Rounds of heavy rainfall plagued the Balkan Peninsula in southeastern Europe during the end of December and into January, bringing to light a growing environmental problem in countries hopeful to one day join the European Union. As is typical after storms from the Mediterranean Sea sweep across Serbia, Montenegro, and Bosnia and Herzegovina, the rivers swelled with rainwater which pulls in waste from illegal and overfilled landfills located near the banks. Along the Drina River in Bosnia and Herzegovina, a floating barrier was built to keep the waste from floating farther down the river and slowing down the hydropower plants. According to Euronews, a second barrier was built to collect any trash that makes it past the first. Trucks and machines are stationed at power plants along the Drina River and across the region during heavy rain events to remove the trash that breaks past these floating barriers and collects at the hydropower dams. This was the case after the bouts of heavy rainfall during late December and January. A thick layer of trash accumulated on the Potpeć Lake in Serbia, with plastics, rusty metal scraps, tree trunks and reportedly a coffin littering the water, The Associated Press (AP) said. Sarajevo, the capital city of Bosnia and Herzegovina, received 8.26 inches (219 mm) of rain in December and 6.60 inches (168 mm) of rain in January. Normal rainfall amounts are 2.69 inches (68 mm) in December and 1.62 inches (41 mm) in January. In Belgrade, the capital of Serbia, rainfall in December reached 1.61 inches (41 mm) and 4.27 inches (108 mm) in January. Normal rainfall amounts for each month are 1.82 inches (46 mm) and 1.72 inches (44 mm), respectively. Even when it isn’t raining, piles of burning trash can be seen from the roads and plastic bags cling to tree branches. The buildup of this waste issue has been decades in the making with officials blaming it on neglect and a lack of efficient waste-management policies in Serbia and Bosnia, according to the AP. CLICK HERE FOR THE FREE ACCUWEATHER APP Many of the countries in the Balkan Peninsula are still recovering from a series and wars and crises that destabilized the region in the 1990s. As the countries try to build economies that lag far behind the rest of Europe, environmental issues are not considered the top priority. The burning of this excess trash also adds to the hazardous levels of air pollution many cities in the Balkans face. Environmentalists in the region warn that many landfills are leaking toxic materials into rivers due to poor management, which threatens ecosystems, wildlife and the health of the surrounding communities. The Drina River and one of its tributaries, the Lim River, are two major rivers in the Balkans, and trash flows were reported in each during the start of the year. During the summer months, adventures and rafters flock to these emerald-colored rivers to enjoy the winding waterways and seemingly pristine nature. Edita Slatina said she used to visit the Lim River with her parents on the weekend as a child, now she says it pains her to take her son there. “We need a solution as soon as possible,” she told Euronews, adding that she would like for him to be able to go the Lim River to swim and catch fish with his grandfather. “I would like this place to be memorable for my son also.” Jugoslav Jovanovic, from Serbia’s state-run Srbijavode company that is in charge of the country’s water system, stated that focusing on clearing the trash from the dams year after year, which only ends up back in the landfills, is not a real solution. “We must find common ground and solve this by joining forces,” he stated in an interview with the AP. Authorities from Serbia, Montenegro and Bosnia, have held meetings to discuss the ongoing issue, but as of early 2021, little progress has been made. Finding a way to efficiently manage the waste in Serbia and Bosnia is just one hurdle the countries face in an effort to join the European Union. The first step for a country to join the European Union is to meet the key criteria for accession, which includes stable institutions that guarantee democracy, the rule of law, human rights and a functioning market economy that can cope with competition and market forces in the European Union. Additional conditions, mainly relating to regional cooperation and good neighborly relations, were added for the countries in the Western Balkans. According to Emerging Europe, accession negotiations are underway for Serbia and Montenegro, and Albania and North Macedonia were recognized as official candidates in 2020. However, Bosnia and Herzegovina is considered a “potential candidate,” with many changes required based on the complicated structure of the country’s government. Keep checking back on AccuWeather.com and stay tuned to the AccuWeather Network on DirecTV, Frontier, Spectrum, FuboTV, Philo, and Verizon Fios.