Study visit showcases the benefits of transboundary water cooperation

April 30, 2017 | By Valerio Ponzo

As part of the actions falling within the WATER POrT project component linked to Action 2 – Dialogue and Cooperation, the REC coordinated a "Study Visit on Transboundary Cooperation Issues in Hungary, Slovenia and Croatia", which took place on April 23-29, 2017.

The study visit brought together 13 representatives from national water authorities of Egypt, Jordan, and Tunisia who deal with water management cooperation issues in a transboundary context at different levels. The event provided opportunities to improve dialogue on shared water resources and to promote understanding on how cooperative and coordinated action can help to manage and mitigate water issues that have potential transboundary impacts. The activity included a number of meetings with water authorities in charge of transboundary cooperation in Hungary, Slovenia and Croatia, as well as with the International Sava River Basin Commission (ISRBC) Secretariat to facilitate the exchange of information and transfer of knowledge between experts and decision makers working in several countries and regions.

The study visit opened at the premises of the Hungarian General Directorate of Water Management (OVF). Peter Kovacs, the Head of River Basin Management and Water Protection Department of the Ministry of Interior and Hungary’s National Focal Point for the UNECE Water Convention, presented the Hungarian experience in international cooperation in water management. His introduction provided an exhaustive overview of the EU Danube Region Strategy and of the main initiatives – such as the JOINTISZA project – that are bringing together stakeholders from neighbouring countries to develop tools and plans for internationally shared watersheds. The visit to the OVF concluded with an introduction to the institution’s Flood Forecasting Unit.

The group then moved to the Head Office of the Regional Environmental Center (REC) for the next session. REC Executive Director Mihail Dimovski welcomed the participants to the international organisation’s headquarters and wished them a productive study visit. Mr. Dimovski then acknowledged the noticeable progress that had been achieved within the WATER SUM project over the past two years through the efforts of the REC team with the support of partners and beneficiaries across the Middle East and Northern Africa (MENA) region. He stressed that the inputs and recommendations coming both from the project team and the countries are crucial for building further on the project’s outcomes and for stimulating the attention of the donor community, including international financial institutions, towards the future needs of the region. The visit to the REC continued with a meeting with several businesses operating in the water sector in Hungary and beyond, and ended with a tour of the REC's Zero-Emission Conference Center and a networking reception.

On the second day of the study visit, the group travelled to the Mariborski Otok Power Plant in Maribor, Slovenia. The plant is one of the 22 hydroelectric power plants constructed on the Drava River across Austria, Slovenia, and Croatia. Ms. Mateja Klanecek from the Slovenian Water Agency presented the governance scheme of this shared water resource: two permanent commissions (AU-SLO and SLO-CRO) have been established to manage the Drava’s waters between the upstream and downstream countries. These Commissions provide a permanent platform for policy makers and experts to meet regularly and to discuss the most efficient ways of ensuring sustainable water management and energy production along the river. The plant director then led the group to see the structure and to learn first-hand how it functions.  

The third day of the visit took the participants to Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia. Ms. Natasa Anderlic from the Ministry of the Environment and Spatial Planning presented the roles and responsibilities in international water cooperation allocated between the relevant national authorities and agencies. She underlined how, in the early 1990s, following the dissolution of Yugoslavia, Slovenia had to suddenly adapt and act to effectively manage its water resources in line with international obligations. She then explained how a progressively positive cooperation with the bordering countries supported this process.

That same afternoon, the group visited the Slovenian Environment Agency (ARSO) to learn more about flood and drought monitoring and management. ARSO hosts the DMCSEE - Drought Management Center for SEE Europe, which was set up to coordinate and facilitate the development, assessment, and application of drought risk management tools and policies in South Eastern Europe with the goal of improving drought preparedness and reducing drought impacts. Drought (one of the most threatening natural phenomena, and whose detection proves hard because of its slowly gradual appearance) is becoming an increasingly menacing presence because of the change in climate across the world and advancing desertification. No one country can face drought alone. Regional and international cooperation helps countries to support one another in implementing programmes modelled on what has worked elsewhere. A European example to follow is the DriDanube project, which aims to increase the capacity of the Danube region to adapt to climatic variability by enhancing resilience to drought with recently developed tools and data sets.

The activities, engagement and achievements of the ISRBC provided the backbone for the proceedings of day four. Mr. Dragan Zeljko, the new ISRBC Secretary, introduced the Commission and its Secretariat, who since 2005 have been supporting the four riparian countries of the Sava River Basin (Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Serbia and Slovenia) in moving transboundary cooperation forward across the region. The floor was then given to the participants to provide an overview and an outlook regarding their countries’ approaches to transboundary and regional water cooperation. A lively discussion between the representatives of the ISRBC Secretariat and the MENA guests closed the working day. During the exchange, all sides recognised the importance of developing sound legal frameworks, as well as the fact that such frameworks require amendments, modifications and evolution to be able to respond in timely fashion to emerging and/or intensifying common challenges.

The fifth and final day of the study visit put the spotlight on the transboundary efforts of the national water authorities of Croatia. Ms. Elizabeta Kos, Assistant Minister from the Ministry of Environment and Energy and Mr. Zoran Durokovic, General Director of Croatian Waters, welcomed the delegates and set the stage for the ensuing alternation of presentations and talks.

The outcomes of the five-day-long capacity-building "Study Visit on Transboundary Cooperation" highlighted that the challenges to effective transboundary water management are manifold and appear to be concurrently different and similar in diverse parts of the world. Managing interdependencies of transboundary waters characterised by an uneven distribution of resources and power within a basin, in connection with more recent challenges such as climate change, is one of the great human development challenges facing the international community. Notwithstanding a growing willingness and engagement to work together across the MENA region, much remains to be done in this field, and projects such as WATER SUM represent another important piece of the puzzle to strengthen cooperation in the water sector.

View a Facebook photo gallery from the study visit here.


TAGS: Transboundary cooperation | Waste management | Hungary | Slovenia | Croatia | Egypt | Tunisia | Jordan | MENA region