In recent years, the issue of water security has been gaining traction in the global political agenda and earning attention from national governments at the highest level. Water security offers opportunities for cooperation, collaboration, and for addressing challenges in a multi-disciplinary and cross-sectoral way, to manage continued, sustainable development and growth.
Framing the water challenge in terms of water security suggests a dynamic construct that goes beyond single-issues, such as access to water or sanitation, and requires us to think more broadly about achievements with respect to water management.
For instance, in terms of water allocation, water security recognizes that there is not one temporal ‘optimal’ water allocation between multiple users. Any optimal allocation scenario is dynamic; the share of water allocated to a certain user may shift depending on changing environmental and socio-economic conditions. Achieving water security is a dynamic goal and the context for achievement is a constantly evolving world.
Despite the wealth of water resources, favorable soil and climatic conditions, and a strong institutional and regulatory framework, Bulgaria continues to face considerable challenges in the modernization of its water infrastructure and in the ability of its responsible institutions to meet development goals. Achieving appropriate levels of water security requires safeguarding sustainable access to adequate quantities of acceptable-quality water for sustaining livelihoods, human well-being, and socio-economic development; for ensuring protection against water-borne pollution and water-related disasters; and for preserving ecosystems in a climate of peace and political stability.
Effective implementation of concepts like integrated water resources management and integrated risk management of floods and droughts are essential in the process of adapting to the increased hydrological variability caused by climate change.
Adequate institutional capacity requires good information, competent institutions, and considerable financial resources. This is a challenge common to every country – how to effectively coordinate between different institutions and speak in one voice.
In the face of climate change, we believe that Bulgaria needs to increase the preparedness of its water sector to moderate the impact of recurrent floods and droughts and, at the same time, meet the needs of both the population and the demands of key economic sectors like agriculture, urban development, energy, and natural ecosystems.
Most dams in Bulgaria were built between 1956 and 1985. During the transition period that followed, all construction projects were abandoned - leaving thousands of Bulgarians without a reliable water supply. Although almost all Bulgarians have access to drinking water in their homes, a significant number of people still suffer seasonal water rationing owing to uncompleted dam projects.
These problems are compounded by the fact that many water networks now need to be upgraded and wastewater collection and treatment systems extended. Therefore, significant investments are needed to ensure that water quality and sustainable use of water resources comply with the requirements of relevant European Union (EU) directives.
Bulgaria is trying to achieve progress and advance this important agenda, but still more efforts are needed, including increased ownership and strengthened leadership in the area of water management and security.
World Bank engagement in the water sector in Bulgaria
The World Bank Group (WBG) - the largest multilateral source of financing for water supply and sanitation (WSS) in the world - currently supervises a WSS lending portfolio of approximately $13.5 billion, which represents more than half of all its water-related operations.
The World Bank has a long and fruitful partnership with the Government of Bulgaria. The World Bank currently supports the sustainability of water resources through an ongoing lending operation and past support strategy development in: (i) Water Supply and Sanitation and (ii) Irrigation, drainage and flood protection.
According to the new 10-year strategy for the sector, rehabilitation and construction of water supply and sewerage networks will require BGN 12 billion (€6 billion). However, EU funds will cover only 30–40% of the total capital investments needed until 2020. The rest should come from the national budget and the WSS utilities. This requires improved efficiency and adjusted pricing to ensure that financing for the water sector is affordable and sustainable.
The World Bank-supported Municipal Infrastructure Development Project responds to the government’s priorities of rehabilitating and completing construction of water supply and sewerage networks to improve service delivery and reduce health risks, as well as wastewater treatment systems in line with EU directives.
Two of the eight priority water supply dams (Luda Yana and Plovdivtsi) are included in this project, and a third (Studena) is included for rehabilitation. Upon completion of this project, it is expected that 170,000 more Bulgarians will benefit from a reliable and quality water supply.