Fundamental reversal: the Parliament of Bosnia and Herzegovina wants to ban construction of small hydropower plants

29.6.2020 - SARAJEVO / PRAGUE
"Let the river flow!"

The new resolution of the Parliament of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina [1] is considered to be a historical turning point by non-governmental organizations. The Members of Parliament voted to ban the construction of new small hydropower plants. Moreover, all previously issued permits are to be revised. According to the decision, the government of the Federation has three months to submit draft legislation that will allow the ban to be implemented. The reason is the long-criticized harm caused by small hydropower plants to the environment and local communities.

“All local communities united in the Coalition for the Protection of Rivers in Bosnia and Herzegovina have defended rivers and watercourses in recent years by all means available, including legal tools, blockades, and public protests. Without their passion and determination, this great achievement would not be possible,” says Zuzana Vachůnová from the Czech non-governmental organization Arnika, which supports the Coalition. “However, the journey to success will still be a long one. We must now ensure that the Parliament's resolution does not remain just an empty political gesture and is actually reflected in concrete decision-making processes,” Vachůnová stresses.

NGOs believe that the turnaround on the political scene is linked to the upcoming municipal elections. Local communities are strongly opposed to the small hydropower plants, since they feel damaged. The political parties have apparently assessed that they cannot succeed in the elections without solving this fundamental environmental, but also economic and social problem.         

The political party Naša stranka has submitted a Declaration on the Protection of the Rivers of the Western Balkans from the recent international conference in Sarajevo to the Federal Parliament for approval. It calls for the suspension of ongoing construction projects of small hydropower plants and no approval of new ones until a complete revision of the processes for the granting of permits and the relevant legislation is conducted. The ruling Party for Democratic Action (SDA) rushed into this with a proposal for a complete moratorium on the construction of small hydropower plants.          

An international conference on the rivers of the Western Balkans was organized in November 2019 by the environmental associations Arnika (Czech Republic), Centre for Environment (Bosnia and Herzegovina), and WWF Adria as a reaction to the immense damage to local communities and the environment caused by the small hydropower plant boom in the region. 

"This vote should be followed by the government of the Republika Srpska of Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as other states in the Western Balkans that face similar challenges. Across the region, we are witnessing an increasing number of citizens who oppose the construction of small hydropower plants. Balkan rivers face enormous pressure from the hydropower lobby and the existing plants have already caused great damage to the natural environment and local communities. The public is not adequately involved in the decision making and citizens are deprived of information and of the right to democratically express their opinion on these projects,” explains Viktor Bjelić from the Centre for Environment.

Djordje Stefanović from WWF Adria adds: “If we unite, change is possible. The decision passed by the Federal Parliament is the result of the strong advocacy steps taken by the civic society, together with some authorities. The campaign started with meetings with the Federal Minister for the Environment and Tourism and continued with the organization of the international Sarajevo Conference, where we adopted a joint declaration. WWF Adria welcomes the collaboration of all interested stakeholders, supports the standpoint of the Federal Parliament, and keeps the door open for communication regarding further measures aimed to stop the detrimental development of small hydropower plants and to protect the rivers.”

The vote of the Parliament of Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina was later followed by similar proposal in the other part of the country, Republic of Srpska, where the final decision should be voted on this week. Nina Kreselvjaković, a legal advisor of the Aarhus Center (Bosnia and Herzegovina) concludes "I consider the decision of the Parliament of Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina to be historical, since it can end destruction of the rivers in the larger BiH entity. We are pleased to hear that the institutions in Republic of Srpska are following the same example. The benefits of small hydropower plants are minimal, and the damage is huge, so this decision was the only reasonable one. In the last few years, there has been a large citizen’s revolt against the construction of hydro projects throughout Bosnia and Herzegovina, as it can be seen from the recent protests against small hydro power plants on Neretva, Neretvica, Sana, Rzav, Kruščica, Doljanka, Buna and many other rivers where locals oppose them precisely because of the deterioration of the environment and the negative effects on their lives. We should not forget that all this initiative started when attitude of the Federal ministry of environment and tourism changed, and decided to hear our plea by helping us to enforce recommendations from the Declaration.”

In the Western Balkans, it is anticipated that about 2,800 hydropower plants will be built in the next few years, leaving hardly any river untouched. On the rivers of Bosnia and Herzegovina alone, about a hundred projects have been or are being built while another more than 300 projects are planned.

[1] Bosnia and Herzegovina is formed of two constitutional “entities” established on ethnic principles – the Republika Srpska (a Serbian entity) and the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (a Bosniak-Croat entity). The central government ties both of them together in a fragile state. A vote of the Parliament of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina is binding only for the state authorities in the respective entity of the country and also has limited power over cantons – relatively independent administrative units of the Federation with their own governments and ministries.

[2] The record of the parliamentary session is available online.

For additional information, please contact Zuzana Vachůnová (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., (+420) 604 360 199).


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