Environment

Red alert triggered in Serbia as 40% of citizens drink unsafe water

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June 8, 2022

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Published:

June 8, 2022

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About 40% of Serbia’s residents drink unsafe water, an expert said, while about 600,000 residents of Vojvodina get drinking water with traces of arsenic. Wastewater in Serbia is mostly not treated but discharged back into rivers where it pollutes and damages the ecosystem, which certainly affects the quality and availability of drinking water.

Potable water is one of the most precious but also the most endangered resources on the planet. Due to irrational and unsustainable consumption and pollution, the world is threatened by a lack of quality water, primarily drinking water and water for the food industry and irrigation of agricultural land.

Currently, only slightly more than half of the population in Serbia is covered by the sewage network, while less than 10% is covered by some degree of wastewater treatment. Belgrade, Niš, and Novi Sad, the biggest cities, do not yet have wastewater treatment systems, so wastewater is directly discharged into rivers.

The worst water quality in Vojvodina

Vojvodina has the worst water quality – about 600,000 people there drink water containing harmful arsenic, said Božo Dalmacija from the department of Chemical Technology and Environmental Protection of the Faculty of Sciences in Novi Sad.

In an interview with the Centre for Investigative Journalism (CINS), Professor Dalmacija said 40% of the population in Serbia does not drink safe drinking water.

Dalmacija: There is water, but there is no quality water because it is polluted

Dalmacija says there is water, but that there is no quality water because it is polluted. The Morava river is polluted with nitrogen and phosphorus due to soil leaching, while a large amount of wastewater enters the canals in Vojvodina, so water practically does not flow there, the water expert says.

The Great Bačka Canal is a black spot, as is the Bor river. The most polluted are smaller watercourses that are near large cities and industrial centers.

Đerdap accumulation collects sediment

Large rivers are seemingly less affected by pollution, due to dilution in large quantities of water. However, the professor from the Novi Sad University highlights the problem in the Đerdap lake on the Danube.

Pollutants from all over Europe and Serbia end up in the reservoir because of the hydropower dam. It is where the sediment that carries pollution stops and falls to the bottom, which is a potential ecological bomb, according to Dalmacija.

Pollutants from all over Europe and Serbia end up in the Đerdap reservoir because of the hydropower dam

He explains that wastewater treatment has to become a priority and that it is a way to solve problems. If too many pollutants accumulate, Đerdap will have to be cleaned, and it will be too expensive.

The biggest problem is that only 10% of wastewater is treated in Serbia, and the other 90% reaches rivers. Belgrade, Novi Sad, and Niš, the three biggest cities, are also the biggest water pollutants in Serbia as they don’t have wastewater treatment facilities, the professor said.

Photo: CINS

Large cities have good drinking water because they have experts who control it and they built their water supply systems in time, he said. Dalmacija added that towns and villages do not have any solutions and that in Vojvodina province 600,000 people drink water with arsenic, which is carcinogenic.

The red alert went off because 40% of the population in Serbia does not drink completely safe drinking water, according to the professor.

The solution would be to create regional infrastructure and build water factories that would supply more towns.

Dalmacija: We do not have a critical mass of experts in the field of water treatment

The professor stressed Serbia doesn’t have a critical mass of experts in the field of water treatment, so that it is necessary to consider introducing technologies that require less energy and using everything that is generated from wastewater. Active sludge can be used for biogas production or as fertilizer, Dalmacija said.

Water should be conserved

Experts point out that we have enough water but that we don’t know how to use it and keep it safe. In a report published by the Serbian Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) based on data collected over 20 years, small rivers in mountainous areas of eastern, southeastern, and western Serbia are the cleanest.

The analysis of 25,000 samples from 248 measuring points showed that Kozaračka river, a tributary of the Morava, is the cleanest. Among the worst results, 79 percent of the samples are from Vojvodina.

The results of analysis of spring water in Belgrade showed that 16.3% is defective in physicochemical terms and that 59.7% of samples are bacteriologically defective.

The results of the analysis of spring water in Belgrade performed in 2020 showed 16.3% of samples are defective in physicochemical terms and that 59.7% are bacteriologically defective, according to the data provided by the Institute of Public Health of Belgrade.

Environmental organizations and initiatives point to issues and infrastructure projects in the country that can jeopardize the population’s water supply and the provision of clean and drinking water to all people of Serbia.

There are numerous challenges from the privatization of water sources and the construction of small hydroelectric power plants that directly affect biodiversity to the lithium and boron ore exploration and mining activities.

In addition to the human factor jeopardizing water supply, prolonged droughts during the summer and climate change are increasingly affecting the availability of drinking water.

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