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In 2009, the United Nations asked me to write a report regarding the organization’s efforts to reach the Millennium Development Goals in Montenegro.

What follows is an excerpt from that 30 page report. The Montenegrin Communications Director informed me that UN Headquarters in New York gave my report a perfect 10/10 grade.


The Regional Environmental Programme cluster

Environmental issues have not been amongst the top national priorities in the Western Balkans. Understandably, priorities to date have focused on reforms needed to strengthen security, rebuild the economy and improve general living conditions. As a result, much needed investment in environmental infrastructure – such as wastewater treatment, air pollution abatement and monitoring, and industrial and communal waste management – are still in the process of becoming prime budgetary considerations. Clearly, this is a situation that raises humanitarian, social, economic and environmental concerns.

A number of industrial towns and regions have to deal with multi dimensional problems stemming from toxic pollution. The environmental situation in these hot spots is a direct cause of poor health and constitutes a major barrier to future investments. Without future investments the local people will be hard pressed to extricate themselves from a state of poverty. Successfully cleaning up these locations and addressing environmental problems will help attract new investments from private enterprise (domestic and international), banks, donors etc.

These hot spots have a significant cross border impact on air and water quality (rivers, lakes and the sea). The situation is often complicated by uncoordinated or even conflicting plans and demands of various sectors of various governments, the private business community and the general populace.

UNDP Country Offices in Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia FYR, Montenegro, Serbia and UN Administered Province of Kosovo have developed a regional programme centred around projects in selected locations that suffer from substantial environmental degradation caused by polluting industries, past and present. The effort is being coordinated out of the UNDP Montenegro office. Importantly, the programme will become a model for future regional cooperation efforts between countries that are in need of such an example.

The approach of the three year, $15 million programme – which is the biggest regional programme UNDP has committed to in South East Europe to date – is to:

  • improve local, national and international cooperation and policy dialogue, while simultaneously building institutional capacity to address present and future problems
  • use the most cost effective, yet thorough, measures to make progress  in cleaning  up and remediating the hot spots
  • help prevent future serious environmental degradation by increasing the supply of domestic professional services in the environmental sector and by making the people of the Western Balkans more cognizant of ecological issues, thereby developing a social mentality of environmental consciousness and stewardship which may be assisted by the development of environmental watchdog NGOs

Efforts in the first year of the programme were concentrated almost exclusively on remediation efforts and an intensive programme to create greater regional cooperation. Outreach efforts aimed at the public and NGOs are now being designed.

The nine hot spots are:

