Women from the political sphere, scientists, activists, and professionals concluded at a workshop organized by GWP-Med that the Drina river basin has a great potential for the benefit of the society in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, and Serbia, though they warned the environment is under threat by uncontrolled investment projects and waste. They said an increasing number of women from different spheres are becoming active in efforts to protect the environment and that they have the enthusiasm and energy to combine their strengths to create models for sustainable development with a particular focus on gender issues.
An online workshop titled Gender dimensions in the sustainable management of natural resources through a Nexus approach in the Drina River Basin was held in the framework of the project Promoting the Sustainable Management of Natural Resources in Southeastern Europe, through the use of the Nexus approach.
It is financed by the Austrian Development Agency (ADA) and implemented by the Global Water Partnership-Mediterranean (GWP-Med) in partnership with the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE).
Environmental factors disproportionately affect women
The Drina basin connects Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, and Serbia. Workshop participants agreed environmental factors like biodiversity loss, climate change, natural disasters, and energy developments disproportionately affect women, their households, and businesses, particularly in services and agriculture.
They pointed to huge opportunities for sustainable development in the region but also highlighted environmental threats – from Rio Tinto’s lithium project in Serbia, hundreds of tons of solid waste that end up in rivers and lakes to small hydropower plants, but also bigger projects of the kind.
The idea was to bring together women to discuss the challenges in their everyday work with regard to gender topics and environmental protection and present existing and potential solutions.
Authorities in three Drina basin states need to reach official agreements
Participants of the workshop stressed women in the Drina river basin must participate in decision making and join forces in the development of sustainable solutions which are considering the gender dimension.
The participants concluded they don’t lack either necessary energy or will and that women must be empowered to achieve what they believe in. Speakers at the workshop said women from all walks of life are becoming active in efforts to protect the environment.
During the introductory part of the workshop, GWP-Med’s gender experts Fiorela Shalsi and Liza Debevec presented the gender dimension in sustainable management of natural resources and efforts to introduce gender equality in the main social processes.
GWP-Med’s Senior Programme Officer Tassos Krommydas spoke of the Nexus assessment process in the Drina basin. Authorities should translate recommendations to political commitments and formalize some of the aspects of flow regulation, he said.
Nexus approach enables the creation of models for the reconciliation between sectors such as energy and agriculture as they compete for scarce resources like water. They are closely connected, so activities in one area affect the others and it is in the interest of stakeholders on each side to create mechanisms that protect the environment and allow human and business activity at the same time.
Sticking point in Buk Bijela hydropower project
One of the important elements in the economic development of a country is the cross-border impact of projects on its territory.
Vice-president of the Parliament of Montenegro Branka Bošnjak said she is worried about the effect of the Buk Bijela hydropower plant project in Bosnia and Herzegovina on the upstream rivers of Tara and Piva, which create the Drina. There will certainly be an impact and the countries in the basin need to reach an agreement, she said.
A balance must be achieved between economic interest and the environment, in Bošnjak’s words.
The Parliament of Montenegro is working to achieve gender equality as there are not many women in positions of power, she said.
Minister of Environment and Tourism of the Federation of BiH Edita Đapo stressed the Balkans are expected to face frequent extreme weather events. Women will be more affected as they run most of the small farms and agrotourism businesses, she said, and added women don’t have as much access to microfinancing and technology.
“Women bring positive change,” Đapo stated and pointed to the example of the women in the village of Kruščica who guarded their river for two years and managed to stop two small hydropower plant projects. The minister noted they won several global awards.
Editor of Balkan Green Energy News Branislava Jovičić said that according to the recent survey on gender perspective in sustainable management of the natural resource in the Drina river basin, a healthy environment is perceived as the most important aspect of sustainable development.
75 percent of the survey participants stated that neither official policies nor initiatives exist to encourage the participation of women and the public, in general, to participate in the decisions on projects and investments with potential impact on the environment.
Only 5o percent of municipalities and cities organize public consultations to present the projects under development, which also comes as a result of the survey. The majority of participants fear that the investors’ interests will jeopardize the rights of local people in grand projects of natural resources exploitation.
Lithium mine would result in pollution for centuries to come in Serbia
One of two case studies that were presented at the workshop concerned the issues of gender, economy, and the environment in Rio Tinto’s Jadar lithium mine project.
Professor Dragana Đorđević from the Institute for Chemistry, Technology and Metallurgy at the University of Belgrade said it isn’t true that 10% of the world’s lithium reserves are in Serbia, but less than 1%.
Extracting lithium minerals from hard rocks, which would be the case if Rio Tinto opens the mine in the Loznica area, has one hundred to one thousand times stronger environmental impact than obtaining the alkali metal from salt flats in the Lithium Triangle in South America, where 70% of the global reserves are located, she underscored.
