Sunday, February 28

The scourge of rivers swallowed up by waste in the Balkans

For several hundred meters, the Dina River in Bosnia and Herzegovina has disappeared under a carpet of waste. During the seasons when it rains, this garbage is carted away from illegal dumpsites which are especially along this waterway. Its tributaries which are upstream in Serbia and Montenegro suffer the same plague.

Near the town of Višegrad, this drifting rubbish is held back somehow by a fragile floating barrier. Environmental activist Dejan Furtula has been measuring the damage of this ecological disaster for more than ten years.

“This situation has enormous repercussions on local biodiversity,” says this representative of Visegrad Eco-Center. “Microplastics are taken up by the fish we eat,” he emphasizes. “As here we do not have a functioning recycling infrastructure, this waste, once collected, is simply incinerated at the municipal waste treatment center and the inhabitants breathe the gases released during the incineration process,” he said.

“Every year, we are faced with the same situation”

After heavy rains during the night, we come back to the place in the morning. The floating barriers gave way for the second time since January. Garbage continues to drift with the current. Dejan Furtula shows us a refrigerator that floats on the river: “Yesterday, there were six or seven in the water. As the barrier broke, there is only one now: the others must be downstream, they must have gone and got stuck against the hydraulic power station. over there,” he indicates. “Every year we are faced with the same situation with this floating garbage,” he denounces.

A second barrier is installed two kilometers upstream to prevent debris from slowing down the operation of the local hydraulic dam. Each year, between 6,000 and 8,000 m³ of waste is collected on site. “The volume is such,” explains Darko Frganja, director of the environmental protection service at He Na Drini hydroelectric dam, “that we have even been forced to open a brand new unit dedicated to cleaning operations in connection with our own construction department. These operations cost us, depending on the year, between 25,000 and 100,000 euros per year.”

“There was a meeting between ministers, nothing happened”

Conservationists say this has been going on for 25 years and that Bosnia, Serbia and Montenegro, all three concerned, are doing little to end it other than blaming each other.

We ask him what he expects from politicians in different countries. “I expect them to do more,” Dejan Furtula replies. “We know that last year there was a meeting here in Višegrad between the environment ministers of Montenegro, Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, but nothing happened: it was almost two years ago and we are still facing the same problem, “ he points out. “I think they should be concerned about our health and the people who live here,” he insists.

We will take this message to the government of the Serbian Republic of Bosnia, one of the country’s two political entities. Facing our freshly shot images on the Drina river, the deputy minister for ecology reacts points to insufficient regional cooperation.

When we ask her why Bosnia does not yet apply EU environmental legislation, she points to a lack of resources.

“We must give people the appropriate means to properly manage their waste,” reconnaît Svjetlana Radusin. “According to estimates, only 60 to 70% of our territory has infrastructure to allow responsible management of this plastic waste,” she says. “We must effectively increase the coverage of waste collection in Bosnia and Herzegovina,” she admits.

A balloon carried by the rivers of Montenegro to Serbia

The situation is just as critical on the other side of the border in Serbia. At the edge of the Lim river, one of the main tributaries of the Drina upstream, we meet environmental activist Siniša Laković. He organizes rafting trips on this river.

But lately, he’s been more concerned with picking up trash. “It is indeed a regional problem,” precise Siniša Laković du Rafting Club Jastreb. “There is clear evidence of this among the approximately 12,000 cubic meters of floating rubbish that we dumped here recently,” he declares before adding: “We discovered this ball: it bears the logo of the Football Federation of Montenegro and the signatures of the players of its national team. If it had not been recovered, this ball would have drifted further,” he believes. “It would have gone from Montenegro, then from the Lim River in Serbia where we are to the Drina in Bosnia, then to the Sava and it could even have ended up in the Danube in Belgrade,” he assures.

Impose fines?

Siniša Laković takes us 15 km upstream, to the source of this environmental nightmare. It is the largest wild dump in the region.

Local NGOs estimate that five municipalities in Montenegro, two in Serbia and one in Bosnia and Herzegovina have illegal dumpsites along the Lim.

“I think if we put in fines it would have an effect,” south Siniša Laković. “If all those who dispose of their garbage here were sanctioned and fined, it would make it possible to raise awareness of the problem and to do pedagogy,” he suggests. “People would understand that we are doing this not only for ourselves, but also for the future of our children and grandchildren,” he insists.

Serbia wants to build recycling units

In Belgrade, we have a meeting with the Serbian Minister for Environmental Protection. She recognizes the urgent need to control illegal dumping and promises to speed up clean-up operations while calling for more time to find lasting solutions.

“What is important for Serbia,” indicated Irena Vujović, “is that this year, we will begin the implementation of our plan to build waste recycling units in the eight regions of the country. We have raised funding through loans and redoubled our efforts to prepare studies, “ she declares.

While waiting for concrete solutions, the inhabitants are caught in a an endless regional status quo. When she was a child, Edita often came to the banks of the Lim to spend the weekend with her parents. Today, the 28-year-old financial advisor says she feels sorry when she brings her son there.

“I wish he could have fond memories here too,” confides the young woman. “I wish he could come there on the weekends, that he could swim, that he could fish with his grandfather,” she says. “It has to be possible again and a solution to be found as soon as possible,” she insists.

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