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North Macedonia

Fresh water resources Macedonia

Fresh water resources in numbers - Macedonia

The hydrographical territory of Macedonia is a unique natural basin in the Balkan Peninsula and wider area, due to 84% of the available water quantities being domicile waters while only 16% are external waters. There are four river basins in the country, of which the river basin areas of the River Vardar and River Strumica cover 86.9% of the total territory. There are three major natural lakes in Macedonia: Ohrid, Prespa, and Dojran. All of them are shared with neighbouring countries (5).

The annual water resources per capita are about 3,150 m3/year, which categorize the country in the middle category of the European countries upon the available water resources per capita. Also, these data are close to the limit threshold of water resources needed for sustainable development. The average value for annual water resources per capita for Europe is 10,680 m3/year (5).

Irrigation is the major user of the total water demands in the country, about 40%. According to the 2002 census, the number of households connected to public systems for water supply in urban areas is 82% to 100%. In rural areas, this percentage varies between 10 and 100. For urban water supply, both surface and ground water are used, as well as a combination of the two sources (5).

Vulnerabilities - Macedonia

The assessed rate of reduction of the effective rain for 2050 is around 15% for the regions under the prevailing mountainous-Alpine climate impacts (represented by the stations at Lazaropole, Popova Sapka, and Solunska Glava), around 20% to 23% for the southwestern part of Macedonia under the continental climate impacts (represented by the stations at Ohrid and Resen), and around 35% to 40% for other regions of Macedonia. The estimated rate of reduction of the effective rain for 2100 is around 30% for the regions under the prevailing mountainous-Alpine climate impacts, around 45% for the southwestern part of Macedonia under the continental climate impacts and around 70% for other regions of Macedonia (6).

Taking into consideration the reduction of effective rain and the fact that 84% of the available water quantities are formed on the territory of the country, it is obvious that this high rate of reduction of effective rain is going to cause a drastic reduction of the available water quantities until the end of this century (6).

Developed scenarios for climate change impact on the water resources show that (6):

  • Groundwater recharge for the river Vardar catchment area will continuously decrease in the future reaching approximately 57.6% of the current recharge quantity in 2100;
  • Annual discharges for the rivers Vardar, Treska, and Bregalnica show a decreasing trend, up to 10% in 2025, up to 16% in 2050, and up to 24% in 2100;
  • Dry spells and flash floods are expected to occur more often and with increased intensity;
  • The eastern part of the country shall experience more severe and longer water deficiency than the western part.
  • In conclusion, the overall water availability in the country (Vardar river basin) for the year 2100 is expected to be reduced by 18% (estimate ranging from 13 to 23%).

Water demand in the country up to the end of the 21st Century will depend not only on climate change but also on the country’s socio-economic developments. There is no available national study of long-term expectations on socio-economic development for 2050 and 2100. Climate change manifested through extreme events, such as high temperatures and droughts, is expected to increase the drinking water demands. The prognostic value of any increase upon the drinking water demands of Skopje could be around 30%. Climate change is expected to have a negative impact on the irrigation through increasing the irrigation water requirements. Since the major irrigation systems are located in the most vulnerable regions of the country, they will be directly affected by the reduced available resources (6).

Presently, agriculture constitutes approximately 40% of water demand and is the number one water consumer in the country (20). It is highly likely that demand for irrigation water in current or formerly irrigated areas will substantially increase. Pressure on water resources will grow further as some areas that did not formerly have irrigation will require it under changing climate conditions (5).

The likely effects of climate change on the water resources of the eastern Mediterranean and Middle East region have been investigated using a high-resolution regional climate model (PRECIS) by comparing precipitation simulations of 2040–2069 and 2070–2099 with 1961–1990 (21). The projected change in internal water resources is assumed to be the same as the projected change in precipitation. Macedonia is expected to face a 10% decrease in precipitation by midcentury, with the decrease reaching 14% by the end of the century. With population projected to decline by a similar amount as precipitation and water resources, there is no need for Macedonia to anticipate any significant change in per capita water resources by midcentury. Demographic change is likely to bring greater change to its economy than climate change.

