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What is hidden behind record foreign investments in Bosnian mining

While activists claim that due to intensive mining operations in central Bosnia, citizens are already drinking cloudy water, investors claim that they are doing everything ‘according to standards’.

The news recently announced by the Central Bank of Bosnia and Herzegovina that this country achieved 1.44 billion convertible marks (740 million euros) in foreign investments last year, resonated with the public, because it is an increase of 21 percent compared to 2021. Surprisingly, Great Britain is in first place with 271.8 million convertible marks of investments (139 million euros).

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However, behind this is hidden the story of investments in mines, which bring enormous pollution of the natural environment.

One of the biggest British investments in Bosnia and Herzegovina is the mine in Vareš. It’s the excavations carried out by Adriatic Metals, whose parent company is registered in Great Britain. It is one of the largest investments and a profit of over one billion dollars (933 million euros) is expected. The British ambassador’s visit to the mine speaks of the importance of the project. Investments in Vareš have been going on for years, and production is expected to start soon. However, before production, citizens of nearby Kakanj already drink cloudy water.

“If we look at the topographical and hydrological map of Vareš and its surroundings, it is clear that the heavy metal mine is located in the basin of the Sarajevo-Zenica basin. This means that by polluting the underground water at the mine location, we will have the same poison downstream in the Bosna river basin. River Trstionica is the first victim and it is already evident on the field. Furthermore, the river Bukovica, from which Kakanj draws water for the waterworks, suffers from pollution. “The rain will wash away the contaminated excavations, the water flows into the Borovički creek and then into Bukovica, and part of the underground water from the mine is carried through the Borovički creek,” says Hajrija Čobo, an environmental activist from Kakanj.

An industrial road for transporting contaminated ore is currently being built in the water protection zone of Bukovica, which will further endanger the purity of the water that the citizens of Kakanj drink.

There is no citizen resistance

“The water in Kakanj has not been drinkable since early spring and no one has publicly announced this to the citizens. Soon that water will not even be usable as technical water. We expect that it will contain an amount of heavy metals harmful to human and animal health. We don’t claim this just flat-out, but we do mini internal water analyses, we contact local experts and eminent professors. “Bukovica will be polluted at the very source, because the location of Semizova Ponikva, where its source is, has been placed under concession for mining,” adds Čobo.

She believes that the concession was approved through corrupt practices.

“The entire concession for the colonialist mine is based only and exclusively on corruption and illegalities, as evidenced by the contracts in our possession.” It is very clear where the laws and international conventions were violated. It is also clear that everything is a product of corruption. The life of Kakanjaci costs an average of 150 convertible marks. The government sold the lives and health of the residents of Kakanj, Vareš, and all places within 150 kilometers as the crow flies,” explains Čobo.

On the other hand, for various reasons, the citizens do not understand the scale of the disaster and there is no significant resistance.The reason probably lies in the fact that the local population from Vareš and the surrounding area has been suffering the consequences of economic underdevelopment and neglect by the federal authorities for years. According to Mayor Marošević, with the arrival of foreign investments in this municipality, there was a significant shift in the development of the economy, and a “whole small world” was created in Vareš. Empty apartments, which were impossible to rent until a few years ago, are now impossible to find, and prices have risen drastically. A drastic drop in the unemployment rate was also recorded, accompanied by an influx of labor from the surrounding municipalities.

“We are trying to incite the people to revolt.” Obviously unsuccessful, because there is fear in the people. No one, but no one, dares to publicly say in the media that the Kakanians must defend themselves. We gave the state lungs a long time ago, our rivers were destroyed, we live in a radioactive environment and somehow we survive all that. Now the river we used to drink is being destroyed, as well as Trstionica, which was the only alternative. We have filed many criminal charges, some are under investigation, but nothing is happening yet. We also know about suspended investigations. Death awaits everyone, either naturally or from cancer caused by poisonous water. “If people were at least a little bit free, we would now be witnessing an armed conflict between citizens against the government and the mines,” said Čobo.

The municipality has limited powers

According to the laws in the Federation of BiH entity, local communities do not have jurisdiction in the approval process, but municipal councils, based on an assessment of whether there is a public interest, may or may not grant consent to a concession issued by the cantonal ministry.

From the office of the mayor of Kakanj, to our inquiry as to whether independent measurements of the water content determined the presence of heavy metals and other pollutants in the Kakanj water supply, they replied that, according to the Public Company Vodok, the measurements showed that the presence of heavy metals was within the limits of what is allowed in accordance with the Official regulation, but that recently there has been a significant increase in the turbidity (NTU) of the water, which is probably the cause of construction works near watercourses.

Adriatic Metals PLC says that the Vareš mine has all the legal environmental permits required by the Bosnian law to start work, and federal environmental inspectors regularly visit the mine.

“In accordance with the statutory requirements, we also voluntarily conducted a two-year internationally harmonized environmental and social impact assessment (ESIA), according to the standards set by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. This policy is the most up-to-date of all international codes of best practice and its ten performance requirements are far more demanding than national codes and standards,” says Dominic Roberts of Adriatic Metals.

“We appreciate that there is concern that our operations could affect the Bukovica River, and subsequently Bosnia. Attached to the response of Adriatic Metals is a comprehensive text on this question, the summary of which is that until today the quality or quantity of water supply to Kakanj has not been affected by our work, and there is no reason to suggest that there will be in the future. If there had been a release of harmful material, it would have been determined by our tests, the results of which we submit to the authorities or by the utility company Kakanja, because they have a legal obligation to test these waters regularly,” explains Roberts.

We did not receive an answer to our inquiry to the press service of the Zenica-Doboj Canton until the end of the text.

Questionable survival of Pliva River

In western Bosnia, the Pliva River and the population of three municipalities are also threatened by mining exploration.

“In the area of ​​the municipality of Jezero (in the Republika Srpska entity), mineral resources were explored. Allegedly, significant amounts of gold were found, which should also imply exploitation. All research and excavations are carried out in the immediate vicinity of the Pliva river, which is a common treasure of the municipalities of Šipovo, Jezero and Jajce. Even during the research itself, chemicals and other harmful substances were spilled into the river, and if there was excavation, it would be a daily occurrence and in much larger quantities,” says Edin Hozan, mayor of Jajce.

Citizens and activists from both entities joined together in order to preserve a common resource without which their future is questionable, but the mayor of Jezera has changed her attitude.

“For us,  Pliva is a pearl, a treasure of inestimable value and there is no resource more valuable than the river itself. In the long term, it can bring great benefits to all of us, and Jajce citizens also use it for drinking. “Several years ago, these three municipalities signed the Agreement on the preservation and protection of Pliva as something very valuable, and I don’t understand why the mayor of Jezera gave up on that idea and allowed it to be polluted or generally endangered by excavations,” concludes Hozan.

On the other hand, it is an interesting fact that in the municipality of Jajce, several mines have been active since 1958, and whose impact on drinking water from Pliva and on the environment in general is not discussed at all. Geological surveys of mineral deposits, evaluation of mineral potential, even a judge of the long-term development strategy of the municipality and SBK of the canton. It is also interesting that the controversial geological surveys are planned to be carried out in the municipality of Jezero, which after the signing of the Dayton peace agreement belonged to the Republic of Srpska, and which is considered to be one of of the most geologically potent localities in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

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