water supply and wastewater delivery, and addressing the challenges of wetland management.  Irrigation projects (in Albania and FYR Macedonia) have sought to decentralize responsibility for irrigation maintenance to local users’ associations and are now tackling broader system management.  Financing for rural water and sanitation, combined with support to local communities and local governments to maintain services, is increasing, with operations under way in Romania and Albania. Romania now has a major operation in flood management and hazards mitigation under preparation.

Regional support for water-related issues

The World Bank’s Europe and Central Asia region has a water sector portfolio totaling US$2 billion to date, of which 65 percent is for urban water and sanitation interventions and for flood management. Other World Bank operations include irrigation and drainage, dam safety, wetlands management and restoration, and water resource management.

The report calls for an increased focus on partnerships between the SEE countries, the EU, and bilateral and multilateral organizations, to improve water management and services delivery.


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