If you drive out to the village of Batsch Monostor in Serbia’s Vojvodina province, you will see what remains today of the Great Batschka Canal, one of the most important engineering feats of the Hapsburg Empire. Built between 1793 and 1802 and later known as the Franz Josef Canal, this waterway cost more than 3 million Hungarian forint, employed 3000 laborers, and was designed by brothers Gabor and Jozséf Kiss to connect the Danube and Theiss rivers as a shortcut for transporting precious salt. At the same time, the canal project served to drain the surrounding marshlands, turning the Vojvodina into the empire’s breadbasket. The region prospered thanks to the canal, but as the importance of salt as a commodity declined, so did interest in maintaining the canal and its infrastructure.

After years of neglect, the visionary project of the brothers Kiss is today one of the most polluted waterways in Europe and represents an environmental hazard for the entire Danube basin. The section of the canal that runs through the industrial towns of Kula, Crvenka and Vrbas is closed for navigation for a length of 6 km and is only 30 cm deep in some parts. Depending on the influx of pollutants, its water changes color from murky green to dark grey, with a perennial layer of white scum on the surface. A 2002 survey by the Norwegian Institute for Water Research (NIVA) found that the section from Vrbas to Triangle at the junction with the New Canal is covered with 400,000 m³ of poisonous sediment. There is no sign of life in the water, and the air quality near the canal has also deteriorated causing locals complain of respiratory difficulties. They tell the story of a man who tried to kill himself by jumping into the canal, but instead got stuck in the toxic mud and is alive today to tell about it.

The problem of pollution is not a new one. The first complaints were recorded in 1936 in an article written by a group of concerned citizens in the “Szenttamas Herald”. They protested the fouling of the water by sugar beet refineries and noted that fish were dying in great numbers. Twenty–five years ago, prior to the break-up of Yugoslavia, the Construction Institute of Vojvodina conducted a waste water study of the canal’s Werbass-Kula-Cserwenka segment, finding extensive pollution by community waste and local industrial plants that were sending untreated run-off into the canal.

More recently, the process of privatizing public enterprises has brought about a welcome change in ecological awareness. New owners realized that they had to respect the law and protect the environment if they wanted to export to the European Union. The sugar producer Crvenka, located in the town of the same name, took the first step by installing filtration equipment for its waste water, making it possible to use this treated water for fish farming. The government contributed as well, building 10 km of the needed 12.6 km of the main waste water sewer pipeline. A central water filtration plant is also in the works. Crvenka’s mayor, Dr. Zeljko Vidovich, announced in September, 2010 that a clean-up of the Great Batschka Canal was a top priority. All of these projects rely on funding from the EU and the regional government.

Vojvodina has a lot at stake in the clean-up effort. The Great Batschka Canal has the potential to become, once again, an engine of economic growth for the region, creating opportunities in transportation, tourism, agriculture, energy, food processing and more. The cooperation of all the towns along its route is key to creating a sustainable development plan that also incorporates habitat and wildlife protection. Back in the 19th century, the following words were engraved in Latin on the marble gravestone of canal engineer Jozséf Kiss: “This marble is the proof of his mortal body, and that canal of his immortal deed.” If the governments of Vojvodina, Serbia and the EU work together, there is still hope that his immortal idea will survive the 21st century.

The following link takes you to a short video clip about the Great Batschka Canal: http://rs.westernbalkansenvironment.net/content/blogcategory/22/192

This article is part of a writing assignment for Voices of Our Future a program of World Pulse that provides rigorous new media and citizen journalism training for grassroots women leaders. World Pulse lifts and unites the voices of women from some of the most unheard regions of the world.

Take action! This post was submitted in response to Voices of Our Future 2012 Assignments: Op-Eds.

Comment on this Post


Dear Duda

You raise an important issue of environmental conservation. As an environmental journalist I especially find this subject of article very close to my heart. Water bodies are under threat everywhere. In my country rivers are getting choked with sewage, industrial waste, and of late, there is a new menace: poisoning of river by greedy fish traders.

I hope the plan of your government is a success and the Batschka canal is restored to its earlier glory. Besides, boosting economy, it will also help stop other possible health hazards.

Stella Paul Twitter: @stellasglobe

I find your article very interesting and enlightening. More often than not developmental efforts and businesses ignore the importance of environmental management and conservation. It is often forgotten that a stitch in time saves nine. One sure way of sustaining urbanization processes and activities is having a good environmental management system in place. hope all interested, affected and concerned parties will work together to ensure that the Great Batschka Canal clean up effort succeeds.




Imagine if truly you could muster the resources and forces to get the Batchka cleaned! More than surviving the 21st century, it might lead a global movement to clean canals and the positive effect it has on cool, clean 21st Century cities.

You have done a great service in sipping a cool, clean drink of fresh thinking into the problems of the forgotten canal.

Naturally grateful, Kat Haber

"Know thyself." ~ Plato

Our environment is source of our livelihood, so I like your choice of topic. Indeed as more and more people move to urban centers a lot of environmental programmes should be designed.My country too has serious environmental issues that it is not able to manage e.g. drainage, pollution, etc

Thanks again for enlightening the world about Batschka

Grace Ikirimat "It takes the hammer of persistence to drive the nail of success."

You write of such an important subject—polluted waters and in particular polluted waters in urban area. This is such a global issue and is found in all developed areas of the world.

The neglect and abuse of waters over the years and the disregard for its impact on individuals and communities is most certainly egregious.

It was so hopeful to read of the changes that are already occurring. It makes me consider what can people do as individuals or when gathered together in small communities to make a difference in both preventing new/additional contamination and to reverse the effects of existing pollution. The other thing it brings to mind is the fact that so often we think we must have the entire solution to be able to make a difference. In reality, a difference can be as simple as picking up debris near our waters when we see it or one person spoke out like you. Just one person does not have an impact but what if that one person got a second person and 2 did it and they each go anther person and 4 did it and…..,8, 16, 32, 64, 128, 256, 512, 1024, 2048, 4096, 8192, 16284, 32568, 65136, etc.

Thank you for picking up this conversation!

Many Blessings,Mary Ann

Hello Duda,

Toxic messes are near and dear to my heart. You have explained the history and efforts to clean up the canal very well. More importantly, you allude to the expense and complexity of cleaning up what previous generations gave little thought to. This is such an important issue in today's world of diminishing resources and increasing population. Keep up the good work of exposing the disasters and giving credit to those who are taking action to preserve our natural resources. We need so many more good writers like you to educate the public and prod governments and industries to be good stewards of our planet.

Thank you for this important story.


This is an important piece—thanks for shedding light on this issue of environmental conservation. You have a great writing voice, Duda! I encourage you to keep writing on topics that are important to you.