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Bosnia's unsung environmental heroes

August 19, 2022
topics: Conservation
by: Katarina Panić
located in: Bosnia and Herzegovina
tags: activism, Bosnia and Herzegovina, environmental justice, pollution, Waste Management

NGOs, activists and ordinary citizens are combating a national lack of resources and awareness around environmental protection and justice.

In Bosnia and Herzegovina, it is hard to imagine a scenario in which climate and environmental justice make the top of the country's priority list. The top issues occupying the national agenda revolve around security, illegal arms, border control, terrorism, human trafficking, corruption, conflict prevention, the rule of law, inadequate healthcare, poor education and fraudulent elections.

Under such circumstances, the relentless efforts of activists and ordinary citizens promoting green agendas and highlighting their significance to the public deserve recognition.

A poignant example of such eco-consciousness can be found on the banks of the Sana River in the north-western part of the country. Most of the beach, which is situated right below a road connecting two cities, is covered in dense vegetation and rows of trees that separate the road from the river. But with no vegetation present right above the beach, many people see it as a suitable site for garbage disposal through car windows - a fact that got many of the locals riled up and determined to act.

"We don’t know what to do anymore," one beach-goer told FairPlanet. "The area is sparsely populated. There is no video surveillance even in the cities, not to mention here. So we pick up the garbage by ourselves all the time."

"If only they would tie the bags in which they throw garbage," she added. "[Otherwise], we first have to put [the trash] into bags, then put it in the trunk and then drive it into the city."

Combating a LACK OF RESOURCES, awareness 

One-fourth of Bosnia has no access to garbage collection services, and in rural areas this percentage is significantly higher. The reasons behind this are trivial: waste management companies do not have sufficient trucks and staff, and many rural areas have no roads where motor vehicles can drive.

In a bid to tackle this state of affairs, on 29 June the Arnika Association and the OSCE Mission to Bosnia and Herzegovina brought together environmental activists and representatives of the authorities in Bosnia's capital Sarajevo to discuss strategies for strengthening the country's ecological democracy. 

"The people of Bosnia and Herzegovina still lack information about the state of the environment and face serious obstacles when trying to get involved in decision-making on projects that affect their lives and homes," the press release stated.

Emina Veljović from Aarhus Centre Sarajevo stressed that citizens are unaware of the three principal rights driven by the 1998 Aarhus Convention: access to information, involvement in decision-making procedures and judicial protection.

"Aarhus Center Sarajevo was among the first CSOs to more actively initiate an advocacy approach instead of treating each case as it happens," Veljović told FairPlanet. "We enter the legal procedural mechanism to try to influence even before circumstances arise."

Journalists also agree on the lack of reporting on environmental issues, which takes place only on rare occasions.

"We talk about air pollution only in periods of the year when the smog in our city does not allow us to see a meter in front of us, which is wrong," said journalist Edis Deljković, who participated in the “Think Nature” project run by the Sarajevo-based Centre for Civil Society Promotion and funded by the Government of Sweden with some €1.5 million.

The project aims to increase the engagement of civil society in environmental protection initiatives.

SOCIAL DISASTERS behind NATURAL ONES

A year ago, OSCE organised an economic and environmental committee meeting titled Biodiversity and security: Security implications of environmental degradation, including reduced biodiversity.

"Although important from both a European and global conservation perspective, Bosnia and Herzegovina’s rich biodiversity is sadly facing several threats, including waste mismanagement, pollution, climate change, illegal logging and deforestation and the over-exploitation of resources," Dr Dmitry Iordanidi, then deputy head of the OSCE Mission to Bosnia and Herzegovina, stated at the online conference. 

"Also, the terrible flood in 2014 with dozens of victims provoked inter-alia by very poor management of river banks, gravel extraction etc., which proves that in the 21st century, many natural disasters could have been prevented if there would not be a social disaster behind."

However, despite this gloomy picture, Bosnia and Herzegovina constitutes, at the same time, a shining example of successful activism, particularly when it comes to preventing small hydropower plant construction projects.

Moreover, resistance and an uncompromising defense of rivers by Bosnians often make headlines in international media outlets. Initiatives such as Brave Women of Kruščica, which inspired many other local communities in the country, stress that sustainable development cannot occur without proper biodiversity protection.


Image by Miguel Alcântara

Article written by:
Katarina Panić
Katarina Panić
Author
Bosnia and Herzegovina
More than 5,000 cubic meters of waste and debris are seen at the dam of the "Visegrad" water power plant on River Drina near the Eastern-Bosnian town of Visegrad on 5 January, 2021.
© Elvis Barukcic
"We talk about air pollution only in periods of the year when the smog in our city does not allow us to see a meter in front of us."
© Elvis Barukcic
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