Fresh water resources in numbers - Mediterranean basin

The Mediterranean basin is 3,800 km long and 400 to 740 km wide. It takes 90 years for the water in this sea to be completely renewed. Hence, it is especially susceptibility to pollution. The population is between 150 and 250 million depending on whether just the actual coastal strip is taken into account or the drainage basin of the Mediterranean (4).

Fresh water resources in numbers - Europe

By 2005 for Europe as a whole (including New Member States and Accession Countries) some 38% of the abstracted water was used for agricultural purposes, while domestic uses, industry and energy production account for 18%, 11%, and 33%, respectively (2). However, large differences exist across the continent.

In Malta, Cyprus and Turkey, for example, almost 80% of the abstracted water is used for agriculture, and in the southwestern countries (Portugal, Spain, France, Italy, Greece) still about 46% of the abstracted water is used for this purpose. In the central and northern countries (Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Ireland, Luxembourg, Netherlands, UK, and Scandinavia), to the contrary, agricultural use of the abstracted water is limited to less than 5%, while more than 50% of the abstracted water goes into energy production (a non-consumptive use) (2).

Southern countries use ca. three times more water per unit of irrigated land than other parts of Europe. The large amount of water dedicated to irrigation in the southern countries is problematic since most of these countries have been classified as water stressed, and face problems associated with groundwater over-abstraction such as aquifer depletion and salt water intrusion (3).

Vulnerabilities - Europe

Water availability in the Mediterranean is highly sensitive to changes in climate conditions). In the last century the Mediterranean basin has experienced up to 20 % reduction in precipitation (2). Such a trend is expected to worsen with increasing demand for water and reduction in rainfall in the region (1).Future projection of this trend will reduce drastically water supplies in these areas, affecting considerably the population and economy of the Mediterranean countries (6).

In south-eastern Europe annual rainfall and river discharge have already begun to decrease in the past few decades (7).

Water stress will increase over central and southern Europe. The percentage area under high water stress is likely to increase from 19% today to 35% by the 2070s, and the additional number of people affected by the 2070s is expected to be between 16 million and 44 millions. The most affected regions are southern Europe and some parts of central and eastern Europe, where summer flows may be reduced by up to 80%. The hydropower potential of Europe is expected to decline on average by 6% but by 20 to 50% around the Mediterranean by the 2070s (8).

Annual average runoff in southern Europe (south of 47°N) decreases by 0 to 23% up to the 2020s and by 6 to 36% up to the 2070s, for the SRES A2 and B2 scenarios and climate scenarios from two different climate models (8). Summer low flow may decrease by up to 80% in some rivers in southern Europe (9,10).Other studies (1) indicate a decrease in annual average runoff of 20–30 % by the 2050s and of 40–50 % by the 2075s in southeastern Europe.

Climate change must be seen in the context of multi-decadal variability, which will lead to different amounts of water being available over different time periods even in the absence of climate change. … the average standard deviation in 30-year average annual runoff is typically under 6% of the mean, but up to 15% in dry regions (11).

Temperature rise and changing precipitation patterns may also lead to a reduction of groundwater recharge (12) and hence groundwater level. This would be most evident in southeastern Europe. Higher water temperature and low level of runoff, particularly in the summer, could lead to deterioration in water quality (13). Inland waters in southern Europe are likely to have lower volume and increased salinisation (14).

Most studies on water supply and demand conclude that annual water availability would generally increase in northern and northwestern Europe and decrease in southern and southeastern Europe (1). In the agricultural sector, irrigation water requirements would increase mainly in southern and southeastern Europe (15). The risk of drought increases mainly in southern Europe. For southern and eastern Europe the increasing risk from climate change would be amplified by an increase in water withdrawals (16).

