Environmental experts are emphasising the risk that one of the most important wetlands in Europe will be destroyed, even though it is protected by the Ramsar Convention, because the Axios, one of the largest rivers in the Balkans, 90% of which is in FYROM and the remainder in Greece, is being used as a natural sewer into which industrial units operating on both sides of the border are discharging their effluent, and in particular the metal factory (zinc) operating in FYROM near the Axios. This is resulting in a sewer running into the delta, containing large quantities of lead, cadmium, zinc, nickel, cobalt and other metals.
What steps does the Commission intend to take to stop irresponsible industrial operations and to protect the ecosystem of areas adjoining the Axios and the river delta wetlands in order to safeguard the ecosystem’s balance and ensure the health of residents in the region?
The Commission is fully aware of the environmental problem of the river Varadar/Axios. Therefore financial assistance to address environmental problems in fYROM has been provided under the PHARE National Programmes and CBC Programmes.
An allocation of EUR 1.6 million was provided under the 1997 Phare Cross Border Co-operation Programme Fyrom/Greece (Sub-project MA 9707-02 “Environmental Protection”) for a project called “Automatic Monitoring Stations Downstream the Vardar River to Monitor Pollution Quantities by Various Parameters”. The project’s objective is to provide for a continuous monitoring of the pollution status and open the possibility of rapid action against potential polluters. On the basis of the information that the project will be able to provide, the Ministry of Environment of fYROM is supposed to take the consequent measures to solve the pollution of the river.
In the 1997 national Phare programme for fYROM, 2 projects were financed (for a total contribution of EUR 2 million): (i) “Institutional Strengthening and Capacity Building” and (ii) “Waste water, water quality and solid waste management”. The objective of the first project was to assist the Ministry of Environment in establishing proper to deal with environment protection, including water protection. The project will assist the approximation of legislation to the Water Quality Framework Directive and the Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control Directive. Out of six components of the second project, three have dealt with water protection eg. National Waste Water strategy development and Waste Water Management system for Skopje. All the strategy is based on the development of the protection of particular watersheds that finally influence the main collector of Vardar/Axios river.
An additional allocation of EUR 3 million was provided under the 1999 national Phare Programme 1999 for FYROM to finance the following two projects: “Strengthening to the Ministry of Environment to adapt environmental legislation to the Community acquis” and “Environmental awareness raising, improvement of communication and environmental monitoring”.
The results of the above-mentioned projects and the regular consultations on Environmental issues between the Commission and the Ministry of Environment will contribute to achieve the common goal to safeguard the ecosystem balance and ensure the health of all residents in the region.