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Part of the Austro-Hungary Empire until the World War I period, Hungary became part of the Soviet bloc at the end of World War II. After the Soviets dispatched troops to prevent Hungary from leaving the bloc in 1956, the government instituted what became known as “Goulash Communism.” Following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Hungary transformed itself into a market economy. Although the Danube and Tisza Rivers divide Hungary into three unequal sections, the country is landlocked. Hungary has a temperate climate with cold, humid winters and warm summers. Half of Hungary’s 35,652-square-mile land mass is arable, and the soils are fertile. Other valuable natural resources include bauxite, coal, and natural gas.
After joining the European Union (EU) in 2004, Hungary began upgrading waste management facilities and committed itself to improving energy efficiency and reducing levels of air, water, and soil pollution. In a 2006 study conducted by Yale University, Hungary ranked 33 out of 132 nations in environmental performance. The lowest ranking came in the areas of biodiversity and habitat protection. The Hungarian government has protected 7 percent of its land, but acid rain has endangered large areas of forest. Nine of 83 mammal species are endangered, as are eight of 208 bird species.
The population of 10,007,000 enjoy a per capita income of $15,900, but Hungary has a labor force participation of only 57 percent. The current unemployment rate is 7.1 percent, and 8.6 percent of the people live below the poverty line. Approximately 99 percent of the population have access to safe drinking water, and 95 percent have access to improved sanitation. The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) Human Development Reports rank Hungary 35th among nations of the world on general quality-of-life issues.
Around 66 percent of Hungarians live in urban areas, and less than 4 percent of the labor force are engaged in agriculture. Because of heavy concentration in urban areas, Hungary, like most heavily industrialized nations, has a problem with carbon dioxide emissions. With 259 cars per 1,000 people, Hungary is responsible for .2 percent of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions. Until the latter 1980s, almost 40 percent of Hungary’s population were regularly exposed to extensive air pollution from electric plants that burned high-sulfur coal. High winds carried toxic fumes into neighboring areas, resulting in widespread pollution.
Water pollution has also posed a major dilemma for the Hungarian government. In 1970, some 52.9 million cubic feet of polluted water were being produced each day. Effluents, which included waste from the chemical, rubber, iron, paper, and foodprocessing industries, polluted groundwater and caused major environmental damage to the waters of the Tisza, Danube, Szamos, Sajo, and Zagyva. Less than one-third of all waste was treated before disposal, and less than half of the people had access to proper domestic sanitation. During the 1980s, pollution levels in Hungary became even more critical as the government increased revenue by importing hazardous waste from Austria, Switzerland, and West Germany. Hungary was also negatively affected by Romania’s practice of dumping phenol, oil, and other pollutants into the shared waters of the Tisza and other smaller rivers. The turning point came in response to public outcry, which forced the government to erect a nuclear waste incinerator.
It was not until the mid-1990s that major environmental progress was made. In 1995, Hungary passed the comprehensive Environment Act. Hungary’s environmental policy is based on the premise that polluters should pay to correct the damage they cause and fund preventive technologies, but fines are relatively low. The 1995 law dealt with reducing levels of chemical substances in the environment, improving waste management, reducing pollutants, eliminating radioactive contamination of food, and increasing radiation protection. In 2003, the legislation was updated to bring environmental policy in line with EU standards.
Since joining the EU, Hungary has made great strides in improving its environment, but the government continues to be hampered by funding shortages. The Ministry for Environment and Regional Policy bears the responsibility for overseeing environmental policy, working with the Hungarian Environment Council and various nongovernmental organizations to plan and implement environmental policy.
Hungary has expressed its commitment to global environmentalism by participating in the following international agreements: Air Pollution, Air Pollution-Nitrogen Oxides, Air Pollution-Persistent Organic Pollutants, Air Pollution-Sulfur 85, Air Pollution-Volatile Organic Compounds, Antarctic Treaty, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Kyoto Protocol, Desertification, Endangered Species, Environmental Modification, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Marine Dumping, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution, and Wetlands. The government has signed but not ratified the Air Pollution-Sulfur 94 agreement.
- Kevin Hillstrom and Laurie Collier Hillstrom, Europe: A Continental Overview of Environmental Issues (ABC-CLIO, 2003);
- UNEP, Europe Regional Report: Chemicals (Global Environment Facility, 2002).