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Illegal Dumps Blight Rural Bosnia

Action plan aims to do away with unlicensed rubbish sites that are poisoning the countryside.
By Srdjan Papic

With only two garbage containers and no local or regional dump, the once-beautiful village of Kacuni in central Bosnia is now drowning in litter.


As the local public waste disposal company has not been operating for the past three years, villagers can only throw away their garbage in front of their houses or into the Kozica river which flows through the settlement.


"I used to fish there, but there are no more fish in the river - only plastic garbage bags, car parts and bottles," Bescir Agib said sadly, looking out of the window at the polluted river.


"We once used the river for our drinking water - but now I have to keep an eye on my children to ensure that they don't bathe there."


Agib told IWPR that the village's rubbish is strewn everywhere and is often burned in the street, causing a thick acrid smoke that clings to everything. His wife complains that she can no longer dry her laundry on her balcony. "There's too much soot," she explained.


Kacuni, which lies some 30 km west of Sarajevo, is typical of the problems facing Bosnia's public utilities following the destruction and chaos of the war.


Once beautiful meadows, springs and hills across Bosnia-Herzegovina are now covered in illegal garbage dumps, which the authorities are facing tremendous difficulties in clearing.


Local public utility companies depend on the collection of monthly fees to finance their work. In bigger settlements such as Sarajevo, Banja Luka or Mostar, the payments provide basic services but smaller areas - such as Kacuni - do not yield enough money to cover the cost of waste disposal, water supply and street cleaning, let alone invest in new equipment.


The Civil Society Promotion Centre of Bosnia-Hercegovina, CSPC, admits that while waste disposal facilities are adequate in the cities and municipalities, rural areas are well below par.


CSPC environmental analyst Larisa Grujic told IWPR that the country's unlicensed dumps are already leading to the pollution of its subterranean water supplies.


While accurate data on the amount of garbage generated in Bosnia is not available, the CSPC estimates that enormous quantities of waste materials have accumulated during the Bosnian war, including pharmaceutical materials from humanitarian aid shipments. But the country has no facilities for the safe destruction or disposal of such dangerous waste.


Environmental activist Mustafa Omanovic told IWPR that around 35 tons of medications and drugs entered the country during the war, but that only eight per cent of this was safe for use in hospitals. "The rest was past its expiry date, so it was dumped at garbage sites," he said.


While legislation on environmental protection, preservation of nature and handling waste disposal was adopted last year in Republika Srpska, RS, it has not yet been fully implemented.


But no similar provision has been made in the Federation - making it the only part of Europe without environmental protection legislation. The authorities drafted several laws in 1998, but there have been bureaucratic delays in their implementation.


Ministries from both entities, meanwhile, have agreed to accept a National Environmental Protection Action Plan for in Bosnia-Hercegovina, NEAP - which was drafted by a coordination committee comprising environmental analysts from RS and the Federation, and is endorsed by the European Commission and World Bank.


Co-chairman Borislav Jaksic said a nationwide plan was vital if the environment was to be protected, adding, "Bosnia-Hercegovina is literally strewn with rubbish, as it has only one sanitary dump site - in Sarajevo."


The NEAP programme will cover ten different areas of activity, including handling of solid wastes, and monitoring the quality of water and air. The action plan also envisages the transformation of regional dumps into sanitary locations for waste disposal.


Almost 120 million euro is needed for the implementation of the NEAP project. Due to limited available funds in the state budgets, both entities decided to implement the strategy in three successive phases.


The European Commission and the World Bank have provided ten million euro for the first phase of the action plan, which is due to begin by 2007.


However, while successful implementation will depend on the support of governmental structures at both entity and state levels, Bosnia's people can make a significant contribution themselves by putting a stop to the disposal of garbage in the country's rivers and fields.


Srdjan Papic is a freelance journalist based in Sarajevo.


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