The river fence installed by a Bosnian hydroelectric plant a few kilometers upstream from its dam near Visegrad has turned the city into an involuntary regional dumping ground, local environmental activists complain.
Heavy rain and unusually hot weather over the past week have caused many rivers and streams in Bosnia, Serbia and Montenegro to overflow their banks, flooding surrounding areas and forcing dozens of people to flee their homes. Temperatures dropped in many areas on Friday as the rain turned to snow.
“We had a lot of torrential rain and flooding in the last few days and a big inflow of water from (the Drina tributaries in) Montenegro which is now, fortunately, subsiding,” said Dejan Furtula of the environmental group Eko Centar Visegrad.
“Unfortunately, the huge influx of garbage has not stopped,” he added.
The Drina River runs 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 Bosnian-Serbian border is popular with river rafters when it’s not “garbage season.”
An estimated 10,000 cubic meters (more than 353,000 cubic feet) of debris has accumulated behind the Drina River garbage barrier in recent days, Furtula said. The same amount was extracted in recent years from that area of the river.
Removing trash takes up to six months, on average. It ends up in the Visegrad municipal landfill, which, according to Furtula, “doesn’t even have enough capacity to handle municipal (city) waste.”
“The fires at the (municipal) landfill are always burning,” he said, calling the conditions there “not only a huge environmental and health hazard, but also a huge shame 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 sound garbage disposal systems, despite seeking to become members of the European Union and adopting some of the EU’s laws and regulations.
Unauthorized waste dumps dot the region’s hills and valleys, while garbage litters the roads and plastic bags hang from the trees.
In addition to river pollution, many countries in the Western Balkans have other environmental problems. One of the most pressing is the extremely 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 Visegrad resident.