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.