Parts of the Balkan River have turned into floating garbage heaps

VISEGRAD, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) – Huge amounts of waste are dumped in poorly regulated riverside landfills or directly into waterways that flow across three countries that accumulate behind a trash barrier on the Drina River in eastern Bosnia during wet winter weather and spring.

This week, the barrier has once again become the outer edge of a giant floating waste dump of plastic bottles, rusty barrels, used tires, household appliances, driftwood and other trash picked up from its tributaries by the river.

A river fence installed by a Bosnian hydroelectric plant a few kilometers upstream from its dam near Visegrad has turned the city into an unintended regional waste site, local environmentalists have complained.

Heavy rains and unseasonably warm weather last week caused many rivers and streams to overflow in Bosnia, Serbia and Montenegro, inundating neighborhoods and forcing many people from their homes. Temperatures dropped in many areas on Friday as rain turned to snow.

“In recent days we had a lot of rain and heavy flooding and a lot of water flow from Montenegro (the Drina’s tributaries) which is now, fortunately, receding,” said Dejan Furtula of the environmental group Eco Center Visegrad.

“Unfortunately, the huge flow of garbage has not stopped,” he added.

The Drina River flows 346 kilometers (215 mi) from the mountains of northwestern Montenegro through Serbia and Bosnia. And some of its tributaries are known for their emerald color and breathtaking scenery. A section along the border between Bosnia and Serbia is popular with river rafters when it’s not “garbage season”.

Around 10,000 cubic meters (more than 353,000 cubic feet) of waste is estimated to have accumulated behind the Drina river’s trash barrier in recent days, Furtula said. The same amount of water has been withdrawn from that area of ​​the river in recent years.

It takes an average of six months to remove garbage. It ends up in Visegrad’s municipal landfill, which Furtula said “doesn’t even have enough capacity to handle (the city’s) municipal waste.”

“Fires are always burning at the (municipal) landfill site,” he said, calling the situation there “not only a major environmental and health hazard, but a major embarrassment for all of us.”

After decades of devastating wars in the 1990s that accompanied the breakup of Yugoslavia, the Balkans lag behind the rest of Europe economically and in terms of environmental protection.

Despite seeking membership in the European Union and adopting some EU laws and regulations, countries in the region have made little progress in developing effective, environmentally sound waste disposal systems.

Unauthorized waste is dumped in hills and valleys, where garbage litters roads and plastic bags hang from 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 levels of air pollution affecting several cities in the region

“People need to wake up to this kind of problem,” said Rados Brekalović, a resident of Visegrad.

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