Water profile of Moldova

Source: FAO

Geography and Population

Moldova is a landlocked country in southeast Europe with a total area of 33,700 square kilometers (km2). It is bordered in the west by Romania and in the north, east and south by Ukraine. It became independent from the Soviet Union in 1991. For administrative purposes, Moldova is divided into 42 provinces.

The northern part of the country belongs to the Podole highland and the southern part to the Black Sea lowland. The average altitude is 147 meters (m) above sea level. The highest peak is 430 m above sea level and 75% of the country lies below an altitude of 200 m. Black soil, the world's most fertile soil, covers about 75% of Moldova's agricultural land. In the Soviet era, the country, representing only 0.15% of the total area of the Soviet Union, produced 40% of the Soviet Union's tobacco, 10% of its fruits, and 5% of its vegetables. However, the country's location makes it prone to marked changes in weather conditions, resulting in fluctuating agricultural production. The agricultural potential is concentrated in two regions:

caption Map of Moldova. (Source: FAO)

  • the north, with the rich black soils and the fertile Dnestr River valley;
  • the south, with its calcium soils (carbonate black soils) and warm climate, which make it particularly suitable for irrigated vineyards, as well as for peach and apricot orchards.

The cultivable area is estimated at almost 2.6 million hectares (ha), which is 76% of the total area of the country. In 1992, the cultivated area was estimated at 2.2 million ha, of which 1.7 million ha was occupied by annual crops and 0.5 million ha by permanent crops.

Although nearly 70% of the enterprises in the industrial sector (including food processing) have already been transferred to the private sector, privatization in the agricultural sector is still almost non-existent. According to the latest census (1992), kolkhoz (collective farms) occupy 60% of the agricultural land and sovkhoz (state farms) 20%. About 19% is in the hands of industrial enterprises and organizations, and only 1.5% is owned by private farms (Figure 1). In 1992, the number of registered private farms was 13,660 with an average area of 2.8 ha.

caption Figure 1. Land categories. (Source: FAO)

The total population is about 4.4 million (1996), of which 47% is rural. The average population density is 132 inhabitants/km2, which is the highest among the countries of the former Soviet Union (FSU). It ranges from 70 inhabitants/km2 in the south to more than 200 inhabitants/km2 in the central part of the country. Between 1988 and 1992, the population growth rate was 1.1% a year. Between 1992 and 1993, the population growth rate was negative, -0.3%, but has since risen again. In 1996, agriculture employed 30% of the economically active population. In 1992, women made up 32% of the agricultural labor force. About 25% of the total female labor force and 45% of the total male labor force are engaged in agriculture. In 1992, agriculture accounted 25% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Moldova's GDP declined by 40% between 1991 and 1994. In 1995, an increase of 0.3% was estimated, with an increase of 6% forecast for 1996.

Climate and Water Resources


The average annual precipitation is estimated at 450 millimeters (mm). Two climatological zones can be distinguished:

  • The semi-arid and warm zone of steppe, covering the south of the country (45%). The average annual precipitation varies from 370 mm in the extreme south to 450 mm in the southern part of the Dnestr valley, concentrated between May and October. Average temperatures vary between -3°C in January and 22°C in July.
  • The moderately warm zone of forested steppe, covering the northern and central parts of the country (55%). The average annual precipitation varies from 420 mm in the central part to 550 mm in the north, concentrated between May and October with the peak in June or July. Average temperatures vary between -4.5°C in January and 20.5°C in July.

River Basins and Water Resources

The country can be divided into three main river basins:

  • The Dnestr (called `Nistru' in Moldova) basin. It covers about 57% of the country. The Dnestr rises in Ukraine and forms the border between Ukraine and Moldova in parts of the north, northeast and southeast before flowing back into Ukraine, where it continues for some 20 kilometers (km) before reaching the Black Sea with an average annual discharge of 10 cubic kilometers (km3).
  • The Danube basin. It covers about 35% of the country. The Prut River, a tributary of the Danube, rises in Ukraine and forms the border between Moldova and Romania before flowing into the Danube just after crossing the border into Ukraine. The Danube River then continues for about 125 km before flowing into the Black Sea. Where the Prut River becomes the border between Romania and Moldova, its average annual flow is estimated at 2.9 km3. Its average discharge into the Danube is also estimated at 2.9 km3/year, which would mean that all the water generated between the northern and southern parts within Moldova and Romania is used. There are a number of small seasonal tributaries of the Danube in southern Moldova that flow into the Danube after having crossed the border to Ukraine.
  • The southern basins. In the south of the country, between the Dnestr and the Danube basins, several other rivers rise and flow across the border into Ukraine and then into the Black Sea. Their basins cover about 8% of the country.

