VISEGRAD, Bosnia and Herzegovina (AP) — Tons of waste is dumped into poorly organized riverbank landfills or directly into the waterways that flow through three countries eventually piling up behind a rubbish barrier in the Drina River in eastern Bosnia during wet weather in winter and early winter. fountain.
This week, the barrier is once again the outer edge of a huge floating dump filled with plastic bottles, rusty barrels, used tires, appliances, driftwood and other rubbish picked up by the river from its tributaries.
Local environmental activists complain that fencing the river erected by a Bosnian hydroelectric plant, a few kilometers upstream from the dam near Visegrad, has turned the town into an unwilling regional dump site.
Heavy rains and unusually warm weather over the past week caused several rivers and streams to overflow in Bosnia, Serbia and Montenegro, causing flooding in surrounding areas and forcing dozens of people to leave their homes. Temperatures dropped in many areas on Friday as the rain turned to snow.
“We’ve seen heavy rains and heavy floods in recent days and a huge outflow of water from (the Drina’s tributaries in) Montenegro that is now, fortunately, receding,” said Diane Fortola of environmental group Eco Centar Visegrad.
“Unfortunately, the huge influx of rubbish has not stopped,” he added.
The Drina River runs 346 kilometers (215 miles) from the northwest mountains of Montenegro through Serbia and Bosnia. Some of its tributaries are known for their emerald color and stunning scenery. A section along the border between Bosnia and Serbia is famous for its rafters when it’s not “garbage season.”
Fertola said an estimated 10,000 cubic meters (more than 353,000 cubic feet) of waste has accumulated behind the waste barrier at the Drina River in recent days. The same amount has been withdrawn in recent years from that area of the river.
Trash removal takes an average of up to six months. It ends up in the municipal dump in Visegrad, which Fertola said “doesn’t even have enough capacity to handle[the city’s]municipal waste”.
“Fires at the (municipal) dump are always burning,” he said, describing the conditions there as “not only a great environmental and health hazard, but also a great embarrassment to all of us.”
After decades of devastating 1990s wars that accompanied the breakup of Yugoslavia, the Balkans lagged behind the rest of Europe economically and in terms of environmental protection.
Countries in the region have made little progress in building efficient and environmentally sound waste disposal systems despite seeking EU membership and adopting some EU laws and regulations.
Unauthorized dumps dot the hills and valleys across the region, while rubbish hangs from the roads and plastic bags hang from the trees.
In addition to river pollution, many countries in the Western Balkans suffer from other environmental problems. One of the most pressing is the extremely high level of air pollution affecting a number of cities in the region.
“People need to wake up to problems like this,” said Visegrad resident Rados Brekalovic.