Kostyukovichi, Belarus – Peatlands occupy around 2.5 million ha in Belarus, only 900,000 of which still retain their natural state. Massive peat excavation, started during the Soviet period, resulted in about 300,000 ha drained to harvest peat deposits for fuel. Between 3 and 5 milion tons of peat are excavated each year, mainly for export.
Kostyukovichi is a small town in eastern Belarus, Mogilev Region, with about 16,000 inhabitants. In 1986, the town was considerably affected by Chernobyl disaster which led to massive migration. Today the region continues to face serious ecological problems – drained peatlands pose a high risk of fires which can carry radioactive contaminated soil, water and biomass to other locations.
“In 2002, there was a strong fire which we were fighting for almost a year to prevent adjacent forest fires and stop radioactive contaminated smog” explained a representative of Mogilevvodstroy, a regional water design company. In 2018, the company participated in a pilot project implemented in collaboration with the UNCCD and the Environment Ministry of Belarus with the support of the Changwon Initiative. Mogilevvodstroy carried out an environmental feasibility study and constructed the cascaded dams on old drainage channels to prevent water loss from the mire to adjacent river.
As the result of the project, water level was raised about two meters. It will take hundreds of years to restore the peat levels, but rewetting of drained mires stops further mineralization of open dried peatlands and locks in carbon, preventing fires and allowing wetland biodiversity to come back. At the end of the project, experts will evaluate the benefits of restoration for carbon storage and biodiversity conservation.
The growing awareness of multiple benefits that wetlands provide for regulating micro-climate, biodiversity, human health and alternative sources of income for local populations, Belarus has been investing in restoration of degraded areas, building on proven positive experience and creating new legislation focused on protection and sustainable use of peatlands.
A draft of the new law of peatlands will be submitted for parliamentarian hearing in the summer of 2019. According to Mr. Korbut of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Protection of Belarus, the new law will regulate peat extraction and make rehabilitation of disturbed areas mandatory for peat producers. “We would like to demonstrate and share our national experience with other countries that face the problem of peatland restoration and the whole world,” added Mr. Korbut.
Restoration of at least 60 000 ha depleted peatlands and disturbed bogs by 2030 is a part of of national voluntary target that the government of Belarus has set up to achieve land degradation neutrality (LDN). Joint national and international peatland restoration efforts in Belarus are expected to cut about three million tonnes of CO2 emissions over the 20 years period.
The Global Environmental Facility together with UNDP and the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Protection has been supporting peatland restoration on 55 thousand ha in Belarus since 2006. A national database of peatlands has been established during of the project which also serves as a testing ground for using phytoamelioration methods to accelerate formation of mire type of biotope.