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By Emmanuel B. Nyirinkindi, IFC's Vice President of Cross-Cutting Solutions

Public-Private Partnerships Key to Serbia’s Green Future

Five years ago, dark, polluted water with a foul smell trickled down from the Vinča landfill, sending toxic pollutants into the Danube. The landfill, then the largest unmanaged open dump in Europe, received 600 truckloads of trash every day, threatening the quality of life for those living less than 20 kilometers away in Belgrade.

The revitalization of Vinča and its surrounding environment did not occur overnight. It took courage and action by public authorities to apply a public-private partnership and follow through on its ambitious scope and complex implementation as a way to confront this environmental challenge.

Serbia’s drive toward deepening environmental sustainability and tackling high levels of pollution is a clear priority, especially now as it works toward joining the European Union. It is a drive that contributes to the significant progress Serbia has made since 2015 on building a stable macroeconomic framework, reducing its public debt, and deepening regional integration. This commitment to sustainable development – built on the pillars of economic growth, environmental protection, and social inclusion – is improving the quality of life and living conditions of Serbian families and communities.

I saw this for myself firsthand when I visited Belgrade earlier this week. The planned waste-to-energy facility at the Vinča landfill can convert 340,000 tons of waste into renewable heat and electricity, generating up to 30 megawatts of electricity — enough to power 30,000 Belgrade households. It also will generate up to 56 megawatts of thermal energy, providing heat to 60,000 households in the winter.

Meanwhile, a recycling plant at the site can process about 200,000 tons of construction and demolition waste per year. The newly established landfill can purify up to 90,000 m3 of leachate per year to prevent further contamination of the surrounding areas. Together, these components are expected to reduce Belgrade’s greenhouse gas emissions by 210,000 tons of CO2 equivalent per year.

An infrastructure project of this scale and scope with tangible impact for the Serbian people benefited from private sector participation alongside government leadership and accountability. This is where IFC excels as a trusted advisor. With proven technical skills and global expertise, IFC helps governments efficiently structure public-private partnerships and run open, competitive, and transparent processes to attract private sector funding for high-quality physical and social infrastructure projects. We work with high-caliber project operators, and in this case, Beo Čista Energija, a joint venture between the global utility company Veolia, the Japanese conglomerate ITOCHU, and Marguerite Fund II, a pan-European equity fund, to bring in technical expertise and private sector innovation. Our financing of 127.3 million euros and additional investments of 163.3 million euros from our partners are making the transformation of Vinča possible.

Such public-private partnerships can help Serbia in even more ways – and now is the time to explore and implement those ways. For example, about two-thirds of Serbians were connected to the sewerage system in 2021, but only about 16 percent were covered by wastewater treatment services. There’s a compelling need to build wastewater treatment facilities alongside sewerage networks.

An investment of more than 4 billion euros is needed for Serbia to meet the requirements of the Urban Wastewater Treatment Directive, which mandates that EU member states collect and treat wastewater that would otherwise pollute rivers, lakes, and seas. This sum includes 2.5 billion euros for upgrading and constructing sewerage networks and more than 1.5 billion euros for building around 350 wastewater treatment facilities. Most of the investment needs will be in major cities, such as Belgrade, Novi Sad, Nis, and Kragujevac.

Upgrading critical infrastructure while simultaneously safeguarding the environment will take both the public and private sectors to do their parts. At IFC, we are ready to deepen our collaboration with Serbia to unlock creative public-private partnerships and solutions to advance the resilient and green future Serbians seek.  

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