Cross-Border Watershed Cooperation
“Formerly representing a variety of actors and narrower interests of local communities, the Skadar/Shkoder Lake Forum evolved into a body developing strategic approaches for the entire transboundary region. […] In addition, REC site coordinators, the main local-level facilitators of this process, maintained close cooperation with forum members. Because of this, local stakeholders were given a significantly stronger mandate to act as real players in decisions and strategies concerning regional development.”
— “Lake forum achieves trust, transparency and results”, Green Horizon, May 21, 2008
Environmental concerns appear to be an excellent incentive for enhancing cross-border cooperation, which is especially important for countries with a recent history of conflict. Cross-border activities and initiatives have proven to be effective tools for developing mutual trust and dialogue. They also strengthen institutional capacity and motivate local stakeholders to take action to protect their environment and natural resources.
The promotion of regional cooperation, including cross-border initiatives, was at the heart of the Regional Environmental Reconstruction Programme for South Eastern Europe (REReP). All REReP activities and projects, including the Drina River basin project and the Skadar/Shkodra Lake region project, were based on this understanding.
Cross-border cooperation in the Drina River basin
The Drina River basin is shared by Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, and Serbia. The river forms a natural border between Bosnia and Serbia and many towns and villages are situated along either bank of the river. During the recent war in Bosnia and Herzegovina the entire region was devastated and depopulated, with mere fragments of economic and social interaction surviving the conflicts. Eleven municipal landfills are directly situated on the banks of the Drina River, and during 10 years of negligence environmental conditions in the whole basin were severely harmed: high levels of floating waste, soil pollution and water pollution became enormous threats to these habitats and their populations.
In 2003, the REC, with financial support from the Kingdom of Norway, initiated the first cross-border municipal dialogue after the war. Seventy representatives of local communities in the three countries met in Bajina Basta, Serbia, to discuss water pollution and waste treatment. The REC worked hard over the following eight years to implement three follow-up projects with the support of local communities and the central governments of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro and Serbia.
As a result of early negotiations, the Drina River Committee (DRC), an informal association of 19 municipalities, was established in 2006. The DRC was granted a mandate to discuss common problems, suggest solutions and contribute to the rebuilding of a viable society. In the meantime, many of these ideas were implemented through various support programmes, and the DRC is still active in channelling environmental protection and rural development efforts into sets of common goals.
A water-cleaning boat was donated, with Norwegian support, to Tara National Park to help remove surface waste from Lake Perucac. The boat was constructed in Tuzla (Bosnia and Herzegovina) and is operated by Tara National Park, but is used jointly by the municipalities of Bajina Basta (Serbia) and Srebrenica (Bosnia and Herzegovina). During the tourist season the boat is converted and used for sightseeing purposes along the Drina Canyon between two hydropower dams, Perucac and Visegrad.
Many projects related to waste treatment, local tourism development, organic farming and civil society cooperation emerged from REC’s initiative, leading to recognition and visibility for the REC as a reliable partner in all three riparian countries. The Lim River, as a main tributary of the Drina River, is the next focus. Floods and landslides in the region caused by the rains in May 2014 imposed new priorities for the local communities in the Drina River basin, with disaster risk reduction becoming the main issue for coordinated action between Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro and Serbia.
Shared natural resources management in the Skadar/Shkodra Lake region
One of REC Montenegro’s longest-running activities is its involvement in promoting cross-border cooperation between Albania and Montenegro on shared natural resources management in the Skadar/Shkodra Lake region. The REC was a driving force in establishing cooperation between the two countries between 2000 and 2009. Present and future activities are aimed at supporting efforts to achieve the sustainable management of regional resources for the benefit of communities and institutions on both sides of the border through a mutual understanding that a healthy environment and well-managed resources are closely linked to future prosperity.
The REC’s activities in supporting transboundary cooperation and dialogue between Montenegro and Albania in the sphere of shared natural resources began with the REReP project “Transboundary Cooperation through the Management of Shared Natural Resources”. The Skadar/Shkodra Lake component of the project lasted from 2000 to 2006. One of the most prominent results was the establishment of the Skadar/Shkodra Lake Forum as the main platform for strengthening dialogue between Montenegro and Albania on lake-related issues. The forum comprised local stakeholders from both sides of the border, including NGOs, local authorities, school administrators, tourism boards, water management authorities, nature conservation authorities, national parks personnel and environmental inspectorates.
Following the completion of the REReP project, the funding entity, the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, recognised the need to provide further support for institution building and cross-border cooperation. Two follow-up projects were therefore carried out (2007–2008 and 2008–2009) in order to encourage the sustainable management of resources in the Skadar/Shkodra Lake region for the benefit of future generations.