Water shortages due to extended droughts will also affect tourism flows, especially in southeast Mediterranean where the maximum demand coincides with the minimum availability of water resources (5).

Fresh water resources in numbers - Wordwide

In the absence of climate change, the future population in water-stressed watersheds depends on population scenario and by 2025 ranges from 2.9 to 3.3 billion people (36–40% of the world’s population). By 2055 5.6 billion people would live in water-stressed watersheds under the A2 population future (the A2 storyline has the largest population), and ‘‘only’’ 3.4 billion under A1/B1(1).

Climate change increases water resources stresses in some parts of the world where runoff decreases, including around the Mediterranean, in parts of Europe, central and southern America, and southern Africa. In other water-stressed parts of the world, particularly in southern and eastern Asia, climate change increases runoff, but this may not be very beneficial in practice because the increases tend to come during the wet season and the extra water may not be available during the dry season (1).

Europe: five lake categories

There are almost one and a half million lakes in Europe, if small water bodies with an area down to 0.001 km2 are included. The total area of lakes is over 200,000 km2; in addition the manmade reservoirs cover almost 100,000 km2. The response of European lakes to climate change can be discussed by dividing the lakes into five categories (18):

Deep, temperate lakes

Typical representatives of this class are e.g. Lakes Maggiore, Ohrid, Geneva and Constance with mean depths of 177, 164, 153 and 90 meters, respectively. Due to the great depth and relatively mild winters, there is usually no ice cover. The future climate change in Europe may suppress the turnover in deep lakes. This implies the enhancement of anoxic bottom conditions and an increased risk of eutrophication. The oxygen conditions can also be anticipated to deteriorate due to increased bacterial activity in deep waters and surficial bottom sediment.

Shallow, temperate lakes

Balaton (600 km2, 3 m) in Hungary and Müritz (114 km2, 8 m) in Germany belong to this class. Increasing water temperatures may result in intensified primary production and bacterial composition. The probability of harmful extreme events, e.g. mass production of blue-green algae, will increase. The impacts may extend to fish life; changes in species composition and reduced fish catches will be anticipated. The use of the expression 'thermal pollution' is well justified for these lakes.

Boreal lakes

Ladoga (17 670 km2, 51 m), Onega (9670 km2, 30 m) and Vänern (5670 km2, 27 m) are the largest in this class, being also the three largest lakes in Europe. This group includes about 120 lakes with an area exceeding 100 km2. Most lakes of the boreal zone mix from top to bottom during two mixing periods each year. Shortening of the ice cover period will be the most obvious consequence of climate change in these lakes. This could improve the oxygen conditions in winter and spring.

Arctic lakes

These are mainly small water bodies in northern Scandinavian mountains and in the tundra region. Arctic lakes are generally considered to be particularly sensitive to environmental changes. Melting permafrost may seriously threaten the ecosystems of arctic lakes. In some cases the whole lake may disappear as a consequence of ground thaw and enhanced evaporation.

Mountain lakes

To this class belong all high altitude lakes in central Europe and also those located in southern Scandinavia. Even if mountain lakes were connected by channels, physical and ecological constraints limit species migration between them. In a warming climate, there is no escape route; the only possibility for survival is adaptation.

South-eastern Europe: four types of lakes

In order to discuss the effect of climate change to lakes in south-eastern Europe, the region is divided into three climatic sub regions. The main characteristic in this subdivision is the mean temperature in January, because the severity of winter has an essential influence to the lakes. The sub regions and the anticipated influences of climate change, around the year 2050, are as follows (18):

The Mediterranean sub region

In today's climate the mean temperature varies in January between +10 and -2°C, in July it is generally 20 - 25°C. This sub region covers the narrow coastal area on the Adriatic Sea, most of the Greek territory and the lowlands on the southwest side of the Black Sea.

Only the smallest lakes have short ice cover season every winter in today's climate, in the future climate ice will be almost non-existent. Summertime water temperatures will get very high, leading to algal and water quality problems. Water balance will be negatively affected by climate change; evaporation will increase and inflows tend to decrease. The use of lakes as water sources, e.g. for rising needs of irrigation, will be limited.

