A river fence installed by a Bosnian hydroelectric plant a few kilometers upriver from its dam near Visegrad has turned the city into a reluctant regional dumping ground, local environmental activists complain.
Heavy rains and unusually hot weather over the past week have caused many rivers and streams in Bosnia, Serbia and Montenegro to burst their banks, flooding surrounding areas and forcing dozens 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 last few days and a huge inflow of water from (tributaries of the Drina in) Montenegro, which is now, thankfully, decreasing,” said Dejan Furtula of the environmental group Eko Centar Visegrad.
“Unfortunately, the huge flow of garbage has not stopped,” he added.
The Drina River flows 346 kilometers (215 mi) from the northwestern mountains of Montenegro through Serbia and Bosnia. and some of its tributaries are known for their emerald color and breathtaking landscapes. A section along the Bosnian-Serbian border is popular with river rafters when it’s not “garbage season”.
About 10,000 cubic meters (over 353,000 cubic feet) of waste is estimated to have accumulated behind the Drina River’s rubbish barrier in recent days, Furtula said. The same amount has been extracted in recent years from that area of the river.
Garbage removal takes up to six months, on average. It ends up in Visegrad’s municipal landfill, which Furtula said “doesn’t even have enough capacity to handle municipal (city) waste”.
“The (municipal) landfill fires are always burning,” he said, calling the conditions “not only a huge environmental and health risk, but also a huge embarrassment for all of us.”
Decades after the devastating wars of the 1990s that accompanied the breakup of Yugoslavia, the Balkans lag behind the rest of Europe, both economically and when it comes to environmental protection.
Countries in the region have made little progress in building effective and environmentally friendly waste disposal systems, despite seeking to join the European Union and adopt some of its laws and regulations.
Unauthorized rubbish dumps dot hills and valleys across the region, while rubbish 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 very high level of air pollution that affects several cities in the region.
“People need to wake up to problems like this,” said Rados Brekalovic, a resident of Visegrad.