Renewable Surface Water Resources (RSWR) by River Basin

Table 1. RSWR by river basin
Name of basin Part of total area Internal RSWR Inflow Total RSWR Outflow to:
 (%) km3/year km3/year from km3/year  
Dnestr 57 0.65 9.2 Ukraine 9.85 Ukraine
Danube: 35 0.29 1.45  1.74  
of which: Prut  0.24 1.45 Border with Romania 1.69 Ukraine
-Other  0.05 -  0.05 Ukraine
Southern basins 8 0.06 -  0.06 Ukraine
Total 100 1.00 10.65  11.65  

The total internal renewable surface water resources (IRSWR) are estimated at 1.00 km3/year (Figure 2). The total annual renewable surface water resources (ARSWR) are estimated at 11.65 km3/year. About 45% of the discharge of the Dnestr and Prut rivers takes place during the spring season due to snow melt in their upper catchment areas in Ukraine.

caption Figure 2. Internal renewable surface water resources by major basin. (Source: FAO)

The average annual renewable groundwater resources are estimated at 0.4 km3, but the water is often too mineralized to be used for domestic or irrigation purposes. The groundwater flow is estimated to be drained out into the river system (overlap) and therefore does not contribute to the IRWR.

International Agreements

The legislation of the FSU on water sharing issues still applies. This concerns the agreement with Romania of the 1960s on a 50-50% share of the water of the bordering Prut River and the former internal regulations between the Soviet republics. Under these regulations, Moldova has the right to use the water stored in the Cuciurgan reservoir on the border with Ukraine and in the Costesti reservoir on the Prut, as well as to construct tanks on the tributaries of the border rivers.



Artificial Ponds in Moldova

Table 2. Artificial Ponds in Moldova
Name of basin Number of Ponds Total capacity (million m3 Year of construction
Dnestr 1,219 626  
-of which:    
--Dubasari reservoir  485 1954
--Cuciurgan reservoir  88 1964
Danube (mainly Prut) 1,175 1,355  
-of which:    
--Costesti reservoir  1,085 1976

Lakes and Dams

There are few natural lakes in Moldova. The largest one is Lake Beleu in the Prut valley with a surface area of 6.3 km2.

There are 2,519 artificial ponds in Moldova, constructed for irrigation purposes, flow regulation, and fishing pools. Most are small ponds for local use with a surface area of up to 3 ha. Their total storage capacity is 2.02 km3, which is equal to more than twice the IRWR of the country.

Water Use and Wastewater

caption Figure 3. Water use. (Source: FAO)

In 1992, the total water use was estimated at 2,963 million m3. This includes the use of water for hydropower. Of this total, 22% was used for irrigation purposes (Figure 3). The quantity of treated wastewater amounted to 296 million m3 in 1992.

Irrigation and Drainage Development

Irrigation Development

Between 1918 and 1940, when the part of Moldova to the west of the Dnestr River was part of Romania, the first ponds were constructed in the Prut basin. Large-scale water resources development started after the Second World War when the country was part of the Soviet Union.

In 1994, irrigation was estimated to cover 312,000 ha. The irrigation water is stored in reservoirs and ponds, built on the rivers, and pumped into the main irrigation canals. The three largest schemes are: the Rabnita in the Dnestr valley, with a total area of 24,000 ha; and the Suklei and Etuliy irrigation schemes, with an area of 10,000 ha each. Furrow irrigation is practised on about 98% of the area equipped for irrigation (305,000 ha). Micro-irrigation is used on 3,600 ha of orchards and vineyards. On the remaining area, sprinkler irrigation is used for some vegetables and on some permanent meadows (Figure 4). However, other sources indicate that most of the irrigated land is equipped with sprinkler irrigation, a large part of the equipment being out of use. No groundwater is used for irrigation due to its unsuitable quality.

caption Figure 4. Irrigation techniques. (Source: FAO)

Irrigation is mainly concentrated in the central and southern parts of the country, in the Dnestr and Prut valleys. Between 1985 and 1992, an average of 2,500 ha/year were equipped for irrigation.

The irrigation potential has been estimated at 1.5 million ha. About 30% of this irrigation potential, or 500,000 ha, is located in the Dnestr basin, 200,000 ha in the area surrounding the Costesti reservoir on the Prut River, and another 200,000 ha in the extreme south, if using water stored in the Ukrainian Ialpug and Cahul lakes close to the border. The remaining areas consist of extension possibilities of the existing schemes (mainly in the Dnestr basin) and of areas scattered all over the country. On most of these lands, rainfed agriculture is currently practiced or they are used as pastures. The anticipated water requirements for the development of the irrigation potential are estimated at 4.5-5 km3/year. The problem in general is the low water quality: soil analyses have revealed that after 10-15 years of irrigation some soils have become highly alkaline.

caption Figure 5. Irrigated crops. (Source: FAO)

In 1986, about 34% of the irrigated land was used for the production of fodder crops, 22% for potatoes and vegetables (mainly tomatoes), and 22% for cereal production (mainly winter wheat and maize). Orchards and vineyards occupied another 15% of the irrigated area (Figure 5). About 70% of the country's vegetable production, 28% of its potato production and 30% of the production of fodder crops comes from irrigated land. In 1982, the yield of irrigated wheat reached 4.0-4.2 tonnes per hectare (t/ha) and the yield of irrigated maize over 5 t/ha, while on rainfed land the yields were 3.3 and 3.6 t/ha respectively.