In today's climate, the runoff in the Adriatic part of this sub region is generally over 1000 mm, while it ranges between 30 and 200 mm in the vicinity of the Black Sea. The difference of lake precipitation and lake evaporation is 200 - 600 mm in the former area, whereas it is between -200 and -400 mm in the latter. In the climate of 2050, shallow lakes in the latter area will become intermittent and reservoirs will have considerably high water losses.

Northern lowlands

Mean temperature in January is between -5 and -2°C, in July around 20°C. This sub region covers large parts of Hungary, eastern Croatia, central parts of Serbia, southern and eastern Romania, and Moldova. As to the runoff, this is the driest area in south-eastern Europe; in Hungary and on the Black Sea coast annual runoff is locally less than 20 mm. The difference of lake precipitation and lake evaporation is between 0 and -300 mm.

In today's climate most lakes in this sub region mix from top to bottom during two mixing periods each year and have an ice cover for 1-3 months. They may still freeze in 2050, but the possibility of ice-free winters will increase. Adverse water balance changes may affect many lakes; intermittency and increased salinity can be anticipated.

Mountaineous regions

South-eastern Europe is topographically one of the most diverse regions in the world. In addition to two main mountain ranges, Carpathians and Dinaric Alps, there are numerous other ridges and plateaus. At highest elevations, mean temperature in January can be as low as -10°C and extremes below -30°C have been recorded. In July typical mean temperatures are between 10 and 20°C. Precipitation is generally abundant but very variable even at small scale.

Most lakes are located in river valleys, but smaller ones occur also at high plateaus and depressions. Ice cover season may be as long as 5-6 months, snow on lakes further reduces the penetration of radiation into the water mass. Some of the highest lakes mix once a year but mixing twice a yearis much more common.

Climate change may not cause very harmful changes in water balance of these lakes. Increased erosion by intense precipitation may lead to sedimentation and degradation of water quality. At lower elevations, the occurrence of ice cover may become uncertain. For water supply, the mountain lakes and river basins will probably be very important in south-eastern Europe in the future, because run-off may considerably decrease at lower altitudes.

Underground (karstic) lakes

This is a special type of lakes. Due to the karstic geology, there are underground lakes in the Balkan region. They are not immune to the impacts of climate change; in fact their water balance and ecology may be sensitive to changes of the quantity and quality of inflowing waters.  

Adaptation strategies

EU policy orientations for future action

According to the EU, policy orientations for the way forward are (19):

  • Putting the right price tag on water;
  • Allocating water and water-related funding more efficiently: Improving land-use planning, and Financing water efficiency;
  • Improving drought risk management: Developing drought risk management plans, Developing an observatory and an early warning system on droughts, and Further optimising the use of the EU Solidarity Fund and European Mechanism for Civil Protection;
  • Considering additional water supply infrastructures;
  • Fostering water efficient technologies and practices;
  • Fostering the emergence of a water-saving culture in Europe;
  • Improve knowledge and data collection: A water scarcity and drought information system throughout Europe, and Research and technological development opportunities.

Managed aquifer recharge

Comprehensive management approaches to water resources that integrate ground water and surface water may greatly reduce human vulnerability to climate extremes and change, and promote global water and food security. Conjunctive uses of ground water and surface water that use surface water for irrigation and water supply during wet periods, and ground water during drought (22), are likely to prove essential. Managed aquifer recharge wherein excess surface water, desalinated water and treated waste water are stored in depleted aquifers could also sup­plement groundwater storage for use during droughts (23,24). Indeed, the use of aquifers as natural storage reservoirs avoids many of the problems of evaporative losses and ecosystem impacts asso­ciated with large, constructed surface-water reservoirs.

