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Sunday, November 27, 2022

“Greetings from Ukraine!”: Tisza river has been carrying Ukraine’s waste to Hungary for 15 years

By: V4 Agency

When River Tisza floods, it washes away hills of garbage from (mostly illegal) landfills along the riverbank in its Ukrainian section and takes the waste to Hungary. Ukrainian authorities have been unable to prevent the pollution for over 15 years.

Due to high precipitation and melting snow, the river Tisza is flooding in its Ukrainian section. Similar to the last more than 15 years, the river has been bringing shocking amounts of waste to Hungary, whose cleanup poses a huge problem to the Hungarian authorities.

Forrás: Magyar Országos Vízügyi Főigazgatóság (OVF)
Forrás: Magyar Országos Vízügyi Főigazgatóság (OVF)

According to local press reports from Ukraine, this year’s situation is exacerbated by snow barriers which block the way to the riverbank, making it impossible to clean up (illegal) landfills from where the river washes away the garbage.

The problem of Ukrainian garbage is taking on international dimensions. It is mainly due to the inconsistent and neglectful local waste management, something authorities have also begun to treat as a fact.

Waste management (or lack thereof) in Lviv, a city with a population of nearly 750 thousand in western Ukraine, has long been an issue. The city does not have its own waste disposal site, so it transports domestic waste to sites across Ukraine, with tons of garbage ending up in illegal landfills or green areas. Lviv’s city administration is admittedly aware of the problem.

Reports are also circulating on the grossly negligent waste management practices of the town of Rakhiv in the Transcarpathian region. Rakhiv has no official waste disposal site either, so the Tisza riverbank is dotted with hills of rubbish accumulating spontaneously.

The only waste disposal site in operation in the Rakhiv administrative district is overwhelmed, with garbage spreading beyond its designated area and reaching the Tisza river. Nikolai Kokis-Melnyk, the deputy head of the Rakhiv district council, told the local media last March that Hungarian authorities and the consulate had contacted Rakhiv’s town hall over concerns of waste management, but the town’s mayor at the time ignored them. Instead, the mayor instructed the public utility company to use machines to dump garbage into the Tisza, Mr Kokis-Melnyk said. Rakhiv is situated at the confluence of White Tisza and Black Tisza, two smaller rivers forming the Tisza.

Nikolai Kokis-Melnyk said that he had contacted authorities about the problem of waste disposal in the Rakhiv district but “everyone shrugged their shoulders.” He recalled that the district council had earmarked 300 thousand hryvnias (nearly 9 thousand euros) to erect a concrete wall to protect the Tisza from the waste “spilling over” from the above-mentioned rubbish dump. The wall was never built, but a gravel embankment was erected instead. However, it provided no protection at all, as the rising river simply washed the gravel away along with the waste. Other times, when precipitation is low and the water level is not high enough, a “garbage swamp” forms and floats from the Rakhiv district towards Hungary, the article noted.

The river, called “blonde Tisza” by many Hungarians because of its colour, can hardly be called blonde any more, as its Ukrainian section is the country’s most polluted river. The Hungarian authorities are struggling to stop the waste at several points, inlcuding the town of Vasarosnameny, near the border. The Ukrainian press reported that the Hungarians use excavators to remove the waste from the river, with at least 60 tons of plastic and other waste lifted in last May only. “Greetings from Ukraine!”, a Ukrainian portal wrote.

Alexander Chistyakov, the director of Ukraine’s National Ecological Council, confirmed during last spring’s flooding that garbage pollution of the Tisza had been a problem for at least 15 years, as Ukrainians considered its bank nothing but an an illegal landfill. According to him, about 35 thousand unlicensed landfills exist in Ukraine in the spring of 2020, with a total area of more than 14 thousand square kilometres – roughly the area of the Transcarpathian region, all drowning in waste.

The expert also warned that the bottom of the river was just as polluted, meaning that the garbage ‘sent’ to Hungary was only a part of the problem. Plastic in water breaks down into carcinogenic micro particles, after which it becomes food for fish. And then the people of Ukraine, including those in the Transcarpathian region, eat the fish and drink the water, thereby taking in poison, Chistyakov said.

Ukraine’s state environmental inspectorate has recently announced that it will cooperate in compiling an interactive map of the “protection zones” along the Tisza. It is planned to include high-risk areas such as landfills and industrial waste disposal sites. The inspectorate’s official website writes that the map will help authorities perform thorough checks.

Igor Sinkaryuk, deputy chairman of the Transcarpathian Regional State Administration, announced recently that they are cooperating with the Hungarian, Romanian and Slovak authorities in the framework of a cross-border programme, relying heavily on experience of those authorities. The plan is to create a special pontoon dam on the Tisza, which would filter out garbage on the Ukrainian section of the river, so that none or only a small fraction of it would reach Hungary.

Answering a question in the subject in parliament, Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said that Hungary ensures that the rivers leaving Hungary would not be polluted. However, certain regulatory shortcomings and non-compliance with the rules in Ukraine and Romania prevent this Hungary contacted both countries at ministerial level, offering its assistance.

The minister also mentioned in his speech the heavy metal pollution which has recently reached Hungary on the Tisza from Romania.

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