Balkan floods: Let nature do its job, the challenge of the 21st century

Posted on 09 November 2021

Nature-based Solutions could help prevent and mitigate devastating events like the massive floods in Bosnia-Herzegovina
Climate COP in Glasgow is in full swing, and Nature-based Solutions (NbS) have taken central stage during the conference. At the same time, Bosnia and Herzegovina in South East Europe is facing catastrophic floods, which have seen a lot of people evacuated, roads damaged, drinking water supply polluted, and the capital city of Sarajevo being without power, internet connection or water for hours on end.

Bosnia and Herzegovina's only oxygen filling station was flooded as well and there are fears that hospitals could run out of medical oxygen and further endanger COVID 19 patients. Near Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina, one of the main roads had to be closed because the river burst over its banks.

"Twenty-four hours of thunderstorms and intensive rain - 173 mm of rain! Before this: we had a summer of wildfires, months of heat and drought. Before that: a spring of late frosts that killed orchards and left bees starving. Bosnia and Herzegovina, one of the poorest countries of Europe is living the global climate crisis. The global crisis is, as we speak, unravelling into a local drama aggravated by the decades of exploitation and neglect of nature," said Anes Podić, Eko Akcija, CSO.

"Our planet’s climate is changing but the ways of leaders, policy-makers, businessmen - no. As the night descends on troubled people and towns of Bosnia and Herzegovina, barely a two-hour flight from Glasgow, we can see where and how our failure of today ends. In agony, plight, destruction - in the absolute loss of tomorrow," added Podic

While climate change contributes to the increased frequency and intensity of rainfall events, reckless degradation of ecosystems, intensive (mostly illegal) logging on mountain slopes, blocking and narrowing of river channels (including mini hydropower stations), poor land use planning and leaving very little permeable surfaces turn natural hazards into disasters.

Bosnia and Herzegovina faced a disaster like this in 2014, but few lessons have been learned.

Business as usual and use of grey infrastructure is still favoured, and environmental degradation has continued. If the country carries on like this, it will face increasingly severe disasters - including risk of extreme floods and landslides, and increasing drought in summer months.

"Healthy ecosystems are important for both people and nature, as by restoring ecosystem services we will be protected from increased risk, have safe drinking water, food supply and cleaner air and preserve the surrounding nature for generations to come," said Sanja Pokrajac, NbS Coordinator, WWF Living European Rivers.

NbS approaches can address this crisis though Ecosystem-based Adaptation (EbA) and Ecosystem-based Disaster Risk Reduction (Eco-DRR) by understanding the main risks and drivers and designing new solutions with healthy nature at its core.

"Inability of nature surrounding the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina to absorb and mitigate extreme weather events shows that ecosystem services are neglected by decision makers in the process of creating and implementing policies at all levels. What is certain is that future brings new challenges, and the decisions which will determine the character of human interventions need to be based on Nature-based Solutions approach when planning infrastructure interventions with the goal of reducing negative effects of climate change," said Dzenan Becirovic, assistant professor at the University of Sarajevo - Faculty of Forestry.

"I truly believe that this is the last moment to reach solution for climate challenges through cooperation of all interested sides, respecting expert opinions and scientific arguments, enhancing policy and practice with focus on strengthening regulating ecosystem services of ecosystems," added Becirovic.

"While discussing in comfy chairs about the needed changes on COP 26, decision makers are blinded by their own importance to see that right now in November 2021, Bosnia and Herzegovina is again unprepared to face the rampage of flooding rivers," said environmental expert, Maja Colovic Daul.

"Unforeseeable and unimaginable amounts of water have poured in just one night causing severe flooding and causing enormous damage. We need to act now!"
Extreme flooding on Otes River, Sarajevo
Investing in Nature to build resilience in Europe
© WWF Living European Rivers
Flooding along Zeljeznica river at the mini hydropower plant near Krupac, Sarajevo