Lithium mining in western Serbia would expose people to harmful arsenic and boron and the leftover waste would pollute a wide area for centuries, according to the professor, who said it would also be a “time bomb” that could be activated by a flood.
The future is in organic agriculture, but industrialization is devastating the land, Đorđević asserted.
When the project for the Đerdap hydropower plant on the Danube was under development, ethnologists and anthropologists first conducted a four-year study to analyze the help that the displaced people would need, said Marija Alimpić from the Protect Jadar and Rađevina association. With this project, it is not the situation, Alimpić warned.
It is insane to expect the residents would be able to cope with the process without assistance from the government, she warned and accused the company of withholding all relevant information about the planned mine.
Women from surrounding villages couldn’t get a job in an underground mine, Alimpić added. Moreover, she said, they wouldn’t be able to continue to work in agriculture and tourism because of the pollution.
The alternative to the lithium project is to protect the environment and support the production of vegetables, honey, fruit and rakija, a famous local kind of fruit brandy, Alimpić claimed and added: “You can’t eat lithium.”
She and Ana Pavlović, tourist agency owner and the founder of the Eko Cer initiative for the protection of the nearby Cer mountain, whose business would be jeopardized if the mine were opened, produced provisional projections for earnings from agriculture and tourism, respectively. The calculation says that annual earnings from fruit production and processing, and tourism in this area may reach around EUR 50 million euros, without jeopardizing the environment, while the royalty which Rio Tinto would have to pay to the Government would reach EUR 50 million provided it reaches EUR 1 billion turnovers. In the second case, the environment would be fully devastated.
The future is in ecotourism, Pavlović concluded at the confidence.
Women are part of solution for waste management issues
The second case study covered the threat for the Drina river from the floating waste and in what way women can be a part of the solution in waste management.
Dragana Ivanović from the Department of Environmental Protection in the small border municipality of Bajina Bašta presented a success story of the municipality in introducing a waste management system. In 2014, the municipality facilitated the removal of a landfill that was located near the Perućac hydropower plant accumulation and has introduced a waste separation process. The separated waste is taken to Užice regional sanitary landfill.
Ivanović also highlighted the municipality’s program for the primary separation of wet and dry waste. She said the local authority is considering setting up a composting unit and assist households that are willing to compost organic waste.
Dragana Ivanović said women have a distinguished role in the primary selection of waste and in educating other family members, but that she also noticed some men consider it to be a female duty.
Senka Mutabdžija Bećirović, Project Associate at the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in BiH, noted that a public database for waste management and waste flow was launched for the Federation of BiH while that a comprehensive system is under development for the whole country.
Environment Portfolio Manager at UNDP Zorica Korać said satellite images and artificial intelligence were used to discover unregistered landfills next to the Lim river in Serbia. The system identified 61 potential locations compared to the 23 that were officially known seven or eight years before.
UNDP also conducted an analysis of erosion at the riverbanks near the landfills.
Jelena Šijaković from the Department for Quality and Environmental Protection at hydropower plant operator Hidroelektrane na Drini in BiH pointed out the hydropower plant in Višegrad has been facing the floating waste issue since it was launched in 1989. The waste is generated in all three countries, she added.
The state-owned company is continuously collecting waste from the water accumulation near the dam even though it is not obligated to do so, as it must protect the turbines, Šijaković explained.
Women in high-ranking positions are responsible for empowering other women
In a discussion moderated by Olivera Zurovac-Kuzman, Environmental Advisor at the OSCE Mission to Serbia, on the role of women in promoting Nexus approach in the Drina basin, Mervana Hadrović from Aarhus Center Berane in Montenegro said assistance is needed for women to strengthen their capacity so that more of them would join the environmental struggle. On the other hand, she stressed, there are strong women in the lead in nongovernmental organizations in the country, like Green Home, and their voice is heard far and near.
“Women must be in key positions, where decisions are made,” said Aida Sirbubalo, Chairwoman of the Assembly of the Bosnian-Podrinje Canton Goražde in BiH. She added that women who hold high-ranking positions should provide support for the women who are fighting for their rights, like those in Kruščica.
Environmental Expert from the Energy Community Secretariat Aleksandra Bujaroska commended all levels of government in BiH for efforts to protect the country’s rivers.
Jelena Prodanović, who coordinates the women mentoring women project She Leads, described the efforts to lift the share of female guides on the Tara mountain and overall in outdoor sports in Serbia as, according to the latest data, the level was at 16% or half of what is registered in Slovenia.
Director of Gender Knowledge Hub from Serbia Višnja Baćanović said at the event that environmental issues can’t be separated from social issues. In her view, the private sector enjoys the gains from the exploitation of natural resources while that the society has to bear the damages and face the risks associated with the activity.
Concluding the event, Olivera Zurovac and Branislava Jovičić called on women from the region to establish networks and fight for the environment together.