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Study finds transboundary cooperation key to water and energy security in the Drina Basin

The preliminary results of a new UNECE study on the Drina River Basin in the Western Balkans suggest that broadening and intensifying transboundary water cooperation between Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro and Serbia would have potential benefits, including security benefits. Of particular relevance, given the current flooding of the Drina, is flood protection, which could be achieved through the coordinated operation of dams that mainly serve hydropower generation.

The results of the study, to be concluded at the end of 2016, were discussed at a workshop hosted by the Ministry of Agriculture and Environmental Protection of Serbia, in cooperation with the Ministry of Mining and Energy, in Belgrade from 8 to 10 November 2016. The study, supported by the Italian Ministry of Environment, Land and Sea, focuses on the links and impacts between energy, water management, agriculture and environmental protection in the Drina River Basin. The project aims to strengthen the capacity of the administrations of the three riparian countries to address intersectoral issues, such as reconciling the differing objectives of energy and water management, and identify mutually beneficial actions to improve current resource management practices.

Workshop participants evaluated various measures that could be taken in the energy sector, rural development, including related tourism, and the management of wastewater and solid waste to move towards more sustainable development of natural resources. In doing so, the participants identified economic and other benefits that could be realized from transboundary water cooperation. Fostering such a broad understanding of the related benefits of transboundary water cooperation is one of the objectives of the UNECE Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes (Water Convention), under which these activities are carried out.

In particular, the study demonstrates that coordinating the operation of the existing dams in the Drina Basin would not only optimize the hydropower generated, but would also improve national energy security, increase electricity export opportunities and reduce annual greenhouse gas emissions in the long term. With hydrological extremes predicted to become more frequent in the region with climate change, cooperation will be even more important. The study also invites stakeholders to consider the trade-offs related to development of new hydropower infrastructure and to consider alternatives, such as investing in overlooked energy efficiency measures or non-hydro renewable energy technologies, such as wind power, solar, biomass and geothermal energy.

Mechanisms and institutional arrangements that could provide for strengthened intersectoral coordination were also discussed. Among such institutional frameworks is the International Sava River Basin Commission (ISRBC), which could be used by the riparian countries to a greater degree for discussing sectoral plans.

Experience from other countries of the Western Balkans, also showcased in the workshop, demonstrated how processes such as strategic environmental assessment and environmental impact assessment can help to find more sustainable alternatives that have less environmental and/or transboundary impacts and reduce disputes.

UNECE supports the countries of the region in international cooperation, policy and capacity development, among others, in the fields of environment, including water resources, and energy.  The workshop was co-organized by UNECE and ISRBC, and supported by the Italian Ministry of Environment, Land and Sea.