Hungary’s Landscape, Climate and Water Flow

Hungary is situated in the lowest part of the Carpathian Basin, most of which comprises of lowland plains. 84% of the country lies below 200 m asl; only 2% is above 400 m and the country’s highest peak is 1014 m located in the north. Floodplains cover nearly 25% of the territory. The Hungarian Danube traverses 417 km. It forms the border with Slovakia in the north-west and then flows south. Tisza, a major Danube tributary river, a 597 km section traverses across country. The gradients of the major rivers are low, typically 7-8 cm/km for the Danube; 2-5 cm/km for the Tisza.

Hungary has a moderate climate with strong continental influence. It is located at the “meeting point” of weather fronts which vary widely in direction and type. Seasons are usually well defined, with July and August being the hottest months (28- 30°C), while December and January are the coldest (down to –15). The average annual rainfall is about 600 mm with ranges of 300-1200 mm (decreasing over the last century).

Hungary is located at the “meeting point” of weather fronts (varying widely in direction and type), but overall has a moderate climate with strong continental influence. Seasons are usually well defined, with July and August averaging 28-30°C and December and January down to –15°C. Annual precipitation is 600mm with ranges of 300-1,200mm (decreasing over the last century); while evapotranspiration rates are similar at 500-600mm/year.

The majority of Hungary’s terrain (62% - 5.8 million ha) is used for agricultural activities and comprises of fertile plains. Forests cover 19% of the country. Of the 3155 settlements, the major cities are Budapest (1.8 million inhabitants), Győr (132,000), Miskolc (154,000) Debrecen (201,000) Szeged (160,000) and Pécs (142,000).

Natural highlights include:

  • The Danube-Dráva National Park provides international protection for 500 km2 of Danube’s and Dráva’s riverine habitat. Set up in 1996, it contains a unique 28,000 ha wetland, one of few remaining natural Danube floodplains;
  • The Szigetköz Landscape Protected Area (NW Hungary), part of the Fertő-Hanság National Park and a Natura 2000 site, comprises a diverse floodplain wetland of branching streams and old oxbows;
  • Lake Balaton, the largest lake in the Danube Basin (600 km2 surface area), is located in Transdanubia, west Hungary; 
  • Near Lake Balaton is Lake Héviz located, which is Europe’s biggest thermal lake with its 4,6 ha, frequented for its medicinal use.

Human Impacts

Public water utilities supply 628 million m3 of drinking water per year mainly from groundwater resources.  100% of the population is connected to the water supply and 83,3% to wastewater collection.  A further 6,4% live in areas served by wastewater collection but are not yet connected to the system. 

By far the largest industrial user is electric power generation (95.5% - due to the need for large quantities of cooling water for power stations). Data on on-site water use by hydro-electric plants is not included. The next biggest users are the food (1.8%) and chemical industries (1.2%). 68% of agricultural abstraction is for fishponds, with a further 27% for irrigation. Hungary may lack sea access, but it has its own brand of water wealth. The landlocked nation is teeming with thermal water springs—more than 1,300, with 123 in Budapest alone—which bring infinite opportunities for year-round bathing in spas all over the country. These water sources are rich in dissolved minerals, with the exact mineral content varying depending on the location.

Flood and high discharge management

The total floodplain area within the country is 21,200 km2 (23%). Currently, 97% of the country’s floodplain is bordered by approximately 4,200 km long levee network. Floodplains are part of a river valley that may be inundated by high flood waters or being inundated by floods in case when the river is confined between levees. Therefore the flood control is a key consideration.

Flood control systems

The main flood defences of 4 327 km total length along the rivers, including 4 011 km earth embankments, 30 km flood walls and 286 km high banks. The state water agency is responsible for 4 128 km of main defences, the rest – 199 km – is owned and maintained by the municipalities. 30 flood control reservoirs were built in the Tisza valley, 6 of them built in Vasarhelyi programme (Capacity: 721 million m3). In the Körös River system 5 reservoirs are operating. (Capacity: 386 million m3). The flood control reservoirs situated along the rivers and the part of the flood control system and has local flood peak reducing effect.

Use of hydroelectric power

Due to the low gradient of rivers, Hungary does not have significant hydroelectric potential, with c. 1% of energy production generated by hydropower. Utilisation requires high investment. Two relatively large plants exist on the Tisza: Kisköre (30MW) and Tiszalök (11.5MW).[MOU1] 


More than 1600 km of Hungarian waterways are navigable (250 km of which can be used only occasionally). The two most important waterways are the Danube and the Tisza, with the Dráva providing an important route for inland shipping. Cargo transportation use is very small, currently c. 8-10% on the Danube and only 1-2% on the Tisza. The Danube is part of the VII European Transport Corridor. Although Hungary has a relatively good natural waterway network, inside the country there is no connection between the two main rivers. This is a major obstacle to better incorporating inland waterway shipping into the national transport economy. Since neither the Danube nor the Tisza is fully regulated in Hungary, the water regime depends highly on the flow regime, which in turn has a major impact on the efficiency of shipping transport. Passenger shipping carries c. 7.5 million passengers per year; 60+% of which are transported by ferries.[MOU2] 

Rivers as receiving waters for effluents

Rivers are the major recipients of both municipal and industrial wastewater. Point source load is mainly from urban discharges (80-95% depending on pollutant). Diffuse pollution also reaches rivers (see pressures and impacts section below). 

Use of groundwater bodies: drinking water supply

Groundwaters are distributed across Hungary and put to various uses. The vast majority of waterworks are reliant on groundwater and 90+% of the population is supplied in this way (porous and karst aquifers, bank filtered water). Pollution has made phreatic groundwater near the surface unfit for drinking water. Some deep aquifers contain natural contaminants (such as explosive gases, harmful minerals e.g. arsenic, iron or manganese in high concentrations) but the overwhelming majority can be used without significant treatment. Protection against anthropogenic hazards is a priority for water resource management.

For more detailed information and statistics on the above, download the fact sheet below.



  • » Tisza Basin
    Covering an area of 157,186 km², the Tisza River Basin is the largest sub-basin of the Danube River Basin. The Tisza River is the longest tributary of the Danube (966 km), and second largest in terms of flow after the Sava. The countries of the Tisza Basin (Ukraine, Romania, Hungary, Slovakia, Serbia) agreed to close transboundary co-operation, aiming to achieve integrated water resources management of the Basin.
  • » Drava Basin
    The Drava River is the fourth largest, as well as the fourth longest Danube tributary. It connects the Alps with the Danube and the Black Sea. The Drava has been considerably regulated with dams constructed to generate hydroelectricity and channels dredged to direct its flow. Nevertheless, natural habitats along the middle and lower reaches host unique varieties of flora and fauna, and several endemic species.
  • » Flood Safety Projects along the Tisza river in Hungary
    Article in Danube Watch 02/2006
  • » The living Danube in Budapest
    ICPDR Danube Watch: The largest environmental investment to be implemented in Central Europe will fundamentally modernise the wastewater treatment system of Budapest, ensuring cleaner waters for all those living along the banks of the Danube.


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