NATURAL RESOURCES

Romania Table of Contents

Land

The land itself is Romania's most valuable natural resource. All but the most rugged mountainous regions sustain some form of agricultural activity. In 1989 more than 15 million hectares-- almost two-thirds of the country's territory--were devoted to agriculture. Arable land accounted for over 41 percent, pasturage about 19 percent, and vineyards and orchards some 3 percent of the total land area.

Romania's soils are generally quite fertile. The best for farming are the humus-rich chernozems (black earth), which account for roughly one-fifth of the country's arable land. Chernozems and red-brown forest soils predominate in the plains of Walachia, Moldavia, and the Banat region--all major grain-growing areas. Soils are thinner and less humus-rich in the mountains and foothills, but they are suitable for vineyards, orchards, and pasturage.

The area under cultivation has increased steadily over the centuries as farming has encroached on forest and pasture areas, marshes have been drained, and irrigation has been brought to the more arid regions. By late 1986, Romania had extended irrigation to roughly one-third of its arable land, and a major campaign had been conceived to drain the Danube Delta and develop it into a vast agro-industrial complex of some 1,440 square kilometers. The area of arable land grew incrementally from about 9.4 million hectares in 1950 to slightly more than 10 million hectares in the late 1980s.

Another strategy to gain arable land was the controversial program of systematization of the countryside. This policy, first proposed in the early 1960s but seriously implemented only after a delay of some twenty years, called for the destruction of more than 7,000 villages and resettlement of the residents into about 550 standardized "agro-industrial centers," where the farm population could enjoy the benefits of urban life. Only those villages judged economically viable by the authorities were to be retained. Through eradication of villages, fence rows, and reportedly even churches and cemeteries, the government aimed to acquire for agriculture some 348,000 hectares of land.

At the very time the government was attempting to increase the area of arable land, countervailing pressures were exerted by urban development, which consumed large tracts for residential and industrial construction. In May 1968, a law was passed to prohibit the diversion of farmland to nonagricultural uses without the approval of the central government. The law reversed the previous policy of assigning no value to land in calculating the cost of industrial and housing projects. It did not, however, curtail the ideologically driven policy of industrializing the countryside, and some of the country's most fertile farmland was lost to development.

Postwar farming practices took a heavy toll on the country's soil resources. It was estimated in the late 1980s that because of unwise cultivation methods, 30 percent of the arable land had suffered serious erosion. Moreover, residual agricultural chemicals had raised soil acidity in many areas.

Water

Along with an abundance of fertile soil, Romanian agriculture benefits from a temperate climate and generally adequate precipitation. The growing season is relatively long--from 180 to 210 days. Rainfall averages 637 millimeters per year, ranging from less than 400 millimeters in Dobruja and the Danube Delta to over 1,010 millimeters in the mountains. In the main grain-growing regions, annual precipitation averages about 508 to 584 millimeters. Droughts occur periodically and can cause major agricultural losses despite extensive irrigation. The drought of 1985 was particularly damaging.

Despite relatively generous annual precipitation and the presence of numerous streams and rivers in its territory, including the lower course of the Danube, which discharges some 285,000 cubic feet of water per minute into the Black Sea, Romania experienced chronic water shortages throughout the 1980s. Water consumption had increased by over thirteen times during the preceding three decades, taxing reserves to the limit. The 1990 official forecast envisioned consumption of 35 billion cubic meters, very close to nominal reservoir capacity. Large-scale agriculture and heavy industry were the major water users and polluters. Personal consumption was restricted by the growing scarcity of unpolluted drinking water, which could be obtained from fewer than 20 percent of the major streams.

The Danube and rivers emanating from the Transylvanian Alps and the Carpathians represent an aggregate hydroelectric potential of 83,450 megawatts. Roughly 4,400 megawatts of this potential had been harnessed by the mid-1980s--mostly during the preceding two decades. Important hydroelectric stations were built on the Danube, Arges, Bistrita, Mare, Olt, Buzau, and Prut rivers. These stations generated roughly 16 percent of Romania's electricity in 1984. But chronically low reservoir levels in the 1980s, caused by prolonged drought and irrigation's increasing demand for water, severely limited the contribution of hydroelectric power to the national energy balance.

The country's water resources also were an increasingly important transportation medium. The government invested billions of lei in the 1970s and 1980s to develop inland waterways and marine ports. The Danube-Black Sea Canal, opened to traffic in 1984, was the largest and most expensive engineering project in Romanian history. Major investments were made to modernize and expand both inland and marine ports, especially Constanta and the new adjacent facility at Agigea, built at the entrance to the Danube-Black Sea Canal. Another important project--still under construction in the late 1980s--was a seventy-two-kilometer canal linking the capital city, Bucharest, with the Danube.

Forests

Over the centuries, the harvesting of trees for lumber and fuel and the relentless encroachment of agriculture greatly diminished the forestlands that originally had covered all but the southeastern corner of the country. Nevertheless, in the late 1980s, forests remained a valuable national resource, occupying almost 27 percent of the country's territory. Growing primarily on slopes too steep for cultivation, the most extensive forests were found in the Carpathians and the Transylvanian Alps. Hardwoods such as oak, beech, elm, ash, sycamore, maple, hornbeam, and linden made up 71 percent of total forest reserves, and conifers (fir, spruce, pine, and larch) accounted for the remaining 29 percent. The hardwood species predominated at elevations below 4,600 feet, while conifers flourished at elevations up to 6,000 feet.

