Hungary's environmental performance assessed

Cuts in emissions praised, but OECD calls for greater private sector involvement, more enforcement

Environmental pressures in Hungary have eased substantially over the last decade, but air pollution remains high and waste management and sewerage problems suggest the road to environmental convergence with other European countries will be a long one.

These are the main conclusions of an environmental performance review published by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) earlier this week. The latest in a series of studies of member countries' environmental conditions, it is the first on Hungary since it joined the OECD in 1996.

Pollutant emissions to air and water have fallen significantly in the 1990s, the review notes. This is due to both a downturn in industrial activity and high levels of investment in pollution control, now estimated to total about 1.5% of GDP. Environmental legislation is not based on the polluter pays principle and the OECD criticises the equal split in environmental investment between public and private sectors. It calls for a decrease in environmental subsidies to the private sector and suggests expanding the use of economic instruments to encourage polluters to reduce emissions further.

The report argues that while legislation has been beefed up, problems remain with enforcement. Half the population is still exposed to serious or moderate air pollution. More worryingly, recent rises in ambient levels of nitrogen and sulphur oxides suggest emissions may not have been decoupled from economic growth. The study also contends that rapid growth in the vehicle fleet threatens to offset recent air quality gains.

Less than a quarter of the population is connected to sewage treatment, and as much as 80% of Budapest's effluent is discharged untreated into the Danube, representing a major environmental problem. According to the report, "bacterial contamination occurs almost all the way along the Danube and Tsiza rivers. Secondary water courses are highly polluted, particularly in the vicinity of major urban centres. Nitrates in shallow groundwater exceed the limit value at many locations, particularly near settlements."

But the greatest concern is over "very serious waste management problems", attributed to legislative shortcomings which lead to most collected waste being landfilled "in small communal facilities which, for the most part, do not conform to environmental regulations".

Hungary's international record, on the other hand, is described as "excellent". It has drastically reduced its contribution to the pollution of the Danube basin, and emissions of carbon dioxide will be lower in 2000 than in 1990. "The target set under the Kyoto protocol is likely to be met despite new economic growth," the OECD predicts.

Follow Up:
OECD, tel: +33 1 45 24 82 00. The text of the report is available on the organisation's website.

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