Sections of the Balkan River are becoming floating garbage dumps

Sections of the Balkan River are becoming floating garbage dumps

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VISEGRAD, Bosnia-Herzegovina — Tons of garbage dumped in poorly regulated riverside landfills or directly into the waterways that flow through three countries accumulate behind a garbage barrier in the Drina River in eastern Bosnia during wet winter and early spring weather.

This week, the barrier once again became the outer edge of a giant floating garbage dump crammed with plastic bottles, rusty barrels, used tires, household appliances, driftwood and other garbage picked up by the river from its tributaries.

The river fence erected a few kilometers upstream by a Bosnian hydroelectric power station near Visegrad has turned the city into an involuntary regional dump, local environmental activists complain.

Heavy rains and unseasonably warm weather over the past week have caused many rivers and streams in Bosnia, Serbia and Montenegro to overflow, flooding the surrounding areas and driving scores of people from their homes. Temperatures dropped in many areas on Friday as rain turned to snow.

“We’ve had a lot of rain and torrential flooding in the past few days and a huge inflow of water from (the tributaries of the Drina in) Montenegro, which fortunately is now slowing down,” said Dejan Furtula of environmental group Eko Centar Visegrad

“Unfortunately, the huge influx of garbage hasn’t stopped,” he added.

The Drina River flows 346 kilometers (215 miles) from the mountains of northwestern Montenegro through Serbia and Bosnia. and some of its tributaries are known for their emerald color and stunning scenery. A section along the Bosnia-Serbia border is popular with river rafters when it’s not “garbage season”.

It is estimated that around 10,000 cubic meters (more than 353,000 cubic feet) of garbage has accumulated behind the Drina River garbage barrier in recent days, Furtula said. The same amount has been drawn from this area of ​​the river in recent years.

Garbage disposal takes up to six months on average. It ends up at the municipal landfill in Visegrad, which, according to Furtula, “does not even have sufficient capacity to dispose of (the city’s) municipal waste”.

“The fires at the (municipal) landfill always burn,” he said, calling the conditions there “not only an enormous environmental and health hazard, but also a great embarrassment for all of us.”

Decades after the devastating wars of the 1990s that accompanied the breakup of Yugoslavia, the Balkans are lagging behind the rest of Europe both economically and in environmental terms.

Countries in the region have made little progress in establishing effective, environmentally sound waste management systems, despite striving to become a member of the European Union and adopting some of the EU’s laws and regulations.

Illicit landfills litter hills and valleys across the region, while trash litters roads and plastic bags hang from trees.

In addition to river pollution, many Western Balkan countries have other environmental problems. One of the most pressing is the extremely high levels of air pollution affecting a number of cities in the region.

“People need to wake up with such problems,” said Rados Brekalovic from Visegrad.

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