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Not Harmless at All: How Heavy Machinery is Destroying the Neretva River

Sand and gravel mining in the Neretva is causing irreparable damage to the river

Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina — All travelers on the road Mostar—Čapljina, location Dretelj, have had the opportunity to see the heavy machinery in the Neretva River tirelessly extracting gravel for weeks now. Contrary to popular belief, the extraction of sand and gravel from riverbeds is an extremely invasive process that has far-reaching consequences for the river itself and the living world that depends on it, including people.
 
The Neretva River is already suffering under significant pressure. On the river itself and its tributaries, 8 large hydro-power plants have already been built, whose dams stop the normal flow of sediment (sand and gravel), causing riverbed incision downstream, with influences reaching the Neretva Delta, which is sinking more and more each day due to the lack of sediment. All this reflects in the groundwater and can directly negatively impact water availability for a large number of residents living along the Neretva. In addition, we must not forget that the river is under great pressure from small hydropower plants that are planned or have already been built on its tributaries.
 
“There is nothing harmless in extracting sand and gravel from rivers. The process itself destroys the riverbed, endangers the fish stock, and jeopardizes the natural functions of rivers, such as flood defense, habitats for various plant and animal species, and can ultimately lead to coastal erosion due to sediment starvation. In this particular case, if excavations are carried out without valid permits, all works should be stopped immediately, and those responsible should be adequately sanctioned. However, we note that all work in the riverbed, including the excavation of gravel and sand, should be regulated, minimized, and accessed only in cases where there is considerable danger to human security and their property. In ideal conditions, the riverbed would not be subject to exploitation. In cases where they would be allowed, all such works should be preceded by environmental impact assessment studies and planned mitigation measures", explained WWF Adria.

In addition, sediment mining is in conflict with three EU directives - the Habitats Directive, the Birds Directive, and the Water Framework Directive. As Bosnia and Herzegovina seeks to become a member of the European Union, key documents like these should not be ignored.
 
"According to the available information, there is no valid water permit for these works, which means that they are completely illegal. In addition, they also go against the Freshwater Fisheries Act because no one has informed the beneficiaries of the fishing right, nor obtained consent to carry out such activities. Due to all this, as well as due to irreversible damage to the Neretva and all those who depend on it, we believe that the relevant institutions should completely stop the excavation of sediment from the river", concluded WWF Adria.

The damage that sediment excavation from rivers does to nature and people is immeasurable and can have far-reaching consequences. The development of the country and the whole society is something we all eagerly await, but it must not come at the cost of the most valuable resources that Bosnia and Herzegovina has, preserved nature and wild rivers. These resources can be the basis for the country's future development, especially when there are more sustainable alternatives to established practices such as gravel and sand extraction.
Illegal sand mining on the Neretva River in Bosnia and Herzegovina

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