Through its sustainable development goals, the United Nations helps protect rivers worldwide, and some of these goals are the following:
Goal 6: Ensure sanitary conditions and access to drinking water for all
Goal 7: Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all
Goal 12: Ensure sustainable measures of consumption and production
Goal 13: Take immediate action to combat climate change and its consequences
Goal 15: Sustainably manage forests, prevent desertification, stop and reverse land degradation and prevent the destruction of biodiversity
Ministry of Energy, Development and Environmental Protection of Republic of Serbia announced a public call on February 19, 2013, in which all interested foreign and domestic legal entities were presented with the opportunity for the construction of small hydropower plants (hereinafter referred to as SHPs), including available locations, regulations and legal conditions for construction and so on.
A small hydropower plant is a plant in which the potential energy of water first turns into kinetic energy by flowing in the turbine stator, and then it is transformed into mechanical energy in the rotor of the turbine. Finally, turbine shaft rotation produces electric power.
So far, 90 small hydropower plants have already been built across Serbia, out of a total number of 850 which are yet to be built.
The past experience has shown that construction and operation of SHPs lead to the loss of biodiversity in watercourses and to hydrological regime and water supply disturbances, and ultimately, to endangermentof local communities and their traditional way of living.
To help protect Serbia’s waters and to put a stop to their nonecological consumption and production, the UN, which fights for protection of nature and for renewal and regulation of natural resources, can step in with its goals, namely with Goal number 6, which stipulates the necessity of providing sanitary conditions, and the accessibility of potable water. Also, Goal number 12 stipulates the sustainability of consumption and production. These provisions are to ensure that nature is not endangered by industry – the very industry that has enabled the construction of SHPs.
The industry must not imperil nature and this is exactly what has been happening and what we must fight against. Building SHPs would inevitably lead to shortages of drinking water, and to deterioration of water quality. Furthermore, the mere process of drying up river beds could lead to droughts, which in turn could cause famines in poor countries, putting people in risk of malnutrition and starvation.
Access to safe and clean drinking water is an integral part of the world we want to live in. However, due to bad economy and infrastructure, as well as due to construction of SHPs, nature and biodiversity are being completely desolated.
According to prof. Ratko Ristić PhD from the Faculty of Forestry, Serbia is one of the poorest countries in the Balkans, especially when it comes toits surface waters. Professor further asks this question: Who profits bythese constructions? The only ones profiteering are interest groups and individuals pursuing a single goal, and that is to deliver the electricity produced in hydropower plants to the power company “JP EPS”. The power company pays to the producer the price of 10.6-13.93 euro cents per kilowatt-hour of produced energy, which ultimately falls upon the citizens of Serbia to pay out from their pockets, since electricity bills are charged 0.093 dinars for kilowatt-hour for each Serbian household.
Having considered everything, one cannot, by any stretch of imagination, claim to have the national interest at heart when the subject of SHPs is in question. Namely, by building 850 SHPs, only 1.7-2%of energy would be produced, which is far less compared to Serbia’s needs.
What we can conclude is that the construction of SHPs not only does not bring profit to Serbia in terms of electrical energy, but leads to severe ecosystem disturbances, environmental degradation, and systemic threatto the stability of fragile ecosystems of mountainous regions.
Such an ecological catastrophe would also mean denying the basic human right of every citizen of the Republic of Serbia to use unique natural riches offered to us and the right to preserve them for future generations.
Another goal of the UN is the Goal 13 and that is ‘Immediate action to combat climate change and its consequences’. Building SHPs entails cutting of trees in the vicinity of the plant, which together with draining of river beds, directly leads to climate change. Both of these things require immediate attention.
Citizens, aware of this problem, have taken action in their own hands in order to protect the rivers of Stara Planina Mountain and have sent an appeal for helpaddressedto entire Serbia called “Let’s Defend the Rivers of Stara Planina”. They have also sent a letter to ERSTE Bank (as clients) dissatisfied with their sponsorship of the construction.
The Supreme Court of Cassation has upheld the appeal on the matter of SHP “Pakleštica”, located on the Visočica River, thus nullifying the ruling of the Administrative Court and confirmed the order of the Ministry of Environmental Protection by which the construction of this SHP is banned.This appeal was also joined by:
– prof. Ratko Ristic, Ph.D., Dean of the Faculty of Forestry, University of Belgrade
– PEK –mountaineering and ecological club “Gora”
As a solution to this problem, we should mention that electricity can also be obtained from the energy of solar radiation as an inexhaustible and for now free energy source, which is minimally used.Also, one of the goals of the UN (goal 7 to ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all) is also renewable energy that could replace SHPs.By adopting viable standards, i.e. by investing in clean energy such as the sun and the wind, we could minimize the use of electrical energy, and we could also preserve rivers and nature.
In Serbia, the level of solar radiation is up to 30 or 40% higher than in Central and Northern Europe, therefore it is only sensible that solar concentrators be placed and used in Serbia. Solar energy is 2-5 times more efficient than other systems, and in addition, it requires far less land space.
In conclusion, it is evident that Serbia can be supplied through sources other than that of small hydropower plants, without annihilating the environment and water depletion, and without an ecological catastrophe.
According to the latest news, the secretary of the Ministry of Environmental Protectionissued a statement for Reuters, saying there is a bill in the pipeline banning the construction of small hydropower plants in the protected areas, Tanjug reports.
The purpose of sustainable development goals is to preserve and restore terrestrial ecosystems (forests, mountains, rivers, wetlands) to their original state by the year 2020.What we have to do, therefore, is unite and collectively work to keep the climatic change in check and to deter further destruction of nature, which is in compliance with the Goal 15 of the UN.
Nowadays, in times wherethere is a growing trend of strengthening the eco-awareness of an individual, it is unacceptable that there should be a country in which this consciousness is being stifled and extinguished. To extinguish this ecological awarenesswould be a catastrophe of unimaginable proportions – something we must not allow.
In conclusion, Stara Planina Mountain is a remarkable jewel of nature, a nature park so exceptional that its beauties must be protected and preserved for all future generations, no matter what!
Author of the essay: Aleksandar Živojinović
Image Source: Goran Tokić Goci, Facebook group: “Odbranimo reke Stare planine” (“Let’s Defend the Rivers of Stara Planina”)