Water charges were introduced in the Soviet Union in 1982, varying from one region to another, but never actually collected. It is expected that they will be enforced in Moldova, in connection with land privatization.

Drainage Development

caption Figure 6. Drainage techniques. (Source: FAO)

In 1992, the drained area was estimated at 42,000 ha. About 70% was equipped with subsurface drains, usually pipes, located in the area equipped for irrigation (Figure 6). Drainage is mainly concentrated in the central and southern parts of the country. It is planned to reclaim and drain about 200,000 ha in the river valleys in the south.

Institutional Environment

The most important institutions involved in water resources development and management are:

  • The Ministry of Agriculture and Food. In the early 1990s its Department of Water Resources was replaced by the state consortium `AQUA', which is associated to the Ministry and responsible for the planning of and investment in irrigation and drainage.
  • The Ministry of Communal Services and Exploitation of Natural Resources, with its Department of Water Supply for Domestic Use and Wastewater Treatment.
  • The State Office of Protection of Natural Resources, an independent government institution. Its Department of Licensing of Use of Natural Resources authorizes irrigation and drainage projects.
  • Several scientific institutions:
    • The Agrarian University in Chisinau with its Faculty of Hydraulics;
    • The Research Institute of Irrigated Cultures in Balti, in the north of the country;
    • The A. N. Dimo Memorial Agricultural Institute in Chisinau;
    • The Agrarian Section of the Academy of Sciences in Chisinau.

Trends in Water Resources Management

At present, the government of Moldova's main interest is the extension of the irrigation of plantations (orchards and vineyards). Under the 1996-2000 Five Year Plan, irrigation development on 25,000 ha of new plantations is planned. The following two five year plans, envisage irrigation development on 28,000 ha and 30,000 ha respectively. This corresponds to an average annual development of 5,000, 5,600 and 6,000 ha respectively. In the period 1985-1992, an average of 2,500 ha/year were developed for irrigation.

Another target is the replacement of the outdated irrigation and drainage equipment on about 10,000 ha within the next few years.

While there are plans to privatize the agricultural sector, so far privatization has mainly been limited to the industrial sector.

The two main rivers of Moldova, the Dnestr and Prut, are fairly polluted. An international program exists for the protection of the Danube, especially its delta, and the Prut River is part of this program. An environmental protection campaign is being conducted through the media. This includes reports on the dangers of the pollution of the Dnestr and Prut rivers.

Further Reading

  • Gavrilita, A. 1994. Water management: history of irrigation (Apa-bogatia cea mai de pret: din istoria irigarii). University of Chisinau. 129 p.
  • Ministry of Agriculture. 1988. Problems of soil improvement in Moldova (Voprosy melioracii zemel v Moldavii). The Frunze Memorial Agriculture Institute, Kishinev. 88 p.
  • Ministry of Agriculture and Food. 1995. Water resources of Moldova. Drought and complex measures of combating it (Apele Moldavei. Seceta si masurile complexe de combatere). Chisinau. 269 p.
  • Ministry of Agriculture and Food. 1995. Recommendations for combating drought (Recomendari si indrumari priviud combaterea secetai). Chisinau 40 p.
  • Roscovan, M. et al. 1994. Communal sector during the transition (Gospodaria comunala in perioade de tranzitie). Chisinau. 47 p.
  • Snegovoi, V.S. et al. 1988. Problems of water use and protection (Problemy ispolzovannia i ohorony vod Moldavii). Academy of Sciences, Kishinev. 79 p.
  • State Department of Statistics. 1994. Statistical yearbook of Moldova 1992 (Anuarul Statistic Al Republicii Moldova 1992). Chisinau. 372 P.

Disclaimer: This article is taken wholly from, or contains information that was originally published by, the Food and Agriculture Organization. Topic editors and authors for the Encyclopedia of Earth may have edited its content or added new information. The use of information from the Food and Agriculture Organization should not be construed as support for or endorsement by that organization for any new information added by EoE personnel, or for any editing of the original content.



(2008). Water profile of Moldova. Retrieved from http://www.eoearth.org/view/article/51cbef307896bb431f69cf74


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