Once this was a river. It is now a floating landfill.
During the rainy season, garbage is washed away from illegal dumps along the Drina River in Bosnia and Herzegovina and onto its tributaries in Serbia and Montenegro.
The drifting debris is finally stopped by a floating barrier of fragile construction near the city of Visegrád.
Bosnian environmental activist from Visegrad EcocenterDejan Furtula has been evaluating this ecological disaster for more than a decade.
“This pollution has a huge impact on local biodiversity,” Furtula said. “Microplastics are absorbed by the same fish that we also eat. We lack operational recycling infrastructures. Once collected, this garbage is simply burned in the municipal disposal facility and then residents are forced to breathe the gases emitted by the combustion process “.
We returned to the same place after heavy rains overnight. The unreliable floating barrier had collapsed for the second time since January. Garbage continued to flow freely downstream.
“This is a refrigerator or something. Yesterday there were six or seven refrigerators in the water,” explained Furtula in a boat. “You can see that the cable has broken, now there is only one refrigerator. The others must have gone downstream to the hydroelectric plant there. Every year we face the same problem with this floating debris.”
Hydroelectric power station on the Drina river
A second barrier was installed two kilometers downstream to prevent trash from slowing down operations at the local hydroelectric dam.
Here between 6,000 and 8,000 cubic meters of floating waste are collected annually.
“The volume is such that we were forced to open a new unit for cleanup operations working in conjunction with our own construction department,” said Darko Frganja, Head of the Department of Environmental Protection of the He Na Drini Hydroelectric Dam, ” These operations cost us, depending on the year, between € 25,000 and € 100,000 per year “.
Environmentalists condemn the pollution of waterways for the past 25 years. The three countries that border the river are concerned but blame each other.
“We know that last year there was a meeting here in Višegrad with the Ministers of Ecology of Montenegro, Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. But nothing happened,” explained Furtula. “Almost 2 years have passed and we are facing the same problem here. I think they should be more aware of our health and the people who live here.”
Bosnia and Herzegovina Ministry for Environmental Protection
We carry this message to the government of the Republika Srpska, one of the two political entities of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
When we showed our images of the river wrapped in plastic and waste, the Deputy Minister of Ecology blamed inefficient regional cooperation for the stagnation.
When asked why the country itself is not enforcing the European environmental legislation adopted so far, it points to a lack of resources.
“According to some estimates, only 60-70% of our territory is properly equipped with infrastructures to responsibly handle this plastic garbage. In fact, we need to increase the coverage of organized garbage collection in Bosnia and Herzegovina.”
Lim river in Serbia
This pollution problem is equally criticized on the other side of the border in Serbia.
On the Lim River, one of the main tributaries of the Drina River upstream, we met the environmental activist Siniša Laković. He usually organizes rafting activities in these waters. But lately, he’s been busier cleaning them.
“This is indeed a regional problem,” said Siniša Laković, an environmental activist, Rafting Club Jastreb. “We found good proof of this among the 12,000 cubic meters of floating garbage that we recently cleaned here. We recovered this ball that had the logo of the Football Federation of Montenegro and the signatures of its players from the national team. If it hadn’t been stopped , this ball would have traveled from Montenegro to here on the Lim River in Serbia and further to the Drina River in Bosnia, then to the Seva River and could even have ended up on the Danube in Belgrade. “
15 kilometers upstream, Laković brings us to the very origin of this environmental catastrophe. It is the largest illegal landfill in existence. But he’s not the only one.
Local NGOs estimate that there are 5 municipalities in Montenegro, 2 in Serbia and 1 in Bosnia and Herzegovina that have illegal dumps along the Lim River.
“I think the sanctions would pay off,” Laković added. “If all those who litter were punished and fined, that would help to raise awareness and educate people on the issue. People would understand that we are doing this not only for ourselves, but also for the future of our children and grandchildren.” .
Ministry of Environmental Protection of Serbia
In Belgrade, we met with the Minister of Environmental Protection of Serbia.
He acknowledged that there is an urgent need to control illegal landfills and vowed to speed up his cleanup operations while asking for more time to find durable solutions.
“The important thing for Serbia is that this year we will start planning waste recycling centers in eight regions of the country,” he said. Irena Vujović, Minister of Environmental Protection, Republic of Serbia. “Loan financing has already been provided and documentation is being intensively prepared.”
While they wait for effective solutions to be established, residents are caught in an endless multilateral stalemate.
As a child, Edita Slatina used to visit the Lim River to spend leisure weekends with her parents. Now, the 28-year-old financial advisor says it hurts to take her son there.
“I would like this place to be memorable for my son too. I wish you could come here on weekends. To swim here. To fish with his grandfather. We would like to make this possible. We need a solution as soon as possible ”.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism