Sanitation in Bulgaria
Situated on the west coast of the Black Sea, Bulgaria has continually struggled to secure basic services for its people. An improvement came when Bulgaria entered the European Union in 2007. Amid this positive step, however, it became clear that Bulgaria’s wastewater treatment and sanitation system was below E.U. standards. The latest situational analysis on equal access to water sanitation in Bulgaria shows that there are 10 significant areas for improvement. Bulgaria must address these issues in order to ensure pure water and high-quality sanitation to the entire country. Here are 10 facts about sanitation in Bulgaria.

10 Facts About Sanitation in Bulgaria

  1. The water and sanitation network in Bulgaria is decades old. Iskar is the largest reservoir in Bulgaria. Located near the country’s capital, Sofia, it collects about 675 million cubic meters of water. Built in 1954, it is one of the oldest reservoirs. Bulgaria built most of its water network between the 50s and the late 80s. In 1990, however, the political regime changed from communism to democracy and the new government abandoned all infrastructure projects. As a result, one-third of Bulgarians suddenly lacked a reliable water supply and sewage network.
  2. Bulgaria does not recycle its wastewater. Even though two-thirds of the Bulgarian population has access to a wastewater network, only 57 percent possess access to a wastewater treatment plant. This means that large amounts of household water do not receive treatment and households reuse it. In other words, Bulgaria does not engage in the recycling of wastewater. This is not the case in other European countries such as Germany, Belgium and Spain, where recycled water goes towards agriculture, groundwater recharge and ecological enhancement.
  3. Bulgaria’s water supply pipes contain asbestos-cement. The World Bank reports that Bulgaria’s existing water network is extremely outdated. On average, water supply pipes in Bulgaria are 36 years old and most comprise of asbestos-cement. The majority of developed countries have discontinued the use of asbestos in building materials, due to its cancer-causing properties. Several developing countries, however, continue to use asbestos-containing materials. Moreover, Bulgaria’s non-revenue water rate—water that is produced and then lost or unaccounted for before it reaches the desired target— is close to 60 percent, resulting in an even more unstable water supply network.
  4. People suffer from water rationing. As a result of outdated water networks, lack of strategic wastewater collection and expenditure in treatment systems, a significant number of people suffer from seasonal water rationing and lack of sanitation. The people in the North-East regions of Bulgaria suffer the most. They experience frequent water rationing throughout the year and high prices of water supply and sanitation. Additionally, 37 percent of the population does not have access to wastewater treatment. Furthermore, 24 percent of the population lives in areas with no wastewater collection systems at all. These staggering statistics require significant funding to ensure that water quality and sanitation services comply with the requirements of the E.U. directives.
  5. Most Bulgarians in rural areas do not have access to sanitation. According to the National Statistical Institute, 25 percent of Bulgarians, the majority of whom live in rural areas, do not have access to sanitation. These areas spread to 81 percent of the country’s territory and 39 percent (as of 2014) of the population, meaning that most of these regions also lack adequate sewage disposal. The Special Accession Program for Agricultural and Rural Development (SAPARD), the Instrument for Structural Policies for Pre-Accession (ISPA) and the Operational program for rural development funded centralized sewerage systems in a number of rural areas. While considered a positive step, the funding ultimately only benefited villages with municipal centers.
  6. Roma communities suffer the most from the lack of proper sanitation. Bulgaria’s compliance with the E.U. standards proved a difficult task in 2007 and, unfortunately, this challenge still continues today. The overall lack of balance between living conditions in rural and urban areas, as well as a lack of public policies regarding living conditions, enhance the challenge. For example, Bulgaria does not possess a national policy for addressing illegal neighborhoods (ghettos). These mostly Roma-populated neighborhoods do not possess access to centralized sewerage systems, water treatment plants 0r wastewater tanks. The National Strategy of the Republic of Bulgaria on Roma Inclusion (2012-2020), a document that Bulgaria implemented from 2012 to 2020, seeks to improve the quality of life of vulnerable groups and promote their full inclusion in society. While the document grants Roma families access to public social housing, the measure falls short of solving the problem in its entirety. It ultimately leaves more than 400,000 people in Roma ghettos.
  7. Masterplans for water and sanitation services are corrupt. A situational analysis on equal access to water and sanitation in Bulgaria states that: “Financial mechanisms have been subject to significant trade in influence and corruption, so the investments have achieved very low efficiency.” Experts from the Earth Forever Foundation made a comparative analysis of the validity of the data used in the masterplans for sustainable water and sanitation services in three villages in Central Bulgaria. The analysis revealed that the regional plans provide inadequate wastewater removal. Furthermore, the regional plans utilize treatment measures that not only fail to comply with legislation but also stubbornly remain unaffordable for the general population.
  8. Bulgaria and the World Bank are collaborating to solve water supply and sanitation problems. To tackle these problem areas, the government voted on a new ambitious plan regarding the water supply and sanitation issues. In 2016, the Bulgarian government and the World Bank worked together on the Country Partnership Framework for Bulgaria. The document focuses on the quality, efficiency and effectiveness of essential public service delivery, including improved water supply and sanitation.
  9. Approximately 99 percent of Bulgarians have access to a clean water supply. Thanks to the collaborative efforts, Bulgaria now shows significant improvements. According to the latest report from the Ministry of Regional Development, centralized water supply now spans 99 percent of Bulgaria. At present, a centralized water supply covers 5,000 towns and villages. Currently, only two areas do not receive full coverage from the central water supply. In response to those two areas, the government has created a strategy to cover the needs of the outstanding 1 percent. A new law, part of the next strategic plan (2024-2033), seeks to further improve the country’s sanitation network.
  10. Bulgarian schools teach clean water supply and sanitation. To educate the new generations, Regulation No. 13 of 21.09.2016 on Civil, Health, Environmental and Intercultural Education included new topics in Bulgarian public school curriculum. Subjects added include healthy lifestyles, water usage and conservation, waste/water waste management and composting. Designed to help students recognize the importance of nature conservation, these subjects focus on water pollution reduction, clean water preservation and recycling.

Over the last 13 years, Bulgaria has exhibited slow, yet promising progress towards achieving the U.N. goals for universal access to water and sanitation. The country continues to strive to comply with the E.U. standards for clean water supplies and wastewater treatment. The new challenge for Bulgaria is to establish baseline measures for the fairness of access to water and sanitation through the Equitable Access Score-Card, a process of self-assessment. This self-assessment focuses on “universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water for all” and “access to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all and end open defecation, paying special attention to the needs of women and girls and those in vulnerable situations” by 2030.

Olga Uzunova
Photo: Flickr