Although a landlocked country, Belarus is the land of more than 10 thousand lakes and 20 thousand rivers. Forests take one third of the territory and are considered the national wealth, while swamps account for 13% of it and are of significant climatic and hydrologic importance. The Belarusian marshlands are called “the lungs of Europe”, since they produce an enormous amount of oxygen. Besides, they serve as nesting places for rare species of birds and as a natural habitat for rare plants. The National Park “Belovezhskaya Pushcha” is inscribed in UNESCO World Heritage.
Throughout many centuries of history, the Belarusian people created its unique and original culture and continue to celebrate today traditional folk customs and rites harmoniously interlaced with Christian traditions.
- The most serious environmental issue that Belarus still faces is the 1986 accident of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Almost 70% of the nuclear fallout from the plant landed on Belarusian territory and about 20% of the land remains contaminated. Government restrictions on residence and use of contaminated land are not strictly enforced, and the government even announced plans in 2004 to increase agricultural production in contaminated regions.
- Belarus faces significant air pollution largely because of the development of heavy industries. The most common pollutants are formaldehyde, carbon dioxide, and petroleum-related chemicals. Although some cities in Belarus are heavily polluted, especially industrial centers such as Salihorsk and Navapolatsk, the situation is not as dramatic as in most of the polluted industrial centres of former USSR. In recent years automobile exhaust is becoming the source of about half the air pollution in the cities.
- The soils also contain unsafe levels of lead, zinc, copper and the agricultural chemical DDT.
- Belarus has vast forest areas but little of the country’s woodland is protected, in total 4.2 percent of Belarus’s land area. Biodiversity, soil pollution and the number of threatened species are areas of concern. The government has ratified international environmental agreements pertaining to air pollution, biodiversity, environmental modification, and ozone layer protection.
- The country has a big potential for renewable energy use. It has 9 million ha of forest out of which 53% are for commercial use. Wood production residues may provide with up to 23 TWh per year. Another solid potential is held in biogas, with 4.22 million cattle in year 2000. As for the wind power, Belarus has a capacity of 3.3 TWh per year. The output of solar energy systems in Belarus is estimated to be 40% and 10% of the in-coming solar energy for solar heating and solar electricity (PV), respectively. The hydropower potential is estimated to be 10 PJ with only 80 TJ used today. In this vision only 15% of the potential (1.5 PJ) are used.
- Being locked between other European countries, with flat terrain suitable for agricultural use, Belarus is already suffering consequences of climate changes reflected on yield, river flow and average annual temperature rise. Floods represent a significant problem for the country. Sudden and premature dramatic seasonal changes cause snow pack to melt and river overflow, flooding the surrounding terrain. Heavy storms occasionally occur, forcing evacuations, causing great damages on electric grids and great financial damage in general.
A number of special laws are aimed at ensuring the ecological safety of population. They are related to radiation, sanitary, industrial safety, protection of population and territories from emergency situations of natural and man-made. Environmental legislation of Belarus is developing on several fronts.
A national strategy for sustainable socio-economic development provides strategic components in the field of environmental protection and rational use of natural resources linked with social and economic development. To address medium-term objectives in the environmental field Belarus developed and implemented a five-year National Action Plan on Rational Use of Natural Resources and Environment and Environmental Health.
Special purpose programs include the State Program for overcoming the consequences of the Chernobyl disaster, the State Program on Water and Sanitation «Clean Water», National Program for management of municipal waste management schemes placement of specially protected natural areas. In 2005-2008 the state implemented a program to improve the environmental situation in Naroch Lake. Scientific support of environmental policy is part of the state of scientific and technical programs. Crucial among them is the State Scientific-Technical Program «Ecological Safety».
Part of the economic mechanism of nature and the environment – the ecological tax consists of the following types of payments:
- for the use (retrieval, extraction) of natural resources, pollutant emissions into the air, discharges of waste-water or pollutants into the environment, placing waste;
- for production and (or) import of plastic, glass containers, container-based paper and paper-board and other products, after the loss of consumer properties that generate waste, which have harmful effects on the environment and require the organization of systems of collection, disposal and (or) use as well as the importation of goods packed in plastic, glass bottles and containers on the basis of paper and paper-board;
- for the import and manufacture of products containing more than 50% of volatile organic compounds;
- for import into the territory of the Republic of Belarus of ozone-depleting substances.
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