By DARKO VOJINOVIC, The Associated Press
PRIBOJ, Serbia (AP) – Trucks and construction machines are parked on a river dam in southwest Serbia, but not for construction work. Instead, giant cranes are being used to clean up the waste dumped at the foot of the power plant.
For decades, Serbia and other Balkan nations have been overwhelmed by communal waste following neglect and lack of efficient waste management policies in countries wishing to join the European Union.
Burning dustbins can be seen from the roads, plastic bags hang from trees and garbage islands are floating in the rivers of the region. The problem usually comes to mind in the winter, when the waterfall flows to the landfill, pushing the waste towards the hydroelectric dams.
This has been the case in the Potpec Accumulation Lake near the power plant after rain and icy weather in December and early January. The surface of the lake was covered in a thick layer of waste from plastic-rusty metal scraps, tree trunks and even a coffin.
The garbage has flowed downstream from the Lim River, which feeds the Potpec Dam. Lim originates in neighboring Montenegro, passing through several municipalities and their waste sites in both Montenegro and Serbia.
“Based on a recent study, we found that in these cities, five municipalities in Montenegro and three in Serbia, approximately 45,000 tons of waste are collected per year,” said Pragrap Sonjicic, Lim River River Power Plant System Manager . Looking at the rubbish-splattered lake, he said that “even if some of that waste ends up in the Lim River, we get it.”
Environmentalists in the Balkans warn that because most landfills are not properly managed, they leak toxins into rivers, threatening ecosystems and wildlife.
Bosnia has also reported a garbage dump that threatens the hydroelectric dam on the Drina River near the eastern city of Visegrad. Lim is one of the tributaries of the Drina, which forms their waterways – and the waste flow – closely linked.
Two emerald-colored rivers – the Dreena flowing along the border between Serbia and Bosnia – are favored by adventurers and water rafters during summer who enjoy winding waterways and seemingly pristine nature.
While the Balkan nations have been struggling to recover since a series of wars and crises in the 1990s, environmental issues often come up for countries whose economies lag far behind the rest of Europe and where public funds are subject to widespread corruption Are vulnerable.
Jugoslav Jovanovic, from Serbia’s state-run Sribijavod company that is in charge of the country’s water system, poses the problem of waste as “our neglect and lack of care”. He said the landfills are located very close to the rivers and are overfilled rather than closed for years.
“If we force ourselves to do this work from year to year, then that’s really no solution,” he said of the clearing operation. “We must find common ground and resolve it by joining forces.”
Serbia, Montenegro and Bosnia have held meetings on this issue but very little has been done. Balkan countries also face other environmental emergencies, including dangerous levels of air pollution in many cities.
Experts predict that cleaning the Potpec Lake will take a few weeks depending on the season. However, all the waste of water at a landfill in western Serbia will again run out.
Goran Rekovic, an activist from the nearby city of Praboj, said raising public awareness of pollution is an important goal, as well as an “institutional and systematic” solution. If Serbia and other Balkan countries want to move closer to EU membership, they are also needed.
“It is not the obligation of the European Union. We should not do this for them, “said Rekovic. This is why we should take care of our environment, for our own generations. “
Jovana Gac and Marco Drobanjakovic contributed to this report.
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