Deadline expired: Protect rivers consistently now

Conservation organizations are demanding a moratorium on the construction of small hydro power plants from the government of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Their construction endangers ecologically important rivers as well as rare and endemic animals.

Free flowing River Neretvica

Still flowing freely: Neretvica River in Bosnia and Herzegovina

© Amel Emric
Women prostesting with chains around their wrists and with toy excavators

Protest of the "courageous women of Kruščica". They got the EuroNatur Award 2019 for their brave and tireless efforts for their river.

© Jakub Hrab

Leading conservation organizations around the world are urgently calling on the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina to turn a breakthrough resolution banning new small hydropower plants into law. The resolution, which holds no legal power yet, was initially passed June 23, but the deadline to implement the resolution and permanently ban new small hydropower plants is Wednesday, Sept. 23. If the government fails to turn the resolution into law in the near future, they will again be putting at grave risk thousands of kilometers of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s wild rivers and the people and wildlife that depend on the waterways.

“This is an opportunity for Bosnia and Herzegovina to set a powerful example and become Europe’s leader in protecting some of the most intact and biodiverse rivers on the continent,” said Barney Long, senior director of species conservation at Global Wildlife Conservation. The rivers between Slovenia and Greece, including those in Bosnia and Herzegovina, are considered the most important hotspot for threatened freshwater biodiversity in Europe. 69 fish species in these rivers live nowhere else in the world.

“Whenever I visit the Balkan rivers, I am overwhelmed by the beauty and its richness,” said Ulrich Eichelmann, CEO of Riverwatch and one of the coordinators of the campaign "Save the Blue Heart of Europe", jointly coordinated by EuroNatur and Riverwatch. “But what strikes me even more, is that people stand up for their rivers." Annette Spangenberg, head of projects at EuroNatur, added: “The rivers of the Balkans are a European treasure, one we cannot afford to lose. We support the local communities in their fight for their rivers and will make sure that their voices will be heard all over Europe.”

The Blue Heart of Europe is exposed to a dam tsunami that does not even stop at protected areas. The projects are driven by local and foreign investors, with diverse financial support, including subsidies for renewables. Some investors use the argument that hydropower can help Bosnia and Herzegovina meet its goal of 40 percent renewable energy (one of the highest targets in Europe) to get the country a step closer to joining the European Union.

Not only do the hydropower dams destroy the rivers and landscape around them, but they also divert and pollute water, and restrict access to clean drinking water for local communities and for use in agricultural practices and other livelihoods. Across the country, local communities, such as those around Neretvica and Kruščica rivers, have been rising up and holding protests, often forming human walls at construction sites to prevent bulldozers from starting the work.

In addition to calling on the government of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina to formally ban the construction of small hydropower plants, the group of conservation organizations urges the other government entity in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Republika Srpska, to pass a similar law. Here, at the beginning of the year, the National Assembly voted against it, despite significant local community pressure.

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