Nature in Moldova is still affected by Soviet vestiges

The Republic of Moldova reached the 22nd year of independence. The IPN Agency decided to present the accomplishments and failures in the country’s development in a number of articles. Representatives of the current government, experts, former and current politicians stated their view on the steps taken by Moldova after August 27, 1991.

Article No. 3 of the IPN series “Moldova-22. Steps forward and steps backward”, on the occasion of the Independence Day

The Soviet period left significant traces not only in Moldova’s history, but also in the quality of the environment, say experts. Once a country with some of the most fertile soils, today Moldova is a country with farmland destroyed by drought and hail, which still didn’t recover after being heavily treated with pesticides in the Soviet time. Despite the fact that the quality of soil, air and water in the 1990s improved, even if insignificantly, the Soviet traces are still noticeable.

Soil returns to life

In the Soviet period Moldova had the richest soils, but this property wasn’t kept. Vlad Garaba, chairman of the Chisinau local organization of the Ecologist Movement, said the poor quality of soil started to be noticed in the 1980s. Moldova ultimately occupied the last place in the USSR as regards soil erosion and contamination with pesticides.
The monitoring of soil quality started at the end of the 1980s, when it became evident that the country faces a serious problem. Gavril Galca, head of the Environment Quality Monitoring Division of the State Hydrometeorology Service, said the causes of soil degradation included the irrational use of pesticides, dangerous technology and plowing of land. However, an efficient method for protecting the environment in the Soviet period was the planting of trees in narrow strips between farmland. Their purpose was to attenuate the intensity and speed of wind, which protected the soil from aeolian erosion.

An economic crisis began after the proclamation of independence. Pesticides and mineral fertilizers weren’t used because there was no money in the country and no support came from abroad. “We can see an improvement in the quality of soil where there were used fewer pesticides,” said Vlad Garaba. Not only the pesticides caused damage to the environment. Another cause was the cutting of woods and grazing of cows and other animals in forests. “Whole forests of oak trees were cut. Acacias were planted instead,” stated Garaba.  

Even if the soil started to recover after the proclamation of independence, it does not have the previous structure. “The soil now does not have those pores that keep water and release it when there is aridity,” said Gavril Galca. The soil more often cracks when there is drought. They are eroded and no longer rich in humus. This is more evident in villages, where landslides and soil erosion are witnessed more often.

According to experts, these problems can be prevented by respecting the land cultivation technology. “In the Soviet period, there were created green areas, including orchards and bush clusters, which protected the soil from torrential rain and erosion. Such a practice should be resumed,” said Gavril Galca.

Cleaner air in villages

Moldova was an agrarian country, where industry was not very developed. However, a considerable number of factories and plants worked in the southern districts. They emitted significant volumes of gases. After the proclamation of independence, the plants were gradually closed, while those that remained do not seriously affect the atmosphere. Starting with 2000, when the economy recovered and the people could afford more, the state of the air worsened, mainly in towns. The major reason is the number of cars that is much higher than in the Soviet period. “The concentrations of toxic substances exceed the admissible norms,” stated Vlad Garaba.

Before 1990, the quality of air was monitored only in the regions facing a pollution risk. Now samples of air are collected in more regions of the country. Gavril Galca said the air quality monitoring technique improved and the people became more concerned about pollution. If the monitoring stations determine the pollution risk in a region, the authorities are immediately announced and the factories take measures to solve the problem.

Water quality worsened in parts

Compared with the Soviet period, the quality of water improved slightly, except the Byk, which is seriously polluted, especially in the area of Chisinau municipality. “Before 1990, the concentration of ions of ammonium and nitrates reached the maximally admissible levels. These indicators are now lower, but there appeared a new problem – the detergents,” said Victor Garlea.

The quality of water in wells also worsened. 20-30 years ago, over 50% of the wells in Moldova supplied the inhabitants with drinking water of a high quality. Now this figure stands at 20-30%. The wells become drier and the water changes its taste. This is due to the lack of sewerage and wastewater treatment systems and the fact that the animals are bred near sources of water. “Moldova takes one of the last places in Europe by the quality of surface waters,” said Vlad Garaba.

Starting with 2000, the pollution level increased, especially in small rivers that go through settlements and collect all kinds of solid and liquid waste on the way. The Nistru and Prut remain the most useful sources from where the population is supplied with water. Vlad Garaba said the water in these rivers is good because the enterprises situated at their source in the Carpathians were closed and the water is cleaner than in the Soviet period, when they worked.

European reforms

The Soviet-type economy affected the state of nature and the population, said the experts. “More than 560,000 tonnes of pesticides poisoned the richest lands of the country. As a result, different new species of flora and fauna were included in the Red Book of Moldova,” said Minister of the Environment Gheorghe Salaru. At the same time, hundreds of thousands of hectares of humid areas were destroyed and the hydrographic network was transformed into a network of drainage channels for water and toxic substances.

The ecological reconstruction in Moldova started after the proclamation of independence. The process included implementation of European environment protection standards and investments in restoring the destroyed ecosystems. “Moldova’s first Parliament laid the foundations of the national ecology, initiated the ratification of international environment conventions and opened the road to the European ecological security system,” said the minister.

The legislative body made about 26 organic laws on the environment and ratified the main 17 international environment conventions. The U.S. and the European countries allocated hundreds of millions of dollars for ‘healing the wounds of nature’ caused by the Soviet regime. Hundreds of foreign experts assisted in working out modern strategies for protecting the natural resources. “There were taken the first steps taken on the path to ensure sustainable development and to integrate Moldova into the European ecological security system,” stated Gheorghe Salaru.

The international cooperation in the environmental sphere started immediately after the proclamation of independence. The first international conference “Environment for Europe” was held in partnership with the UN Economic Commission for Europe and was aimed at working out long-term environment protection strategies. “In 2009-2012, there were initiated over 30 projects with a budget of over €160 million,” said Gheorghe Salaru.

The projects were based on the creation of a legal framework and conditions for preventing environment pollution and providing the people with drinking water. At the level of policies and legislation on the environment, Moldova is close to the European standards. Gavril Galca said that as a result of participation in a number of international conventions, the environment quality monitoring labs were outfitted with modern equipment. Work is to be done to achieve results.

Vlad Garaba considers that the most important results were achieved in the environment sphere owing to external cooperation and European projects. One of the most successful projects is the collection and removal of over 1,000 tonnes of pesticides from Moldova. “There are many projects, especially in the water sector. It’s a pity that the state cannot ensure the continuation of these projects,” said Vlad Garaba.

Elena Bolshenko, IPN
ugust, 2013

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