Nowhere on Earth have such demonstrable water quality and ecosystem improvements been observed in a large river and adjacent sea as in the Danube River/Black Sea system over the last decade. As a result of Basin countries efforts, including GEF–funded investments, nitrogen emissions have decreased about 20% and phosphorus almost 50% in the Danube Basin/Black Sea in the last 15 years.
In the 1970s and 1980s, the Black Sea ecosystem suddenly collapsed. Vast amounts of dead plants and animals covered the beaches of Romania and western Ukraine, and between 1973 and 1990, losses were estimated as 60 million tons of bottom animals including 5 million tons of fish. The catastrophe was a consequence of eutrophication – the over-enrichment of water bodies with organic matter which results in lack of oxygen and severe reductions in water quality and in fish and other animal populations. The effects of eutrophication were felt across the entire Black Sea.
What contributed to the water pollution in the Black Sea and Danube Basin region was, for example, the discharge of insufficiently treated sewage. Such discharges constitute a threat to public health and in some cases pose a barrier to the development of sustainable tourism and aquaculture. Black Sea ecosystem is also affected by oil pollution, radioactive substances, and solid waste. Toxic substances such as pesticides and heavy metals do not appear to pollute the entire Black Sea but form "hot spots" near well-identified sources. Hot spots - the main points discharging high levels of pollution loads originating from domestic or industrial sources –on the coast of the Black Sea affect human health, ecosystems, sustainability or economy. 49 hot spots have been identified in the region, including 9 in Bulgaria, 6 in Georgia, 6 in Romania, 8 in Russia, 10 in Turkey and 10 in Ukraine. The possible trans boundary effects of hot spots may involve: fisheries, resulting in a decline in productive capacity; destruction of wetlands and habitat of migratory fauna; biodiversity, by endangering some species located in the region; landscape, by reducing the regional value of Black Sea tourism; accidents polluting trans boundary zones; and public health.
The most significant process degrading the Black Sea has been the massive over-fertilization of the sea by compounds of nitrogen and phosphorus, largely as a result of agricultural, domestic and industrial sources. This over-fertilization produces eutrophication, which has changed the structure of the Black Sea ecosystem. The nitrogen and phosphorus compounds (nutrients) enter the Black Sea from sources from the 17 countries in its drainage basin, particularly through rivers. It is estimated that the six Black Sea countries contribute about 70% of the total amount of the substances flowing to the Black Sea as waste from human activities. Some of this amount and almost all of the remaining 30% (from the other eleven non-coastal countries) enter the Sea via the Danube River.
Ten World Bank Group projects supported by the Investment Fund for Nutrient Reduction financed by Global Environmental Facility (GEF) since 2002 have been very successful in piloting measures to reduce nutrient loads entering the Black Sea and Danube Basin. The projects in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Moldova, Romania, Serbia and Turkey supported, among others:
- introduction of innovative low-cost wastewater treatment methods (BiH, Moldova);
- promoting wetlands as environmentally and economically valuable investments benefiting populations (e.g. Bulgaria);
- restoring degraded land and reducing soil erosion (e.g. Moldova), introducing waste segregation and water quality monitoring (Romania);
- constructing manure management facilities and promoting organic farming (e.g. Turkey).
GEF Strategic Partnership on Black Sea and Danube Basin
The projects were part of the Global Environment Facility (GEF) Strategic Partnership on Black Sea and Danube Basin. The partnership is a multilateral structure established with the cooperation of the World Bank (WB), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), and other financiers, as well as basin countries to address the degradation of the Black Sea and Danube Basin region. The Strategic Partnership launched in 2001 with an initial funding of $95 million in GEF grants, is an initiative coordinated among UN agencies and the World Bank in support of a country-driven program that addresses the key concern of this basin: pollution from nutrients and subsequent eutrophication that is the cause of many environmental and water use problems.
The GEF Investment Fund for Nutrient Reductions managed by the World Bank, was established to catalyze investments and accelerate action by other stakeholders interested in the recovery of the Black Sea. It aimed to leverage US$210 million to complement US$70 million GEF grant funds for nutrient reduction investments in the agriculture, and municipal and industrial wastewater treatment sectors and for wetland restoration.