Measures southern Europe

In southern Europe, to compensate for increased climate related risks (lowering of the water table, salinisation, eutrophication, species loss), a lessening of the overall human burden on water resources is needed. This would involve stimulating water saving in agriculture, relocating intensive farming to less environmentally sensitive areas and reducing diffuse pollution, increasing the recycling of water, increasing the efficiency of water allocation among different users, favouring the recharge of aquifers and restoring riparian vegetation, among others (17).

Measures Macedonia

Options for adaptation in the domain of irrigation and water supply are (6,5):

  • Implementation of Vardar River watershed management;
  • Rehabilitation of existing irrigation and delivery schemes to improve access and system water-use efficiency;
  • Modernization of on-farm distribution systems;
  • Introduction of new irrigation techniques and improvement of existing techniques to enhance field-level water use efficiency;
  • Water pricing;
  • Credit facilities;
  • Insurance.

For water supply, adaptation measures are (6):

  • use of a dual water supply network and other sources of water (for drinking and for technical purposes – watering parks and lawns, washing the streets, etc.);
  • recycling of water for non-potable use and construction of new water supply systems in rural areas.

For floods and droughts the following adaptation measures are necessary (6):

  • rehabilitation of the existing and construction of new flood protection and drainage systems;
  • improvement of forecasting system;
  • adaptation of the operational management practices of the capacity of the reservoirs to the climate change conditions including droughts and floods;
  • upgrade of wastewater and storm-water systems;
  • preparation of flood defence and protection plans;
  • improving insurance schemes against flood and drought damage.

The proposed measures for the domain of erosion and sedimentation include (6):

  • reforestation of upstream river basins;
  • technical protective measures for torrent regulation and regular dredging of the sediments from the riverbeds and reservoirs;
  • control over illegal logging of the forests and update of the Erosion Map.

In the domain of water resources management, the following structural measures are (6):

  • increase of reservoir capacity;
  • integration of separate reservoirs into a single system;
  • construction of new dams (reservoirs);
  • water transfer from one river basin to another (for example, to the Strumica river basin).

Some activities, implemented in the Republic of Macedonian in the last couple of years, even though not part of the adaptation strategy, contribute to capacity strengthening as a response to climate change and can be identified as climate change adaptation measures: rehabilitation of irrigation systems, more efficient use of water for irrigation in agriculture by promotion of the drop-by-drop system, biodiversity protection, afforestation, etc. (6).


The references below are cited in full in a separate map 'References'. Please click here if you are looking for the full references for Macedonia.

  1. Arnell (2004)
  2. Eisenreich (2005)
  3. EEA (2003); EEA (WQ03b), both in: Eisenreich (2005)
  4. European Environment Agency (EEA) (2005)
  5. Republic of Macedonia, Ministry of Environment and Physical planning (2008)
  6. Trigo et al. (2004), in: Eisenreich (2005)
  7. Hulme (1999); UNEP/MAP/MED/POL (2003), both in: European Environment Agency (EEA) (2005)
  8. Alcamo et al. (2007)
  9. Santos et al. (2002), in: Alcamo et al. (2007)
  10. WHO (2007)
  11. Arnell (2003), in: Arnell (2004)
  12. Eitzinger et al. (2003), in: European Environment Agency (EEA) (2005)
  13. Mimikou et al. (2000), in: European Environment Agency (EEA), 2005
  14. Williams (2001); Zalidis et al. (2002), both in: Alcamo et al. (2007)
  15. Döll (2002), in: European Environment Agency (EEA) (2005)
  16. Lehner et al. (2006), in: Alcamo et al. (2007)
  17. Alvarez Cobelas et al. (2005), in: Alcamo et al. (2007)
  18. Kuusisto (2004)
  19. Commission of the European Communities (2007)
  20. World Bank (2006), in: World Bank (2010)
  21. Chenoweth et al. (2011)
  22. Faunt (2009), in: Taylor et al. (2012)
  23. Scanlon et al. (2012), in: Taylor et al. (2012)
  24. Sukhija (2008), in: Taylor et al. (2012)