Islands of floating waste clog rivers in Balkans

A grey heron stands between dumped plastic bottles and barrels on the bank of the Potpecko Lake on the Lim river, near city of Priboj, Serbia, Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2021. Plastic bottles and other garbage are among tons of garbage clogging rivers in Serbia, Montenegro and Bosnia that were once famous for their emerald color and crystal clear waters. (AP Photo/Dragan Karadarevic)
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Associated Press

VISEGRAD, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) — Huge islands of waste are floating on some rivers in the Balkans, causing an environmental emergency and threatening a regional hydropower plant.

Plastic bottles and bags, rusty barrels and other garbage on Tuesday could be seen clogging the Drina river near the eastern Bosnian town of Visegrad. Upstream, the Drina tributaries in Montenegro, Serbia and Bosnia are carrying even more waste after the swollen winter waters surged over the the landfills in the area.

The Balkan nations have poor waste management and tons of garbage routinely end up in rivers. A broken barrier this week caused a massive congestion of garbage on the Drina that has threatened the Visegrad dam.

Officials say that between 6,000 and 8,000 cubic meters of waste are pulled out of the Drina each year near Visegrad. Although the problem is not new, Serbia, Bosnia and Montenegro have done little to fix it even as they seek to join the European Union.

An environmental activist from the Eco Center group, Dejan Furtula, said the problem with garbage in the Drina also is jeopardizing the local community because once it is taken out, the waste is then dumped on a local landfill which is often on fire and whose toxic liquid flows back into the Drina.

“We are all in danger here, the entire ecosystem,” he said.

Following a devastating war in the 1990s, the Balkans is still lagging far behind the rest of Europe both economically and with regard to environmental protection. Another huge problem has been dangerous air pollution in most regional cities.

At the Visegrad dam, efforts begun on Tuesday to clear the clogged garbage and avoid potential damage to the power system. In southwest Serbia, the Lim river has created a similar problem at the Potpecko accumulation lake.

Images of layers of garbage covering both the artificial lake and the Drina have sparked outrage. “Horrific and shameful,” read the headline by the Blic daily this week, describing the Potpecko lake as a “floating landfill.”

Both the Drina and the Lim rivers are known for their emerald color and breath-taking scenery along their winding flows. Running along the border between Bosnia and Serbia, the Drina also is highly popular among rafters in the region.