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You are here: Home / The European environment – state and outlook 2010 / Country assessments / Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia

Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia

Freshwater (Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia)

Why should we care about this issue

Published: 26 Nov 2010 Modified: 13 Apr 2011


The hydrographical territory of Macedonia is a unique natural basin in the Balkan Peninsula and wider area, due to 84 % of the available water being internal waters and only 16 % external. There are four river basins: Vardar, Crn Drim, Strumica, and Juzna Morava. The river basin areas of the River Vardar and River Strumica that flow towards the Aegean Sea cover 86.9 % of the total territory of Macedonia.

There are three major natural lakes: Ohrid, Prespa, and Dojran, all three of which are shared with neighbouring countries. Of the 4 414 springs that exist in the country, only three are located in the area of the middle flow of the Vardar, the others are in the western regions. Only seven springs with very small yields have been registered in the eastern part of the country.

The annual available water resource is about 3 150m3per person, putting the country in the middle category of European countries in terms of available water resources. This quantity is close to the limit threshold of water resources needed for sustainable development.

Water users are irrigation with 44%, then nature (minimum accepted flows) with 31 %, followed by industry with 14 % and drinking water supply for the population and tourists only 11%.

Current and estimated water demand for the year 2020 is presented in Figures 1 and 2.

Demand estimates by river basin for the 2020 are shown in Figure 3.

Total water demand is divided between the river basins: the largest current demands are in the main basin in the country – the Vardar basin, 79 %, then the Crn Drim basin, 12 % and Strumica basin 9 %. Similar assumptions are for the future (Fig.3)

The state and impacts

Published: 26 Nov 2010 Modified: 13 Apr 2011
Key message
  • BOD 5 concentration in rivers has grown slightly
  • High BOD 5 concentrations have been recorded in the Vardar and Crna Reka rivers


The main area of higher biological oxygen demand (BOD) concentration is in the catchment of Vardar river, the main river basin in the country.  

A trend of rising BOD 5 and ammonium concentrations (Fig.4 and 5) was tracked in the rivers in the Republic of Macedonia at certain measuring points in the period 1988-2008. Eutrophic status with high BOD was particularly recorded in two rivers: Crna Reka and Vardar. These results could reflect the status of inefficient treatment of urban and industrial wastewaters in the country, as well as the inadequate protection of river basins.

Among the main reasons for the poor river water quality are also solid waste and wastewater discharge from almost all settlements.

The same applies to the concentration of nitrates and orthophosphates which are still at a high level with no substantial changes.

On the other hand, there has been well-documented improvement in the quality of bathing waters and also an improvement in drinking water quality.

Evaluation of the status  and description of the trends

During 1988-2006, the rising trend in BOD 5 and concentrations of ammonium in rivers were tracked at certain measuring points in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. In the Crna Reka and Vardar, eutrophic water status with a high BOD value was recorded. These results could reflect the inefficient treatment of urban and industrial wastewaters, as well as inadequate protection of river basins. The annual mean concentrations of nitrates and orthophosphates were relatively stable during the analysed period, 1988-2006. Increased annual mean values of these were, however, recorded at certain points in the River Vardar.

Throughout the observed period, the Ohrid lake sustained its oligotrophic nature with relatively stable concentrations of phosphorus and nitrates with annual mean concentrations below 0.015 mg/l and 0.55 mg/l respectively. Unfortunately, more recently the situation has been getting worse and is expected to show in the level of eutrophication. Significantly higher concentrations were found in the waters of the Prespa lake, where the content of organic matter has reached a high level, increasing the risk of eutrophication.

The key drivers and pressures

Published: 26 Nov 2010 Modified: 13 Apr 2011


Map 3: The most frequent critical areas in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia under conditions of rapid snow smelting with intensive rainfalls

Source: Hydro meteorological Directorate
Data source
Map 3: The most frequent critical areas in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia under conditions of rapid snow smelting with intensive rainfalls
Fullscreen image Original link

Use of freshwater resources (P)

The total quantity of water abstraction in the country is decreasing, especially from surface waters (Figure. 9).

The decreased quantity of surface and ground water abstracted for industry may be an indirect sign of the industrial crisis in the country, but even current industry is still the biggest user of groundwater (Figures 10 and 11). As per the spike in 2004 it should be emphasized that this was hydrologically  a very  reach year which among others resulted with a substantial increase of the quantities of water abstraction  especially by the Manufacturing industry and the area of production of electricity. As a consequence of this, the water quantities lost during the transport also were increased in 2004 (Fg.13)

Public water supply is still the highest user.

Wastewater discharge

Around 50% of the population in the country is connected to some sewerage network (Figure 13).

Most wastewater is discharged directly into inland waters with a serious bad effect on water quality (Figure 14).

Urban wastewater treatment (p)

In only 16 % of the public sewerage systems  in 2006 some kind of treatment exists, but in 50 % this is only mechanical treatment and there are very few treatment plants with biological treatment (Figure 15).

Evaluation of pressures

There is a general falling trend of the annual average discharges for all river basins. This is most marked in the region with moderate-continental-sub-Mediterranean climate. The results indicate that river basins with low precipitation would be severely affected by climate change.

