1685962345 origin 1

‘We’ll die before the Drina is clean’: Bosnian villagers hope for solution to polluted river

origin 1Waste collected in a barrier from a hydroelectric dam on the Drina River, Bosnia and Herzegovina ©AP Photo

Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Drina River was once famous for its emerald waters. Now, after two decades of mismanaged waste, it’s full of garbage.

Twice a year, between 10,000 and 15,000 cubic meters of plastic bottles, rusty barrels, used tyres, household appliances and other waste are pulled from the river at a site near the town of Visegrad.

The locals are losing hope of ever seeing a clean river again.

Why is the Drina River full of garbage?

The Drina River flows 346 kilometers from the mountains in the northwest Montenegro through Serbia and bosnia.

Decades after the devastating wars of the 1990s that accompanied the breakup of Yugoslavia, countries in the region have made little progress in constructing effective and environmentally friendly buildings waste disposal systems.

Despite the adoption of some EU laws and regulations, unauthorized waste dumps dot hills and valleys across the region, while waste litters the streets AND plastic bags hang from trees.

Waste flows downstream from Serbia and Montenegro and Bosnia and collects at a waste barrier installed by a hydroelectric power plant a few kilometers upstream from Visegrad.

The huge flotilla of waste is emptied twice a year and takes about six months to clean up completely.

The waste recovered from this stretch of the Drina ends up in the municipal landfill. According to local environmental activists, the landfill is unable to handle even the city’s municipal waste, let alone that accumulated in Serbia and Montenegro.

“We now realize that our landfill, where we dumped this garbage [from the river] for years, it is at 90% capacity,” says Dejan Furtula of the environmental group Eko Centar Visegrad.

“So the question now is what will happen if we face the influx of waste again next year between ten thousand and 15 thousand cubic meters?”

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What can be done to clean up the Drina River?

Community within reach river have come to accept seasonal floods of waste as inevitable.

“After more than 20 years of living along the river, we had to accept this as a fact,” says Verica Djuric, a local fisherwoman.

“Of course, we tend to believe that we will die before the Drina is cleared of garbage.”

“It’s bad, it’s sad, but we know that the problem must be addressed at higher levels [of government] and that the ministers of the competent governments of the three countries involved are already engaged in negotiations, so we can only hope”, he adds.

The Ministers of the Environment of bosniaSerbia and Montenegro have met regularly for the past three years, promising to work together to resolve the issue.

But activists and residents insist the authorities are too secretive and slow.

“We know that the ministers of Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia meet in different places once every six months. They have been here in Visegrad recently, but they never share the conclusions of their meetings with the public,” says Furtula.

To address the problem, Furtula believes unregulated riverside landfills need to be cleaned up and different waste strategically placed waste sorting facilities are expected to be opened in the three countries.

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What is the government doing to solve the problem?

In written responses to AP, the Ministry of Spatial Planning, Construction and Ecology for part of the country said it had recognized and addressed the problem in its 10-year waste management strategy.

Due to the “stagnation of efforts to solve the problem”, the ministry has repeatedly urged the relevant authorities in Serbia and Montenegro to resume work to “definitely resolve” the problem of floating waste in the Drina river basin, it said.

The ministry also called for another trilateral meeting at ministerial level, but “this did not happen due to other obligations of the relevant ministers of Serbia and Montenegro”.

“The source of the floating trash problem in the Drina Riveras well as its solution, can be found in neighboring countries, Serbia and Montenegro, but also in efforts to raise awareness of the importance of environmental protection in general,” the ministry wrote.

Watch the video above to see the devastating pollution of the Drina River.