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Could the ‘dump of death’ near Mostar be making locals ill?

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By Hans von der Brelie
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Witness
Witness   -   Copyright  euronews

Plastic sheets hover high in the chilly autumn air. A thunderstorm approaches, increasing the winds, which pick up dust, elevating the dirt into swirls towards the sky. Huge crowds of birds join the twisting dance of rubbish.

This hive of activity is happening above the massive Uborak dump.

On the ground, there's a strong stench coming from the black water which is leaking from this wasteland.

For the locals living nearby, they fear the rubbish dump is poisonous and has links to cancer, foetal malformations and other deadly diseases.

This highly controversial landfill is close to Mostar in Bosnia and Herzegovina - a naturally beautiful part of the country.

Waste trucks from the cities continue to bring garbage to Uborak, even though the dump looks full.

It's located on a karst sinkhole that has links to groundwater.

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The 'dump of death', UborakEuronews

Life for locals

Omer Hujdur lives nearby and takes samples of the black fluid leaking from the "dump of death" as it's locally known.

He claims that dead sheep are dropped off here alongside toxic medical waste and contaminated sludge full of PCBs from the city's sewage system.

Omer introduces me to Nasuf who took me to the cemetery, which is just within eyeshot of the landfill. We walked to a headstone engraved with golden letters: Vahid 1959-2017.

“We used to have a lot of fun together,” Nasuf tells me after a silent prayer. “He lived in the same street, we drank raki, we invited each other for dinner and enjoyed life.”

Cancer took Vahid’s life; his brother’s life; the life of Nasuf’s father and the lives of many others of his neighbours.

“Fourteen of my neighbours died from cancer over the last ten years.”
Nasuf lives near the controversial dump

“This settlement has 140 households,” Nasuf opens the death logbook. “Fourteen of my neighbours died from cancer over the last ten years.”

Later, Omer receives the results of the black water samples he took. “They are horrific”, Omer warns me.

“They show enormous pollution from copper, lead and zinc. But what's most worrying is the high percentage of arsenic – a 100 times higher than is legal!”

Accountability

Who is responsible? Why has this dump not been relocated?

The landfill began as an unofficial dump used by the army in the 1960s. The responsibility was then handed to the city of Mostar.

Croatian and Bosnian nationalists have governed Mostar for decades and both political parties have their own appointees at five waste management companies. Locals call them the waste mafia.

The city’s mayor had “no time for an interview,” according to his staff. So we approached Amna Popova who is an ecologist.

She blames the ethnic-nationalistic parties in Mostar for the waste scandal. “Ruling parties are using the waste management companies as their cashboxes,” Popova said. “If the financial inspection department took a closer look, somebody would end up in jail!”

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The 'dump of death', UborakEuronews

Public Health Institute

We ask Eniz Colakovic from the Public Health Institute at Mostar about the results of the water Omer took containing copper, lead, zinc, and arsenic and the connection with cancer.

"It could be the cause, but we really need to do (more) analysis, not only from one sample but multiple samples.”
Eniz Colakovic, Public Health Institute at Mostar,

He says that "It could be the cause, but we really need to do (more) analysis, not only from one sample but multiple samples.”

"But we do not have enough budget to go and do that type of work," added Colakovic. "If there is some project, if someone is willing to pay, we are ready to help those people (at Uborak) and do all the analysis possible."