Restoring the Health of the Strumica River Basin

The Strumica River Basin - a vital but vulnerable ecosystem

The ecosystem of the Strumica River Basin plays an essential role in sustaining the livelihoods and wellbeing of some 124,500 people in the region. It provides a vital source of water for drinking and for agriculture, which is the chief source of income for the majority of the population. Covering almost seven per cent of the country’s territory (with a total area of 1,649 km2), this valuable but fragile ecosystem also provides a vital habitat for a large variety of animal and plant species.


Problem

The health of the Strumica River Basin ecosystem has been under threat in recent decades from pollution and rising demand for water from farming, industry and growing urban centers. Unsustainable agriculture practices, including excessive use of fertilizers and pesticides to grow vegetables and grapes and wasteful methods of irrigation, has undermined water quality. Demand for water from industry and towns, together with the building of reservoirs, has exacerbated fluctuations in water levels, increasing the risk of droughts and floods.

These accumulated pressures have made the ecosystem especially vulnerable to climate change, which is causing higher temperatures and extreme weather events. These bring the risk of an extreme scarcity of water that could jeopardize the livelihoods of the region’s farming families.

Solution



Coordinated action by all stakeholders is vital to protect the Strumica River Basin ecosystem. Better management of the river basin is essential to balance the many competing needs for water and to ensure better land-use.

To mitigate the threats and make the Strumica River Basin more resilient to climate change, UNDP has launched a new six-year, CHF 2.9 million project called ‘Restoring the Health of the Strumica River Basin’.

With funding from the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, UNDP will work with the Ministry of Environment and local municipalities to protect the Strumica River Basin through integrated management of water resources. The direct impact of the project will be to reduce the risk of floods and droughts, decrease pollution and restore the ecological functions of water bodies. Through these efforts, the project will improve the living conditions of the region’s population.

Key activities and expected results


1.    Effective Water Governance

New cross-sectoral participatory mechanisms will be applied to democratize the management of water resources in line with the Management Plan for the Strumica River Basin. This approach will transform a highly centralized water management system into a modern system of water governance. Once the Strumica River Basin Management Council (RBMC) is established by the Government, the project will provide trainings, study visits and exchange programs with other river basins for all council members, to help balance the interests of various water-stakeholders and optimize the benefits of water management decisions both for the local economy and the environment.

2. Reducing flood risk
The principles of Integrated Flood Risk Management as per the EU Floods Directive will be applied for the first time at national level, replacing traditional approaches derived from purely design-based standards and ad-hoc interventions triggered by flooding events. The project will partner with the operators of the existing dams and reservoirs in the Basin to explore the potential of flood risk mitigation by improving their operating regimes, while at the same time maintaining their primary purposes for water supply, irrigation and power generation. Also, an early warning system will be introduced to significantly reduce long-term flood risk.

3. Sustainable farming practices
Innovative solutions to improve access to knowledge and information about agro-ecological and Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) will be co-designed with farmers to bring about important environmental and socio-economic benefits. Direct support to farmers, comprising trainings backed by grant programmes, will be provided to reduce pollution and introduce more sustainable farming practices, primarily by introducing better practices for pesticides and fertilizers and adopting more efficient irrigation practices. Creating synergies with other ongoing financial instruments for agriculture (e.g., IPARD) will also be one of the priorities for multiplying the beneficial effects of assistance to farmers.

4. Addressing pollution
To address the point sources of pollution, municipal capacities for issuing environmental permits will be strengthened by applying the principles of Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control (IPCC). This will ensure that all  industrial facilities currently operating in the Strumica River Basin are in full compliance with the rules for emissions of pollutants from technological processes. Not only will the project help protect the environment by reducing emissions into air, land and water, it will also stimulate increased recycling and re-use of raw materials, and also promote the use of clean technology to reduce pollution at sources.  

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