Estimating garbage volume and composition, like here in Lazeravac, is part of the important work to do proper feasibility studies in environmental infrastructure projects.
An integrated approach to handling the garbage
The environment has not been at the top of the Serbian government’s priority list. But if EU membership is to become reality, enormous efforts are required to manage waste, waste water and reduce air pollution – a total of 4 billion euros needs to be invested to meet the relevant standards. Only five out of the 26 Serbian waste management regions has environmentally safe waste disposal for household waste today. The rest of them use non-compliant waste dumps, with hazardous leachate potentially leaking and polluting water bodies and groundwater.
There is money available, through loans and grants but the projects are missing. The aim of Sida's support is not to try to singlehandedly fill the €4 billion gap and directly build infrastructure but to help Serbia structure the process and open opportunities for major investment. The Sida supports the Serbian Ministry of Energy, Development and Environmental protection to create an overview of what the needs are, what is most urgent to fund and to assist the ministry and municipalities in implementing the necessary investments.
Environmental Infrastructure projects such as waste management involve huge investments. In Serbia a waste management project involves a process of 22 steps, which altogether take about seven years to complete. Project documentation is often the most time-consuming element, particularly with the problems of obtaining location permits in Serbia. Lack of documentation that is saved digitally, and people who are replaced along the process, all contribute to the risk of forgetting and losing what have been done initially, once you are several years into the project.
"The Sida project will help the ministry build a national database that congregates all different household waste and wastewater demands, which will make it easier to prioritize which ones to support. If the information is to be useful, the municipalities also need to learn how to do proper feasibility studies that prove the project is economically, socially and environmentally sustainable, and show that the local authorities have a genuine intention to implement and co-finance the projects," says John Glazebrook, project manager for the Swedish Environmental Infrastructure Support Programme in Serbia.
Moreover, the ministry needs to clarify where their responsibility ends and the municipalities take over. Serbia's regions are relatively autonomous, and as such they have often received direct contributions from foreign donors to fund environmental initiatives, without any national coordination.
The ministry will therefore get to take a bigger role in visiting and discussing with local authorities on how to plan for a project and what is reasonable in a first step. Many municipalities want to make large investments all at once, with eg. an incinerator or an advanced recovery and recycling terminal, which would be far more expensive and difficult to realize.
The tariff issue is also important: the operational costs of the new waste management must be financed through higher tariffs, which is seldom appreciated by the residents or the political leadership who need to discuss it with them. The municipalities need assistance in determining how high rate a particular investment would involve, and how much the residents are willing to pay.
Sida's contribution also includes a couple of pilot projects that the ministry will implement to increase their skills and practical experience. One of them is the new sanitary waste landfill in Pančevo, where previously waste had long been dumped, without any underlying barrier that prevents the toxic leachate to pollute waterways. Five years ago, large sums were invested by the municipality to construct a new landfill and though almost all the construction was done, it was never finalized. Instead, the people have continued to dump on the old sites. Now, the aim is to solve the bottlenecks, by finalizing the technical issues, getting the site permits ready and establish a better project organisation where the people carrying out the project are also present at the board meetings, which take place in Pančevo.
The needs for improved waste management in Serbia are huge and to meet them, the work has to be done in several steps.
"Securing the mountains of waste from further polluting the environment is a first step, says John Glazebrook. Once that is done, you can invest in waste incineration or implement recycling at a larger scale. It's also about changing the mindset of people, which takes time. If we want people to incentivise recycling, it requires the introduction of a tax on garbage that is thrown away. Trying to do everything at once involves the great risk of people continuing to dispose on the old uncontrolled sites, in order to avoid higher costs."
The political will is essential to achieve real results. After last year's change of government, the environmental focus has decreased and many people in the ministries have been replaced, which in turn has caused delays to the project. But John Glazebrook believes that as Serbia approaches EU membership the pressure will increase on the government to meet increased environmental standards. For the central government and municipalities alike the major step will be about realizing that the change process is inevitable.
"Those local governments that wake up to this fact early will do best and that requires national leadership. Aid in the earliest stages is often in the form of grants to initiate the change but later on support will only be available as cheap loans that must be paid back," concludes John Glazebrook.
About the project :
The purpose of Sida’s support is to assist Serbia's Ministry of Energy, Development and Environmental protection to develop a systematic approach to assessing, preparing and prioritising environmental infrastructure projects. Sida is funding the three-year project (2011-2013), which was renewed in July for another two years. The total funding is 35 million SEK.
The initiative has two main components: The first one includes development of a national environmental project database that can be used to gather and prioritize which projects to support. The intervention also builds capacity within the Ministry to develop concrete and costed action plans, and helps the central government give municipalities guidance in their work with environmental projects.
The second component enables the Serbian ministry to get direct experience of project implementation. These small projects either help develop national policy or act to clear "bottleneck blockages" in much larger ongoing projects.
The lack of waste water treatment and modern waste management is a major problem in Serbia. Sida's development cooperation has so far focused on waste management since Serbia gives this issue the highest priority. Moreover, the responsibility for water and wastewater management is shared between Ministry of Energy, Development and Environmental protection and the Ministry of Agriculture, which makes it more complicated to plan and implement projects.
Example of results: