The mayor of the heavily polluted Transylvanian town of Copsa Mica walked 320km to Bucharest last month to hand-deliver an important letter, in protest over the government’s broken promises and inaction.
Tudor Mihalache’s mission was to ask the Romanian government to stop being "abnormal" and honour its pledge, made 10 years earlier, to fix his town’s water and sewage networks.
He was spurred to action when his cash-strapped municipality was sued by the contractor for non-payment.
Tudor Mihalache (YouTube)
It took him 11 days to get to the capital, where he duly submitted his letter to the Presidential Administration and the Ministry of the Environment.
"With this [march] I want to draw the attention of governments and of institutions to follow the laws and commitments, and that of judges to be responsible, and of the President to ensure that these systems work normally and in a [logical] manner, and not abnormal," he said last month, reports Romania-insider.
But while he had the determination to complete the headline-catching journey, the strange response he got from from the government was as bafflingly incomplete as the town’s waterworks.
The cryptic answer, which came a month later from the general secretariat of the Government, simply ended in the middle of a sentence: "Next, within the legal term, the institutions notified will … ", was all it said.
The next moves of Romania’s Trekking Mayor, who said he was inspired by the pilgrimages made to Spain’s Santiago de Compostela, have not been reported.
That means that for now, Copsa Mica’s water troubles will be added to its terrible air pollution.
It was named Europe’s most polluted town in the 1990s owing to the Carbosin plant that produced carbon black for dyes and a smelting works. This released about 10 tonnes of soot into the air a day and literally turned much of the town black, including trees and animals.
It remains Romania’s most polluted town to this day thanks largely to the Sometra smelter for non-ferrous metals, whose emissions have contributed to lung disease and impotence, and have helped to take nine years off residents’ average life expectancy, compared with the Romanian average, and given it the highest infant mortality rate in Europe.
The presence of two highly polluting industries in the town was the result of a policy of the Ceausescu administration to cluster polluting industries together to minimise their impact on the general population.
In 2007, Copsa Mica received state funding to set up a drinking water and sewage network. The Environment Ministry hired a contractor and committed itself to pay the full value of the work. However, so far the ministry paid only half of the money it owes, even though the work is almost fully completed.
The mayor took his action after the contractor sued the local administration and won a payment of €153,000 – which it is unable to meet.
Top image: The remains of Copsa Mica’s carbon factory (Julian Nitzsche/Creative Commons)