"A water source is an indisputable asset, a source of life and development for people. Therefore it should be respected and treated with care, in order to continue to be a source of life even for future generations. Everyone, together, regardless of state borders, is united under the same attitude: water should be managed for the benefit of all parties, and the quality of nature should not be affected nor alienated!" These words were spoken by Ruzhdi Lata, mayor of Greater Debar, at an international meeting held on March 9-10, 2015, in Shkodra, in the framework of the programme "Local Community Resilience for the Sustainable Development of River Basins in South Eastern Europe" (CRESSIDA).
The same commitment was shared by the deputy ministers of environment from Albania and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Oliana Ifti and Stevo Temelkovski. They presented a broader overview of efforts in their respective countries and of bilateral relations, which are receiving today unprecedented levels of attention and interest.
As part of this programme, a second meeting was held in Sarajevo on March 12-13, 2015, and the impact of recent flooding in the region was an immediate topic of concern.
"The flooding in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia that occurred last year clearly revealed the unpreparedness of local communities to cope with natural disasters and minimise the negative consequences in terms of human lives and economic costs", said Zineta Mujakovic from the Federal Ministry of Environment and Tourism in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Both events brought together more than 100 national and local-level representatives from the Drini River basin (Albania, Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Kosovo*) and Drina River basin (Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro and Serbia). The focus was on discussing local challenges and opportunities for the fair management of water resources and translating the objectives of sustainable development at country level alongside these two important rivers in South East Europe. This was a follow-up activity to the 2014 Course for Sustainability, organised in Venice by the REC's Sustainable Development Academy, and was intended to foster cooperation between local communities.
The goal was to exchange opinions and confront the challenges faced in 18 municipalities in the six countries that lie along the Drini and Drina Rivers. These municipalities will be CRESSIDA programme beneficiaries over the next five years.
"A long journey starts with a single step": Lek Kadeli, assistant administrator at the Research and Development Office of the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) based his comments and suggestions on this ancient Chinese proverb. He urged communities to be proactive and to focus on key local development issues using as many experiences and available tools as possible. Based on the municipalities' needs, USEPA's committed researchers have available a modern set of practical working tools for officials responsible for water resources management.
During working group sessions, local government officials identified a range of issues related to water management plans, which will help in the development of beneficial strategies. A similar activity took place later that same week in Sarajevo, where local representatives from Drina River municipalities discussed challenges and sought healthy solutions for their communities.
The CRESSIDA international programme is implemented by the REC in cooperation with, and supported by, USEPA.
* This designation is without prejudice to positions on status, and is in line with UNSCR 1244 and the ICJ Opinion on the Kosovo declaration of independence.