New wastewater treatment plant to cut pollution in the Vardar River, North Macedonia

As the Western Balkans works towards joining the European Union, the countries in the region are modifying their laws to match EU legislation, while improving living conditions for their people. A new wastewater treatment plant in Skopje, central to North Macedonia’s wastewater treatment strategy, is a fine example. 

The new facility will provide sanitation services for over half a million residents, account for approximately 75% of the nation's wastewater treatment capacity by 2028, and ultimately purify 90% of the capital’s wastewater.

"For many years, we have been working diligently to establish the necessary conditions for the realisation of this vital and highly significant infrastructure project, " says Kaja Shukova, North Macedonia’s Minister of Environment and Physical Planning.

"I can confidently assert that without access to European financial mechanisms, reaching this final stage— commencement of the construction of the station—would have been exceedingly challenging,” the minister says.

The government of North Macedonia secured the funds through loans from the European Investment Bank (€68 million) and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (€58 million). The loans were complimented by a €70 million grant, mobilised by the EIB via the EU’s Western Balkans Investment Framework - the largest ever EU grant for the country’s water sector. The project also received vital technical assistance grants from its financial backers as well as the French government.

“We deeply appreciate the EU's support in this regard, as well as in other processes through which we strive to attain European standards,” says Shukova.



The new plant will help curb pollution of the Vardar River, which forms part of the Morava-Vardar corridor - a pivotal transportation route between central Europe and the Aegean. It is the longest river in North Macedonia that also flows through its capital city. Currently, wastewater is discharged at multiple points along both banks of the river, which imposes the public health and environment protection risks in Skopje.

Once constructed in the municipality of Gazi Baba, on the left riverbank in the Trubarevo area, the plant is set to employ cutting-edge technology, equipment and energy-efficient practices that will permanently resolve the current challenges. It will unfold in two distinct phases and span an area of 13 hectares.

Wastewater treatment phase 1

First phase, pre-treatment and biological treatment of wastewater flowing into the river is expected to be introduced in 5 years by 2028. In the second phase, the treatment plant will be upgraded to reduce nitrogen and phosphorous concentrations. The plant’s design will capture heat generated by its treatment processes to incinerate sludge in the facility’s accelerator. This will increase energy efficiency as the heat which remains unused will be utilised for drying sewage sludge, thus avoiding fossil fuel consumption.

‘‘This flagship project under the EU’s Economic and Investment Plan will improve surface and groundwater quality in the area and downstream, thanks to modern and energy efficient treatment of wastewater and sludge.”, says Bjorn Gabriel, EIB Representative for North Macedonia.

“It will also help the country align its water sector activities with the EU Urban Wastewater and Environment Directives and increase its resilience to climate change.

Now, with the newly adopted Growth Plan for the Western Balkans, we hope to see more projects on the ground, the acceleration of EU accession reforms and better prospects for all people in the region.”, he says.