Bosnia and Herzegovina, 25 years post-Dayton (11/12) : Facing the climate emergency


Bosnia and Herzegovina’s natural areas are threatened by overexploitation, and nothing has been done for the environment since the war ended. Still, more and more people are fighting for their right to water, air, and nature. A meeting with Anes Podić, director of the NGO Eko Akcija.

Recorded by Aline Cateux | Translated by Clarissa Howe

This series is presented in partnership with the Heinrich Böll Foundation

A quarter-century since the end of the war, the Courrier des Balkans has started series to examine Bosnia and Herzegovina’s economy and politics, the social and environmental movements making their way through society, and the potential path to a brighter future. These articles will be accompanied by a two-day seminar on 2–3 December.

Chaque hiver, un épais brouillard de pollution s’abat sur Sarajevo
© capture d’écran / Anadolu

Anes Podić is the founder of Eko Akcija, an environmental organization that works to protect rivers and forests as well as for access to clean water and air for all.

What are the environmental consequences of 25 years of transition in Bosnia and Herzegovina ? Mountains, forests, and rivers suffer massive, completely unregulated exploitation usually by business tycoons with ties to the nationalist parties that have ruled since the end of the war. For example, small hydroelectric plants have sprouted up in the last few years, illegal logging is on the rise, and, in winter, Sarajevo is one of the most polluted cities on the planet. All that aside, Bosnia and Herzegovina has staggering ecological diversity, from the plains of Krajina to Mount Vlašić rising above Travnik, from the river Una that flows to Bihać to the Drina that goes through Foča. Moreover, there is a growing number of movements against the pillaging of natural resources.

Courrier des Balkans (CdB) : What is Eko Akcija’s mission ? When was it founded ?

Anes Podić (A.P.) :  We founded the organization in 2009 to tend to the few protected natural areas in Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as to create new ones. Bosnia and Herzegovina is a gorgeous country ; many local communities – especially rural ones – could live off of its beauty. However, only around 2.3% of its land area is under any form of protection, so we are lagging far behind the rest of the world. In 2013, we started an air-quality campaign that’s still going on today. This year, we held a protest against the construction of a small hydroelectric plant on the river Ljuta. Since 2015, water shortages in Sarajevo have become a major issue, and in 2018, after the fires in unauthorized landfills all over the country, waste treatment became another one of our priorities.

CdB : What are Bosnia and Herzegovina’s main environmental issues ?

A.P. : There are only three million of us, but we pollute our environment as if the population were three times that. Our main source of pollution isn’t industry and it’s not the result of sudden economic development. It comes from institutional negligence. Criminal privatizations ruined practically all of our companies and now they’re going after our water, forests, rivers, and mountains.

CdB : Are any politicians receptive to environmental issues ?

A.P. : We’ve never been short of political parties willing to put the word “ecology” into their manifestos, but so far we’ve never had a political figure in Bosnia and Herzegovina who has managed our environment competently, courageously, and consistently.

CdB : Many people in Bosnia and Herzegovina are getting involved with environmental causes, but the citizens of Sarajevo don’t seem to care all that much even though the city is extremely polluted. How do you explain that contradiction ?

A.P. : For someone who lives in a village, losing the river that waters your fields and livestock is an existential threat. It takes much longer for an urban population to become aware of, for example, atmospheric pollution, which is nonetheless a threat to their existence.

CdB : Can you give us an example of a successful campaign ?

A.P. : For years, Sarajevo’s city management completely neglected the capital’s drinking water infrastructure. To make matters worse, they deliberately ran the water and wastewater utility company into the ground in order to sell it off cheap. In the summer of 2017, the water outages that had been happening at night for the past decade started happening during the day, affecting schools, daycares, and even hospitals. In early September 2017, we got together with two other informal organizations, One City One Fight and Fight for Life, to launch Defend Sarajevo’s Water, a campaign that lasted over a month. Eventually, after an extraordinary meeting of the Sarajevo Cantonal Assembly, the public water utility received resources, money, and equipment to repair the leaks. The water supply was fixed in November of that year and Sarajevo hasn’t had any restrictions since then. But there are other attempts to privatize. The battle for water is going to be one of the most important of this century.