  1. Albania: Bajza, Shkoder/Skadar
    • the local community feared that a dangerous cocktail of toxic pollutants was being stockpiled at the Bajza railway station for more than 15 years
    • a letter to the Albanian Minister of Environment, Forestry and Water Administration stated that the stockpile could have included expired pesticides, including rogor, vofatox, nogos, selinon, novakrom, spitsornit, 2-4 D, fugorat, sevin, lindan and other unknown chemicals
    • Bajza is the last railway station in Albania before the frontier with Montenegro, so it acts as a customs control point. Two freight trains pass through the station every day and approximately 10,000 tons of freight are handled each month
    • the station is located at the shore of trans-boundary Shkoder (Skadar) Lake – the largest lake on the Balkan Peninsula, which both Albania and Montenegro have officially designated as a cross-border protected area
    • a preliminary investigation concluded that the stockpile was not as dangerous as the locals feared and was, in fact, limited to 200 tons of leather rags and 80 tons of hazardous chemicals (sodium hexafluorosilicate)
    • a tender for re-packaging, removal, treatment and final disposal closed on January 30, 2009 and work should be completed by April 2009
  1. Bosnia and Herzegovina: Tuzla
  • the municipality of Tuzla is one of the most polluted areas in B&H
  • it has the worst air quality in the country, due largely to emissions from thermo power plants, industrial heat production facilities and individual heating systems
  • Tuzla has the most polluted rivers and streams in the country, due to enormous discharges of waste water
  • significant land areas are covered by degraded soil, due to the uncontrolled exploitation of coal, salt and quark sand
  • when temperatures drop to the point where it becomes necessary to heat buildings, air quality in the urban centre of the municipality is usually rated as either category II or III (polluted or very polluted)
  • the situation often becomes critical, as sulphur dioxide levels rise to 400 μg/m³, which is 3-4 times higher than what is considered safe
  • ironically, two health centres are primarily responsible for the high levels of sulphur dioxide in the air
  • Clinical Medical Centre Tuzla and its Clinic for Lung Diseases burn high sulphur, dark coal to generate their own heat
  • the intervention involves connecting Clinical Medical Centre Tuzla and its Clinic for Lung Diseases to the municipality’s heating system
  • technical documentation and environmental impact assessments have been completed and physical work will begin in April 2009
  1. Bosnia and Herzegovina: Ugljevik
  • the Ugljevik thermo power plant has inadequate technological infrastructure and is discharging waste water with high concentrations of salts into the Janja and Mezgraja rivers
  • those rivers are used to water livestock and irrigate orchards and crops
  • Ugljevik is only 30 km from the border with Croatia and 25 km from Serbia
  • the rivers are tributaries of the DrinaRiver, which is part of the Sava and Danube water basin
  • the intervention will upgrade the existing de-mineralization and de-carbonization systems
  • the discharge site is also in need of remediation
  • wastewater will be decreased by 35 – 40% (17.000m3/year of water containing 45 tons/year of salt)
  • project documentation has been completed and physical work will begin in April 2009
  1. FYR Macedonia: Bucim
  • the Bucim mine’s toxic effluent contaminates groundwater and adjacent bodies of surface water, in particular the TopolnickaRiver which flows into the Bregalnica and Vardar rivers
  • waste rock, dust, tailings, industrial emissions and other poorly disposed-of mining waste materials have created environmentally hazardous conditions for residents and ecosystems in the immediate vicinity, the greater region and further downstream to Bulgaria and Greece
  • the intervention will address environmental degradation, past and present, and prevent further toxic damage
  • a collection and treatment system will be built for waste water produced by the mine
  • the tailings piles, which cover an area of 30 hectares, will be re-cultivated by employing state of the art methodologies and materials which are more effective and less costly than classical reclamation processes
  • the reclamation of the tailing piles area will reduce or eliminate airborne contaminants, resulting in better health conditions for people who live in the area
  • the mine suspended operations in January 2009 because the price of copper plunged dramatically and also because of the global financial crisis
  • the planned intervention had begun prior to the closing
  • cooperation with the mine owners has been excellent and UNDP is confident they will fulfill remediation commitments they made when they become operational again
  1. FYR Macedonia: Lojane
  • an open air dump, containing arsenic and other toxic remnants from a mine and factory which was closed in 1979, is responsible for a variety of serious health problems, including cancer, in students who attend a nearby rural school
  • when the mine and factory were closed no effort was made to clean up or even contain the toxic stews that were left behind at various locations
  • the intervention will remove hazardous waste and assure that the immediately affected sites will be cleaned
  • a public awareness campaign will me launched
  1. Montenegro: Mojkovac
  • a lead and zinc mine that was closed in 1991 left behind a toxic tailings pile
  • the pile was dangerously close to the banks of the TaraRiver (which is a UNESCO protected heritage river), in the middle of the town of Mojkovac
  • for years the tailings pile was unattended and the winds would blow the toxic dust into residential and commercial areas in the town and beyond
  • the dry tailings have been flooded to create a pond and contained in a tailing mine impoundment (TMI)
  • the TMI occupies an area of 19 ha and has an approximate volume of 2 million m3
  • the TMI was constructed to not only stop air born contamination of the area and people but also to prevent contamination of the TaraRiver
  • phase two of the remediation process began in October 2008
  • UNDP Montenegro is also engaged in an effort to build an ecotourism industry in the Mojkovac area (see section 4.3 Economy and Environment cluster)
  1. Serbia: Vrbas and Kula, Autonomous Province of Vojvodina, Serbia
  • the Danube-Tisza-DanubeCanal, a.k.a. the Grand Canal, was built in the 18th century in this area, partly for transportation and water supply, but also to drain the wet and fertile soils of the Backa district
  • in the 20th century this area was heavily industrialized, resulting in  increased settlements in the small towns along the canal
  • the canal became more and more polluted
  • in the worst stretch, around Vrbas, the canal is filled with industrial sludge
  • sugar beet processing factories, pig farms, slaughterhouses, edible-oil factories, metal processing factories, etc. are the worst polluters
  • untreated sewage from the towns makes the problem worse
  • 70% of pollution comes from industrial sources, 20% from municipal sources and 10% from agricultural sources
  • pollution from the Grand Canal flows into TiszaRiver, which sends it downstream into the DanubeRiver
  • the pollution in the portion of the Grand Canal that runs through Vrbas has been called, “the worst in Europe”
  • the intervention, now complete, resulted in the construction of the missing main waste water collector and rehabilitation of the sewage system within the Municipality of Vrbas to the administrative border of the Municipality of Kula
  1. UN Administered Province of Kosovo: Mitrovica
  • Mitrovica is home to the Trepca lead and zinc mine complex,
  • at its height the complex consisted of more than forty mines, foundries, and subsidiary plants
  • the programme is working on clean up and remediation at two hot spots, – Trepca Stari Trg and Trepca Artana – both of which pose serious public health risks
  • the intervention began with a comprehensive investigation and sampling program, including: hydro-geological and hydro-chemical analyses of the surface and underground waters; geochemical analyses of the soil; analyses of the impact of the mining dust on air quality; and analyses of the physical and chemical composition of the deposited mine tailings and dust
  • construction of a drainage system has begun at the Stari Trg site
  • the drainage system will divert surface runoff from the catchments area around the tailings pond
  • dry tailings beaches and a dam area have been sprayed with dust suppressants as a temporary emergency measure to improve the air quality for residents living in the vicinity
  • pollution levels will be monitored on a regular basis
  • at the Artana site one of two tailings ponds is being removed for reprocessing, while the other is being upgraded to prevent leaking
  • pollution levels at the site will be monitored on a regular basis
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