The country has a severe problem with liquid waste treatment. In only around 6 % of populated settlements with public sewerage plants does municipal wastewater receive mechanical or biological treatment. Although this percentage has been increasing, it is not satisfactory in relation to EU requirements. The average rate of wastewater collection in sewerage collection systems is around 70 %, and around 60% of households are connected to a public sewerage network, 21% of households have septic tanks, and the remainder have uncontrolled discharge of wastewater. At present, there are six urban wastewater treatment plants and two are under construction. Although some rural areas with more than 2 000 inhabitants have developed combined domestic sewerage and storm-water collection systems, there is no treatment prior to discharge. Industrial wastewater is also discharged without prior treatment, or pre-treatment is in poorly maintained, inefficient facilities.

In general, the country has difficulties in coping with extreme hydrological events – droughts and floods – due to a lack of financial, technical and institutional capacity and legal instruments.

Analysis of the economic losses experienced during the flash floods in 2004 showed that 91.3 % of the total damage was to agricultural production, mainly in the south eastern part of the country. The biggest losses were in rural areas where both households and cultivated areas were flooded. Existing data suggest a sinusoidal pattern of dry and wet episodes, with a 60 year cycle. The current wet period is expected to peak in 2020.

The potential sites at most risk from flooding are shown in Map 3.

Frequent and intensive droughts exacerbate poor social and economic conditions in the rural parts of the south and east of the country. For example, a prolonged drought in 1993 reduced most of the crop yields and in many cases resulted in total crop failure. Countrywide, the damage caused amounted to 7.6 % of total national income.

The 2020 outlook

Published: 26 Nov 2010 Modified: 23 Nov 2010

Forecast of future change in water quantity and quality

An analysis has confirmed that climate change is already having a negative effect on three aspects water quality:

  1. reduced hydrological resources result in less dilution flow in rivers, leading to degraded water quality;
  2. higher temperatures reduce the dissolved oxygen content in water bodies; and
  3. in response to climate change, water uses, especially those for agriculture, increase the concentrations of pollutants released to waters.

The assessment projected a significant future reduction in the water resources of the country. More frequent drought periods and storm waters with increased intensity are expected. Total national water availability, especially in the catchment area of the Vardar river, is expected to decrease by approximately 18 % by 2100.

The summer season may be extended as a result of temperature rise, and higher water consumption is expected in tourist destinations that will require new water supply resources, as well as proper sewage treatment plants for households and industry. Increased peak periods and heat waves could also have a negative influence on water quality.

Climate change manifested through extreme events like high temperatures and droughts is expected to increase demand for drinking water. The projected  increase in drinking water demand for Skopje by 2100  could be  around 30 %.

Water demand up to the end of the 21st century will depend not only on climate change but also on the country’s socioeconomic development. There is no available national study of long-term expectations of socioeconomic development for 2050-2100.

Climate change is expected to increase demand for irrigation water. Since the major irrigation systems are located in the most vulnerable regions of the country, these will be directly affected by the reduced water availability.

Existing and planned responses

Published: 26 Nov 2010 Modified: 13 Apr 2011


Figure 16 presents the structure of expenditure over time for different categories of the water sector if implementation of the EU water Directives were to start immediately, without regard to the aforementioned resource constraints. This is a necessary first step, preliminary to an integrative process of extending the timetable, to be done within the national strategy.

In parallel with investments in wastewater treatment plants, the values of chemical oxygen demand (COD), total phosphates and total nitrates are expected to show a substantial decrease (Figure 17).

Policy context and solutions and actions taken by the country

The country still does not have a proper water strategy document.

The National Environmental Action Plan (NEAP 2) identified some policy and technical priorities for actions such as:

  • finalising the legislation, establishing a new organisational set up for water resource management, protecting water quality and maintaining the water balances of the three natural lakes: Ohrid, Prespa and Dojran in cooperation with the neighbouring countries;
  • protection of surface and groundwater from pollution by urban and industrial wastewaters, protection of the water quality of the reservoirs, especially those whose water is used for drinking water supply, recreation, sport and tourism;
  • improvement of rural drinking water supply and access to healthy drinking water;
  • investment in upgrading urban water supply systems;
  • improvement of urban public sewage systems through physical rehabilitation of the systems, upgrading, extension and modernisation;
  • extension and construction of rural sewerage systems and construction of isolated wastewater treatment plants;
  • improvement of the condition of irrigation systems through improvement of flood protection and erosion protection systems;
  • improvement of the water regime by construction of new multipurpose hydro-power systems;
  • introduction of water-saving measures for water consumption – pricing policy, introduction of irrigation methods for water saving, use of other sources for supply to industries, etc.;
  • improvement of the state monitoring network for waters and creating conditions for extending and populating the data base;
  • establishment and operation of local networks for water monitoring by local self-governing units;
  • protection of surface and underground waters from diffuse sources of pollution.

Under the Law on Waters (Official Gazette 98/08), the Ministry of Environment and Physical Planning (MEPP), in cooperation with public utilities, local and regional authorities, has identified the poor state of existing sewerage networks and wastewater treatment plants, as well as the need to provide new ones. The relevant activities have been planned for the period 2007-2015 for agglomerations of more than 2 000 people and in the period 2014-2025 for agglomerations of less than 2 000. Construction of sewerage networks is envisaged for the period 2008-2015 for larger agglomerations, and by 2025 for smaller ones. The development of detailed designs for new wastewater treatment plants will be provided through technical assistance projects, including construction in accordance with the adopted programmes. The construction has been planned to continue until 2025 by when full compliance with the Urban Wastewater Directive should be achieved. For this, the MEPP will need to identify the resources required to cover the costs of design, construction and maintenance of sewerage systems and wastewater treatment plants by users and set a fee collection system based on the polluter pays principle.


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