Bulgarian NGO delivers Osam response

March 21, 2009 | By Nathan Johnson
A herdsman and his cattle cool off in Bulgaria's Osam River. Photo: Tzvetko Petko

Concluding in December 2006, five demonstration projects were conducted at Danube "hot spots" — areas identified by the International Commission for the Protection of the Danube River (ICPDR) as having exceptionally high levels of pollution. With very modest funding, these projects yielded generous results within a relatively short time. A Bulgarian NGO, Ecomission 21st Century, carried out one of these demonstrations to address pollution of the Osam River.

The Osam, which flows into the Danube, is one of Bulgaria's most polluted rivers. The NGO worked in two counties most affected by the pollution (Lovech and Troyan) to test and improve information access and mobilise community awareness concerning watershed management.

Ecomission's first step was to send questionnaires to regional and local institutions, along with requests for data on water quality and human health, pollution sources, and risks. It also requested a copy of the discharge permit granted to a major polluter, along with information related to the monitoring and enforcement of permit requirements. The NGO used this information to gauge the level of cooperation from authorities and to identify obstacles to information access.

Ecomission also conducted capacity-building workshops with major stakeholders to discuss more effective means of access to information and public participation to discuss proposals to improve legislation and to encourage other counties in Bulgaria to adopt similar best practices.

Finally, a public outreach campaign drew media attention to water and human health issues and to the difficulties involved in obtaining necessary information. The NGO was encouraged, when, as a result of improved public information, the Lovech regional governor ordered mayors to define and mark zones deemed unsafe for bathing and swimming.

Ecomission's efforts to engage Bulgarian citizens and NGOs in submitting information requests to local, regional and national authorities not only improved the skills of local communities in seeking and obtaining information, but also tested what kind of water management information was being withheld as confidential. The results helped the NGO to propose improvements in national legislation and practice.

For more coverage on the Balkan environment, see the REReP webpage.