According to the findings from new research, a million inhabitants in Serbia occasionally or permanently lack access to clean drinking water. The authors and their expert consultants are warning there is still no integrated and strategic approach to the development of water resources and their exploitation.
The research team from the Right to Water (Pravo na vodu) initiative has analyzed the management of water and water resources in Serbia as well as the domestic and international legal frameworks that regulate the right to water, together with the availability of clean water from a public health perspective. The Organization for Political Ecology (Polekol) combined public data with information obtained from interviews with relevant experts in a report called Navodno pravo – Pravo na vodu u Republici Srbiji ((Alleged) Right to Water in the Republic of Serbia).
Živković: Institutions should have a role of a shield against competing and private interests
“There is no strategic approach. Whoever grabs a resource first will have priority in using it. It is natural to have competing interests, but someone has to regulate them, and we insist on the role of institutions as they are the ones that need to act as a shield against the competing and private interests. We see on a local scale that there is no strategic approach to exploitation either; it is actually completely chaotic. We need institutions. We need competent people to work on our behalf, in the public interest,” said one of the authors Žaklina Živković and claimed the only way to ensure it is for the water resources to be public property and under democratic control.
The publication was produced for citizens and local organizations, she pointed out at a press conference in Belgrade. It should help them take account of their problems and to unite and cooperate, Živković asserted.
Privatization is worsening situation caused by climate change, water pollution
The document highlights the fact that the water supply was restricted last year on the territories of 23 cities and municipalities. The authors and the hydrogeologists, geologists and civil construction engineers that they consulted have attributed the issue to climate change, but also to privatization and major water pollution.
They estimated that one million people in Serbia occasionally or permanently lack access to clean drinking water. One of the examples is the city of Zrenjanin, where water has been unsafe for 18 years now. Of note, the local authority signed a deal in July on a public-private partnership with Metito from the United Arab Emirates and promised the issue would be solved within two years.
Žaklina Živković said the commercial use of water currently gets priority over drinking water supply and nature conservation, determined as European and global standards. In the light of climate change and the crisis affecting water resources, Serbia needs to adhere to the integrated water management principle, she added.
Serbia is in breach of international obligations
Legal expert Danilo Ćurčić wrote the chapter on the international framework for the protection of the right to water in the context of the situation in Serbia. The right to water isn’t explicitly recognized in the domestic law and the country’s strategic documents, he stressed and said the authorities aren’t working on changing it.
The protection of the most vulnerable people is especially important, and it is necessary to progressively improve the access to water, legal expert Danilo Ćurčić warned
The aforementioned data show access to clean water is inadequate and indicate that Serbia is breaching its international obligations related to the right to water and health, in his words. The protection of the most vulnerable people is especially important, and it is necessary to progressively improve the access to water, Ćurčić warned.
The right to water was explicitly acknowledged as a universal human right in 2010 in a resolution adopted by the United Nations General Assembly. In the region tracked by Balkan Green Energy News, Slovenia was the first to include the right to water in its constitution, in 2016, while activists filed a petition last year that led to a referendum in which the Waters Act was annulled.
Institutions lack resources, don’t cooperate with each other
Iskra Krstić, who wrote a chapter on integrated water resource management and their protection, said Serbia is not among the most jeopardized countries, as it has two times more water than what the UN determined as the water poverty threshold. However, it is nevertheless exposed to exceptional risk, she underscored.
Citizens were unable to participate in decision making with regard to the Clean Serbia project for the construction of sewerage and wastewater treatment units
Experts that participated in the research said there is insufficient data and that the relevant institutions are lacking resources, she asserted. Furthermore, they don’t cooperate with each other and they don’t share information with the public in an appropriate manner, Iskra Krstić said.
In addition, the current system is making local authorities dependent on self-financing, she remarked.
Water supply needs to be returned to public ownership
One of the authors’ recommendations is to return the water supply sector to public ownership. They said the current legal framework enables privatization. Krstić called for more transparency in major investments and to include citizens in decision making. She pointed to the government’s Clean Serbia project for the construction of sewerage and wastewater treatment units throughout the country and said the only information the public got about it was through the media.