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In conjunction with the Czechs, the Slovaks were part of the nation of Czechoslovakia from 1918 until 1993, when the two countries once more established their separate identities. Since then, major progress has been made in Slovakia’s recovery from the decades spent as part of the Soviet bloc. Unemployment remains high at 15 percent but the entire population has access to safe drinking water and improved sanitation. Ranked 64th in world income, Slovakia has a per capita income of $15,700. In 2004, Slovakia joined the European Union (EU). The United Nations Development Programme Human Development Reports rank Slovakia 43rd on overall quality-of-life issues.
The landlocked country has a temperate climate with cool summers and cold, humid winters. The central and northern parts of Slovakia are mountains, while the south is made up of lowlands. Significant geographic features include the Tatra Mountains in the north and numerous scenic lakes and valleys throughout the country. One of Slovakia’s most valuable assets is arable land (30 percent). Other natural resources include brown coal, lignite, salt, antimony ore, mercury, lead, zinc, and small amounts of iron ore, copper, and manganese.
Slovakia’s major environmental risks are air, water, and soil pollution that are by-products of industrial activity that includes brown coal mining, metal working, and chemical, fertilizer, and plastics plants. The pollution from these industries poses serious risks to Slovakia’s population of 5,431,363 people. Roughly 58 percent of Slovaks live in urban areas, and Slovakia produces 0.2 percent of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions. In 2006, a study by scientists at Yale University ranked Slovakia 25th out of 132 countries in environmental performance, below its geographic group but higher than the relevant income group. Slovakia’s lowest ranking in the study was in the field of biodiversity and habitat. Acid rain is threatening Slovakian forests and threatening wildlife. Of 85 mammal species endemic to Slovakia, nine are threatened with extinction. Likewise, four of 199 endemic bird species are endangered.
A good deal of controversy has arisen in Slovakia over the Gabcikovo Dam project that diverts water away from the Danube River. Czechoslovakia and Hungary initiated the joint project in 1977 with the intention of damming the Danube from Bratislava to Budapest to generate hydroelectric power. In 1989, however, Hungary unilaterally withdrew from the project because of ecological concerns. When it proved impossible to come to terms, Slovakia turned to the International Court of Justice, which ruled against Hungary on September 25, 1997, contending that the original agreement was binding even though Czechoslovakia had been dissolved.
The Minister of Environment is responsible for implementing environmental policy in the Slovak Republic, and the Environmental Inspectorate oversees compliance with relevant laws and regulations. Controlling waste products is essential to controlling pollution in Slovakia, and current policy is designed to prevent further pollution, promote waste utilization and recycling, control the transportation of waste, and update existing waste disposal sites. The Slovak military has been responsible for a good deal of the pollution in Slovakia as a result of improperly disposing of dangerous and hazardous wastes. Therefore, new environmental laws apply equally to the military and civilian sectors. Other policies are aimed at reducing air, water, and soil pollution.
Slovakia’s commitment to global health is demonstrated through participation in the following international agreements: Air Pollution, Air Pollution-Nitrogen Oxides, Air Pollution-Persistent Organic Pollutants, Air Pollution-Sulfur 85, Air Pollution-Sulfur 94, Air Pollution-Volatile Organic Compounds, Antarctic Treaty, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Desertification, Endangered Species, Environmental Modification, Hazardous Wastes, Kyoto Protocol, Law of the Sea, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution, and Wetlands.
- Central Intelligence Agency, “Slovakia,” The World Factbook, www.cia.gov;
- Kevin Hillstrom and Laurie Collier Hillstrom, Europe: A Continental Overview of Environmental Issues (ABC-CLIO, 2003);
- United Nations (UN) Development Programme, “Human Development Reports: Slovakia,” hdr.undp.org;
- UN Environment Programme, Europe Regional Report: Chemicals (Global Environment Facility, 2002).