Belarus, a post-Soviet state that spent seven decades as a conglomerate of the larger Soviet Union, industrialized early, making much of its industrial base outdated and inefficient today. The country is highly dependent on Russia economically, with many treaties linking the two nations, and much of the sanitation and infrastructure remains unchanged from the early 20th century. This has left much of the country without safe sanitation or modern amenities, reducing the standard of living. Looking back on Belarus’s sanitation history shows high chemical content in their water, poor waste management systems and poor consistency of water flow. However, large scale projects on the horizon are looking to improve the quality, safety and efficiency of Belarus’s sanitation infrastructure.
5 Facts About Sanitation in Belarus
- Current status: Though Belarus struggles compared to its Western European neighbors, compared with some of its Eastern counterparts, Belarus scores in the top third of countries in the Human Development Index measure for “quality of standard of living” metrics. Additionally, compared with some of its less developed neighbors eastward, Belarus ranks in the top third in countries for environmental sustainability which also takes into account sanitation in Belarus. The United Nation’s report on water states that 95% of the population has access to a safe potable water source, 86% of the country has safe wastewater treatment and 81% of the country has access to safe sanitation services. While these numbers may appear relatively high, they are critically low when compared to Western European nations. For example, Belarus’s neighbor to the West, Poland, has 100% of its population with access to potable water and 93% of the country that has access to sanitation services.
- Clean water access is an ongoing problem: According to a study conducted on drinking water in Belarus, the quality of potable water is among the most pressing ecological problems for Belarus. Multiple outbreaks of diseases can be attributed to poor access to clean water. For example, in 1997, poor drinking water quality caused a small 400-case outbreak of aseptic meningitis. Other disease outbreaks related to poor water quality include viral hepatitis and methemoglobinemia in infants. These factors greatly reduced the quality of life for those in Belarus who could not rely on safe water to drink.
- Belarus is a “water-rich” country: Though Belarus’s territory has been known to lack basic sanitation, the country contains many natural, accessible water resources. Belarus has many aquatic ecosystems including rivers, lakes, reservoirs and ponds. The historic difficulty for Belarus has been to transform those clean water sources into potable and usable water for its citizens.
- The “Clean Water Program”: Massive efforts are underway to transform the Belorussian country’s critical utility services. With support from the World Bank and the European Investment Bank, Belarus is upgrading existing critical infrastructure in order to modernize. In addition to upgrading the old infrastructure, the World Bank hopes its investment will not only provide better services but come at a lower cost. It was planned that, through this program, 324,000 citizens of Belarus would have better quality drinking water and a cleaner environment. Through the modernization of existing systems, the reforms would not only bring cleaner water but give a much-needed upgrade to Belarus’s aging solid waste management services. New landfills and water treatment facilities would usher in a new era of environmental efforts as well as raise the standard of living.
- The quality of living has risen: In June of 2020, following the completion of the subsidized “Clean Water Program,” the number of people that benefited from quality access and treatment of water rose from 324,000 in 2019 to a staggering 611,766 people at the time of the project’s completion. Not only did more people benefit from increased water quality and treatment, 47,520 individuals gained access to much-improved sanitation services through 32 newly constructed utility centers and 154 kilometers of piping that was replaced. In addition to the new changes brought on by the massive initiative spearheaded by the World Bank, tangible changes in quality of living were noticed throughout the country. In the city of Berezino residents noticed cleaner air and cleaner water in the Berezina river that intersects the town. This was all due to the replaced water treatment center. Residents from another provincial town called Smolevichi noticed that the discoloration in their water supplies was almost totally gone. These noticeable improvements regarding sanitation in Belarus are vital in raising the standard of living in the country and bringing people out of poverty.
While Belarus is still lagging behind many of its more developed Western neighbors, vast international efforts have recognized the need for Belarus to have access to safe drinking water. Recent efforts to address sanitation in Belarus, as well as other water-related infrastructure, are vital to understanding its development as a sovereign state in the 21st century.
– Zak Schneider