Romania becoming a desert

The climate is changing in Romania. The land is being dried up by increasingly hot summers, torrential downpours are becoming the norm and the side-effects of rapid economic growth are damaging the environment.

Parts of eastern Romania have become so arid that farming is impossible and in other areas, over-grazing threatens to destroy all plant life and usher in an era of desertification.

The Romanian city of Giurgui is located on the banks of the Danube, by the Bulgarian border. The temperature in Giurgiu reached 47 degrees celsius last month and Bucharest, Romania’s capital, is often hotter than 40 degrees. Romania’s agricultural sector is being decimated by these unusually high temperatures, and what is not dried up by the sun is often carried away by an increasing number of floods.

Despite the torrential downpours, water supplies have never been more unstable. As Romania’s economy starts to boom, new factories, supermarkets and houses are being constructed with a frenzy that has never been seen here before. Each of these new units consumes a lot of water and there is an absence of regulations limiting water consumption. There are no restrictions about sinking new boreholes, no recycling of waste water, no hosepipe bans, no debate about water resources or the need for regulations.

Romania’s groundwater sources are not only falling but they are being increasingly contaminated by pollution. One of the features of Romania’s cities is the presence of massive garbage dumps, many of which are located by rivers and all of which leach toxins into the groundwater.

In Bucharest, a city of 2 million, the outlying village of Glina has a smoking rubbish heap the size of a small town. Only a handful of Romania’s cities have garbage recycling systems and it does not seem to be an issue of urgent political or public interest.

Since joining the EU in January this year, little progress has been made on any of these issues – although Structural Funds for environmental projects should become available from 2008.

One effect of EU membership has been the dramatic increase in the purchase of agricultural land by foreign investors, but these plots tend to be too small and scattered to justify modern farming and they are allowed to go fallow.

At the same time, increasing numbers of Romanian peasants (about a third of the population) are giving up farming the land completely and more land is being left to the elements.

Tree planting campaign
A massive tree planting campaign would address many of these problems. Forests are a good way to protect vulnerable land from excessive heat and they can also soak up a lot of the torrential rain before flooding occurs.

British environmental writer George Monbiot advises policy makers to collect rainwater in order to prepare for future water shortages, and while this is feasible for individual buildings it isn’t practical for large tracts of land. What better way of retaining the water (and slowly releasing it) than trees?

Romania has a relatively good forestry management system and large parts of mountain area are covered in pine and mixed hardwoods. But there is increasing demand for timber from industry, a very lucrative export market, and more trees urgently need to be planted.

Currently in Romania, trees are only planted in mountainous or hilly areas. But this could change and forests should be planted in the low lying areas which have been abandoned or allowed to go fallow.

A range of incentives should be provided for landowners and local authorities to encourage tree planting, and urgent measures should be taken to deal with those areas that have already become semi-desert.

But planting trees shouldn’t be just about forests. Lines of trees can be planted by the sides of fields and these can play an important double role of soaking up excess water as well as acting as a wind break. And there is nothing more attractive than a single oak tree in the middle of a field.

Alternative to agriculture
Forestry can also provide a viable alternative to agriculture. Not only can trees provide an income from the sale of timber, but fruit and nut trees (both of which flourish in Romania) can provide the basis for new businesses. Forests are also of interest to tourists, as well as for locals trying to escape the heat of the city

Only extensive tree coverage will protect Romania’s land from the pattern of heatwaves and floods that is currently afflicting Romania.

A massive tree planting campaign would also provide short term employment and medium term profit for Romania’s peasant farmers – who are feeling increasingly vulnerable now that they are part of the Common Agriculture Project.

This article was also published in the EUObserver.

5 Responses to Romania becoming a desert

  1. leuisc says:

    Hi

    Very much for a long time searched for article on this theme.Thanks.
    good by

  2. great article but can we hear what the authorities are going to do about it?

  3. Rupert Wolfe Murray says:

    What are the Romanian authorities doing about it? The answer is simple: Nothing !

  4. Rob Leather says:

    Nearly thirty years ago I visited Romania on holiday and went on a day trip out into the desert area of Romania to visit an ancient and abandoned Roman town.

    Still present in the town were the ruins of Roman attempts to capture rainwater in reservoirs, eventually they lost the battle and moved elsewhere.

    Has it really taken 2000 years for us to notice? Or is this a case of an old story being brought up to date.

    In incidentally, temperatures 30 years ago were in the same ranges.

    I guess the real environmental message here relates to the polution issues brought about by bad management

  5. We have a small farm near Tirgu Mures. In the last few years we have seen the worst hail storm in living memory (seriously – golf ball size) that decimated small fruit trees. We have been cursed wth either drought that leaves four inch deep cracks in the fields, and downpours that create virtual rivers in those same fields. Young people don’t want to get into farming because they see the trauma experienced by their elders, and big farms are also in trouble because feed suply is inconsistent. The people in our village are upset that water and sewage pipes are being installed: it is seen as a useless expense when everyone has a well and a privy out back. The fact that many of the wells were dry at the end of last summer scares the life out of everybody, especially because so many people have 1-3 cows and need water for them as well as the home, but it doesn’t negate the fact that people think sewage treatment and water supply will be just one more thing to pay for. We got rubbish pick-up last year – compulsory payment and very few use it because Romanian village people re-cycle everything! Refuse goes in the stove to be burnt to provide heat for cooking and heating, and any foodstuffs go to the pigs and the chickens. Beer bottles go back to the shop from whence they came. Cola bottles have thousands of uses – temporary deposits of petrol, cut up to form a funnel, cloches for new plants in the veggie garden. I sadly believe that our little corner of the world will be a dramaticaly changed place in 20 years and not for the better, but I don’t think very many other people really take the present situation seriously. The news programs and television certainly don’t give too many hints that anything is amiss. Maybe its just as well… the people I know in the villages have no power to change anything. Why scare them silly about the future of their children and grandchildren?

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