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Enhanced transboundary and cross-sectoral cooperation needed in the Drina River Basin

The development plans in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro and Serbia, the countries that share the Drina Basin, need to be assessed for their impact on the ecosystems but also across sectors, in particular energy, agriculture and water management. These plans include some 20 new hydropower plants and there is also a need to revisit these and other plans taking into account the environmental- and climate change-related commitments of the countries as well as the modified economic outlook.

These were some of the main issues discussed by Government officials in the fields of water, energy, agriculture and environment as well as private sector and civil society representatives from 21 to 22 April 2016 in Podgorica. Opening the meeting, the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development of Montenegro, Petar Ivanović, commended the potential of the proposed multisectoral approach and called for focused and concrete response measures to the current challenges in the basin.

The Drina project, launched at the workshop, responds to the recent UNECE assessment of intersectoral dependencies and trade-offs in the Sava Basin, focusing on its south-eastern part. Despite the gradual advance of regional integration, entailing the application of common standards and the integration of policies, there are inefficiencies and missed opportunities between the riparian countries due to various reasons, notably different development priorities, the limited harmonization of approaches, governance gaps and communication issues. A more systematic use of policy instruments, reliable data and information gathering and coordination of infrastructure investments, as well as promoting their multiple and flexible use, were among the key recommendations. 

The status review at the workshop raised questions about the ambition of the plans to modernize the energy sector, including with regard to the increased deployment of renewable energy and market development, but also the environmental sustainability of the plans. It was pointed out that financing was more likely to be forthcoming for responsible and sustainable development projects, providing an incentive to take into account intersectoral effects.

The conclusions from the workshop suggest that broadening and intensifying transboundary cooperation between the three countries would have diverse potential benefits. For example, if the use of flow-regulation infrastructure and related communications were optimized, the damage from high or low water flows could be minimized, thus serving not only flood response but also hydropower generation. Introduction of mechanisms for transboundary inter-agency coordination would be helpful to that end. The participants came up with a wealth of ideas for such beneficial cooperation, both on policy and technical matters. For example, tourism, energy generation and agriculture would all benefit from addressing the shortcomings of solid waste management in the Drina Basin. In particular, it was felt that rural development that exploited the synergies of improved agricultural productivity, nature-related tourism and renewable energy was a promising opportunity to explore.

The conclusions and recommendations of the workshop will provide the direction for an analysis of priority measures and related opportunities in the next steps. The intersectoral (nexus) assessment methodology and the policy guidance on benefits of transboundary cooperation used in the project were developed under the UNECE Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes. They provide necessary tools for the countries to identify opportunities for mutual benefits to enhance their cooperation.

As the three countries are also Parties to the Convention and cooperating in the framework of the International Sava River Basin Commission (ISRBC), they are well situated to develop their cooperation further. Among others, the Sava nexus assessment recommended using ISRBC as a platform to discuss all the relevant basin resources and for a consultation process to review the impact of national and sectoral development strategies.

Co-hosted by the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development of Montenegro, the workshop was jointly organized by UNECE and ISRBC, with support of the Italian Ministry for Environment, Land and the Sea. The consultative nexus assessment and benefits study process will conclude at the end of 2016 with policy recommendations to be issued and promoted widely in the Western Balkans.