Twenty years after the republic proclaimed itself an ‘ecological state’, the country is far more polluted today than it was back then.
Twenty years since Montenegro declared itself an ecological state, “the concept of an ‘ecological state’ exists only on paper”, Kristine Blolkus of UNDP said this February, after a joint UN Development Programme and EU delegation visited Montenegro to see the results.
Ahead of the 20th anniversary of the proclamation on September 20, most local greens agree, viewing Montenegro’s “ecological state” status as a dead letter.
The view from ground level is that Montenegro is more covered in waste now than it was then.
To take one example, Montenegro has yet to build a single waste recycling plant. Meanwhile, almost every town in the country has its own examples of flagrant disrespect for the environment.
Government data confirm that Montenegro produces more garbage than it can deal with.
Of the total quantity of waste produced annually in Montenegro, about 193,148 tons, only 96,574 tons – less than half – is collected and disposed of.
Predrag Miranovic, a farmer from Tolosi, a village near Podgorica, says it’s hard to know who treats the environment worse, “the ordinary people who live here or the authorities who do not give a cent to protect anything”.
He says the disastrous state of the environment can be measured by looking at the state of the river Mareza, from which the whole of Podgorica, the capital, obtains drinking water.
Starting from its spring to its confluence with the country’s biggest river, the Moraca, this small but important river is full of garbage, he says.
“I used to drink the water from this river every day 20 years ago but to look at it now, I think even the rat would poison itself if it fell in,” he joked.
The Ada Bojana on the Adriatic is another casualty of the country’s disrespectful attitude to the natural environment.
Each year it is covered in the trash that tourists leave behind, which the authorities have no means to deal with.
Zef Ivanaj, 56, a local restaurateur, says both tourists and locals are unscrupulous when it comes to dumping their garbage.
“There is trash everywhere. They throw it into the river, into the sea and along the road,” he said.
“Trucks also show up to take away the sand from the Bojana because it’s good for construction,” he added.
“This is a nature reserve, home to about 120 species of birds, but people are aggressively destroying the place,” Ivanaj lamented.
Another notorious ecological black spot in Montenegro is the iron ore processing plant in the city of Niksic.
Iron and steel are made here without any protective filters, as a result of which the air above the city is amongst the most polluted in Europe.
People in Niksic have protested about their foul air for years, even signing a petition calling for the closure of the factory, but in vain.
Aleksandar Perovic, of the environmental movement “Ozone” in Niksic, told Balkan Insight that Montenegro had made very little progress in the 20 years since the declaration on the country’s ecological status was proclaimed.
“Our government is creating the illusion of an ecological state emphasizing natural beautys of our country, while on the other hand , concealing a huge amount of pollution that is poisoning Montenegro,” Perovic said.
“The fact that the municipality of Niksic has given only 5,000 euros in two years towards ecological activities speaks for itself,” he added.
“Penalties for industrial polluters are also minimal, so polluters prefer to pay the fines at the end of the year rather than install systems of environmental protection,” Perovic explained, noting that so much work needs to be done so that Montenegro achieved ecological status from its declaration.
Another notorious case that local authorities have avoided dealing with for years is the Vasove Vode area near Berane, northern Montenegro.
The local authority has long been dumping garbage here, close to a major source of drinking water.
The country’s pride and joy, Lake Skadar, narrowly avoided becoming the scene of a major environmental disaster last year.
After a series of floods [month?], tons of garbage left in the open was dragged downhill and deposited on the shores of the lake, close to the water.
It was only thanks to the rapid reaction of local ecological groups that the lake, one of the biggest bird reserves in Europe, was saved from poisoning.
Montenegro’s ambitions to develop its industrial potential also conflict with the country’s environmental goals.
In cooperation with counterparts in neighbouring Bosnia and Herzegovina, the government [when?] unveiled plans to build a hydroelectric power plant in the Tara River Canyon, the second largest canyon in the world behind Colorado in the US and one of the cleanest rivers in Europe.
“I don’t want a swamp, I want the Tara,” was the slogan adopted by green NGOs who organized a petition against the construction of dams.
Because of the pressure of public opposition, the authorities backed down on the Tara Canyon project.
But they are still looking to build new hydroelectric plants on another river, the Moraca.
Some Green groups hope that Montenegro’s ambitions to join the European Union will result in pressure being put on the government to clean up its act, literally.
One of Montenegro’s obligations as a candidate country for membership is resolving the issue of waste disposal.
But the country has built only one sanitary landfill so far, in Podgorica.
Authorities appear to recognize that the project of building an ecological state has failed in some way – but they are keen to deny that nothing has been done on environmental issues in the past 20 years.
“There is much that needs to be done before we can say that the declaration of Montenegro as an ecological state has become entrenched in the right way,” environment and tourism minister Predrag Sekulic said recently, diplomatically.
“It’s too harsh to say that the declaration exists only on paper but I also believe we can always do more,” he told the daily newspaper Dan.
Five black spots:
– The aluminum factory in Podgorica
(pools of red, industrial mud and industrial waste)
– Iron and steel processing factory in Niksic
(industrial waste, no filters on factory pollutants)
– Shipyard at Bijela, near Herceg Novi
(industrial waste and maritime pollution)
– Thermal Power Plant at Pljevlja
(poisonous ash and industrial waste)
– Coal mine at Pljevlja
(industrial smog and river pollution).
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