June 26, 2018 / 12:39 PM / 5 months ago

Serbia must spend to tackle 'devastating' environmental problems: advisors

BELGRADE (Reuters) - Serbia’s fiscal advisory council urged the government on Tuesday to begin investing 1.3 percent of GDP to tackle “devastating” environmental problems including air pollution and an acute lack of sewage treatment facilities.

Serbia processes less than 10 percent of its waste water and has a persistent problem with unregulated landfills, the government-appointed Fiscal Council said. The two largest cities, Belgrade and Novi Sad, dump raw sewage directly into the Danube and Sava rivers.

The council said an improvement in public finances gave Serbia room to spend around 500 million euros ($580 million) a year on cleaning up the environment.

Serbia emerged into a public surplus in 2017 and expects to do the same this year, with growth forecast at 3.5 percent. It has cut its public debt to 57 percent of GDP from 75 percent in the space of two years.

But it currently invests only 0.7 percent of its economic output in the environment, while many other countries in Central and Eastern Europe spend around 2 percent.

The head of the Fiscal Council, Pavle Petrovic, told reporters in Belgrade that the “devastating situation in this area requires ... around 500 million euros annually or around 1.3 percent of GDP”.

“Conditions are critical ... at least one third of population is exposed to air pollution.”

Serbia wants to join the EU by 2025. It has identified around 12 billion euros’ worth of measures required to comply fully with Chapter 27, the area of membership negotiations that covers the environment and climate change.

Environment Minister Goran Trivan said last month Serbia would need longer deadlines than its peers to complete the clean-up and comply with EU regulations. Experts say it could take decades.

Editing by Kevin Liffey

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