The shameful neglect of Belgrade’s rivers

Originally published at The Belgrade Foreign Visitors Club

Extreme plastic pollution on the Sava near Belgrade
People fishing in extremely polluted water on the Sava river near Belgrade (March 2005). Detail here.

Plastic pollution on the Sava
The same spot in May 2008, nothing has changed.

Water expert and member of the International Press Institute (IPI), Joseph Treaster, has posted a well informed article about Belgrade after  attending the IPI’s annual meeting held here this year.

He touches on a point very close to my heart, namely the state of the environment here in Serbia, particularly the gross neglect of Water resources.

The environment was not formally on the agenda for the International Press Institute’s conference in Belgrade. But climate change and water and other environmental issues worked their way into conversations over several days. Next year the International Press Institute will be meeting in Helsinki and it is purposefully carving out time for the environment.

…According to the United Nations Environmental Program, Serbia is the only country in former Yugoslavia that has not updated its laws on water management in keeping with new science and technology. But that may change. For economic reasons, among others, Serbia wants to become a member of the European Union. Serbia and its neighbors face a string of barriers. But one way they can impress the European Union is to improve the way they deal with water and the rest of the environment.

I think it would have broken Joseph’s heart if he had seen the banks of Sava between the Old Sava Bridge and Ada. Rusting hulks of abandoned river boats snag river pollution in the form of plastic bottles and other junk (see above). The bank-side is littered with river detritus and discarded rubbish. Near Ada,  raw sewerage from Banovo Brdo and Topcider runs into the Ada marina, a beautiful spot ruined by the stench of raw faeces. 

The cycle route to Ada from 25th May is supposed to be a premium tourist attraction, one of Belgrade’s best natural heritage sites. It is instead one of the saddest sites one can see in Belgrade, a gorgeous environment abused and neglected to the point of ruin.

Every month citizens of Belgrade pay part of their  local taxes towards River-side care (Listed as Naknada za priobalja here). Apparently this amounts to a mere €30,000 per month (2.2million dinars) , but even €30,000 is a relative fortune with which to address some of the worst horrors, like the eyesore pictured above.

There is some good news however. The new “National Programme for Integration of Serbia into EU” is explicit in addressing both the lack of water legislation Joseph mentions above, and an aggressive action plan for dealing with both the pollution and neglect ( see section 3.27.3. “Waste Management”  and “3.27.4 Protection and management of water resources”).

Government recognition and actions plans are most welcome, but there needs to be a culture change for this to work. The river people (that is, people who live and work on the boats and splavs lining the river banks) need to help with this. If they refrained from throwing their rubbish into the river, installed septic tanks instead of using the river as a toilet (especially the clubs and restaurants) and kept the areas surrounding their riverside properties clean, then there would be a massive improvement.

I am not too hopeful that this will happen any time soon. When even the people who live on the rivers fail to care for them, how can visitors and tourists be convinced to respect them?

I have toyed with the idea of raising money to have a 500m stretch of the Sava river bank cleaned and restored to show people what can be achieved. Perhaps all they are missing is vision of what is possible?

3 Comments The shameful neglect of Belgrade’s rivers

  1. Pingback: Global Voices Online » Serbia: Belgrade River Pollution

  2. Pingback: which banks will fail

  3. Paul Burns

    Hi, i was in Belgrade in august 2009. and im pleased to say that the river was much cleaner than the images attached here. But still along way to go.
    however there was still a large collection of rusting dredgers and even paddle steamer moored along the sava.


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