Forestry had a long tradition in Romania, and for centuries timber was one of the region's primary exports. After World War II, the industry shifted its focus from raw timber to processed wood products. Increasingly aware of the economic value of the forests, the government established a Council of Forestry in 1983 to supervise afforestation projects and ensure preservation of existing woodlands. In 1985 afforestation work on a total of 52,850 hectares was completed.

Fossil Fuels

The late 1980s saw the rapid depletion of Romania's extensive reserves of fossil fuels, including oil, natural gas, anthracite, brown coal, bituminous shale, and peat. These hydrocarbons are distributed across more than 63 percent of the country's territory. The major proven oil reserves are concentrated in the southern and eastern Carpathian foothills--particularly Prahova, Arges, Olt, and Bacau judete, with more recent discoveries in the southern Moldavian Plateau, the Danube Plain, and Arad judet. Despite an ambitious program of offshore exploration, begun in 1976, significant deposits in the Black Sea continental shelf had yet to be discovered as of the late 1980s. Most of the country's natural gas deposits are found in the Transylvanian Plateau. The Southern Carpathians and the Banat hold most of the hard coal reserves, while brown coal is distributed more widely across the country, with major deposits in Bacau and Cluj judete, the southeastern Carpathian foothills, and the Danube Plain.

Total oil reserves in 1984 were estimated at 214 million tons. Western analysts interpreted consistently lower output figures and Romania's intense search for improved oil-recovery technology as evidence that reserves were being depleted rapidly. By the mid1980s , comparatively little oil was being burned for heat and electricity generation. Most of the domestically produced crude was being used as feedstock for refining into valuable gasoline, naphtha, and other derivatives.

As oil's share of the energy balance was declining during the 1970s and 1980s, natural gas and coal assumed increasing prominence. In the mid-1970s, Romania's natural gas reserves--the most extensive in Eastern Europe--were estimated at between 200 and 240 billion cubic meters. This resource was all the more valuable because of its high methane content of 98 to 99.5 percent. Natural gas and gas recovered with crude oil fueled about half of the country's thermoelectric power plants and provided feedstock for the chemical industry. Falling natural gas output figures in the 1980s suggested that this valuable resource also was being depleted. Romanian experts themselves predicted that reserves would be exhausted by 2010. The country had to begin importing natural gas from the Soviet Union in the mid-1970s. Annual imports had reached 2.5 billion cubic meters by 1986 and were expected to rise to about 6 billion cubic meters after 1989.

Although total coal reserves were estimated at 6 billion tons in the mid-1970s, much of this amount was low-quality brown coal containing a high percentage of noncombustible material. Only a fraction of the steel industry's considerable demand for coking coal could be covered by domestic sources.

Other Minerals

Romania possesses commercial deposits of a wide range of metallic ores, including iron, manganese, chrome, nickel, molybdenum, aluminum, zinc, copper, tin, titanium, vanadium, lead, gold, and silver. The development of these reserves was a key element of the country's industrialization after World War II. To exploit the ores, the government built numerous mining and enrichment centers, whose output in turn was delivered to the country's large and ever-expanding metallurgical and machinebuilding industries.

The major known iron ore deposits are found in the PoianaRusca Mountains (a spur of the Transylvanian Alps) and the Banat, Dobruja, and the Harghita Mountains (in the Eastern Carpathians). Though commercially significant, these deposits were unable to satisfy the huge new steel mills that were the centerpiece of Romania's industrial modernization after the mid-1960s. Indeed, by 1980 Romania had to import more than 80 percent of its iron ore. Some experts predicted that domestic iron ore resources would be exhausted by the early 1990s.

Most of the nonferrous metal reserves are concentrated in the northwest, particularly in the Maramures Mountains (in the Eastern Carpathians) and the Apuseni Mountains (in the Western Carpathians). The Maramures range contains important deposits of polymetallic sulfides--from which copper, lead, and zinc are obtained--and certain precious metals. The Apuseni range holds silver and some of the richest gold deposits in Europe. Major copper, lead, and zinc deposits also have been discovered in the Bistrita Mountains, the Banat, and Dobruja. Bauxite is mined in the Oradea area in northwestern Transylvania. Although new mines to extract these ores continued to be developed throughout the 1970s and 1980s, the proclaimed goal of self-sufficiency in nonferrous metals by 1985 was unrealistic, considering that in 1980 foreign sources supplied 73 percent of the zinc, 40 percent of the copper, and 23 percent of the lead consumed by Romanian industry.

The country also has commercial reserves of other minerals, which are processed by a large chemical industry that barely existed before World War II. The inorganic chemical industry exploits sulfur obtained as a metallurgical by-product or refined from gypsum, an abundant mineral. There are large deposits of pure salt at Slanic, TÓrgu Ocna, and Ocna Mures. Caustic soda, soda ash, chlorine, sulfuric and hydrochloric acid, and phosphate fertilizers are among the chemical products based on domestic raw materials.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress