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Balkan countries must manage floods, droughts together

January 28, 2016 | Comments: 0Author:

Balkan countries must manage floods, droughts together

There are cooperation and communication mechanisms missing between neighboring countries, in order to take into account the transboundary nature of flood and drought risk at operational level, says Jelena Peruničić, Senior Manager at the regional German Development Cooperation (GIZ) project Climate Change Adaptation in Western Balkans (CCAWB).  There is much to be done at the local and national levels, too, but not all necessary measures need massive funding, she told Balkan Green Energy News. “For example, for flood management good spatial planning and strong community cooperation could be very effective measures. But of course, there are some crucial infrastructure measures which need investments. According to the Paris agreement from COP21 of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), adaptation to climate change and strengthening ability of countries to deal with climate impacts will be emphasized in the next years. Developing countries will receive increased support for adaptation actions and the adequacy of this support will be assessed”, Peruničić stated.

In the last three years, within the project of the German Development Cooperation (GIZ), commissioned by the German Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), she has focused on flood issue and integration of adaptation to climate change in urban planning. Jelena Peruničić has more than 10 years of experience in international organisations in the field of environmental protection and management of natural resources.

What is the overall climate change strategy of GIZ and what activities are, in particular, related to Western Balkan region and Southeastern Europe?

Through its bilateral cooperation, the Federal Government of Germany is supporting the countries of South-East Europe in their alignment with the European Union and implementation of EU policy, economic and social standards. Climate change adaptation has been declared a priority by the EU and is to be integrated as a cross-cutting issue in all sectors. Also for German Development Cooperation, adaptation to climate change constitutes an important, strategic field of aid support.

The need for climate change adaptation is a very relevant subject for all states in the Western Balkans. Recent floods and droughts have underpinned the need of being prepared with respect to increased disasters. In all states the effects of climate change are on the political agenda which is in line with the EU’s acquis communautaire and now the Paris COP21 agreement.

Since 2012 the GIZ – German Development Cooperation, on behalf of the German Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), is implementing the Climate Change Adaptation in Western Balkans (CCAWB) project in cooperation with relevant Ministries in Albania, Kosovo*, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia . CCAWB has focused on adaptation to the predicted impacts of climate change. Specifically, the project has aimed at reducing of flood and drought risks, adaptation in urban areas, as well as to strengthen regional cooperation in the field of integrated water resources management.

What are the results so far of the project Climate Change Adaption in the Western Balkans?

This was achieved in the first phase (2012–2015) of CCAWB:

  • Establishment of a regional Flood Early Warning System for the Drin River Basin in the form of four national early warning systems in Macedonia, Kosovo, Albania and Montenegro;
  • Support to the drafting of national climate change adaptation strategies for Albania and Macedonia;
  • Support to the drafting of drought management plans for water companies in Kosovo and formulating flood risk management plans on community level in Albania and Montenegro;
  • Support to cooperation in water resources management at the regional level; and
  • Integration of climate change adaptation in large cities Belgrade, Podgorica and Tirana – in urban planning and development in particular.

Support from GIZ has been provided by means of capacity development, advisory services and the procurement of equipment.

What are the main challenges in each of the countries included in the project?

All these topics have required special expertise and had different partner organizations involved from the region, but also from Germany.

One of the most important and most challenging topics was the establishment of hydrological measuring stations, data management and exchange, and the setup of the hydrological planning model in the frame of Flood Early Warning System for the Drin River Basin. This is still the most challenging topic in the terms of further development of the communication channels and exchange of the information between the neighboring countries, especially exchange in real time, and on the other side, maintaining of the established network of the hydrological measuring stations in all four countries. Very often stations are under the pressure of local vandalism and people who are damaging solar panels or roofs. We already had two cases of vandalism at the newly established network.

The project is to last until 2018. What activities remain for it to be completed?

Form March 2016 the project will go in the follow-up phase till June 2018, focusing more on the area of flood risk management in the Drin river catchment area. Flood risk management as one important element of water resources management in the Drin catchment is not possible without information sharing among the riparian countries. Information needs to be collected, analyzed and shared among the riparian countries in order to use them for informed actions on local level. The project activities will be again shared on regional, national and local levels.

Flood risk management as one important element of water resources management in the Drin catchment is not possible without information sharing among the riparian countries.

The project will be focused on three levels:

  • It intends to improve the availability of hydrometeorological data in the riparian countries and to improve the application of available data for flood forecasting. Further attention shall be given to the support of the hydromet services of the four riparian countries in order to increase sustainability.
  • It focuses on the improvement of information exchange to attain better knowledge about the Drin catchment for all riparian countries, and a more formalised cooperation in the medium term.
  • It strengthens the ability of actors that are responsible for flood risk management and in case of flood disasters at local level.

What are the main points from the project’s assessments of vulnerability for the region and particular countries?

Climate change will lead to increased flood and drought risks in the Drin basin. According to the National Communications (UNFCCC), an increase in annual average temperatures is expected (e. g. up to 5.6 °C in Albania) with falling precipitation in the annual average (e. g. reduction of 5% until 2050 in Macedonia). This leads to milder winters with decreasing number of frost days, to warmer and drier spring and extended dry periods and long periods of high temperatures (over 35 °C) during the summer months. In addition, the increase in urban areas could be up to 10 °C higher compared to the undeveloped countryside.  A decrease in total annual rainfall is expected, increasing the probability of high intensity rainfall and extreme weather incidents (e. g. severe storms), which increases considerably the flood risk, soil erosion and hazardous pollution of the waters.

At the local level there was lack of planning for management of flood risk and there were no concepts for the management of drought risk. At the national level there is no consideration of the legal, regulatory framework of the climate change on the one hand and partly in planning of water resource management. At the regional level, especially cooperation and communication mechanisms are missing between the neighboring countries, in order to take into account the transboundary nature of flood and drought risk at operational level. In addition, available data are not enough for the specific regional modeling of climate change and its impacts on water resources in the Drin basin.

How does the early warning system for floods in the Drin basin work and what were the steps to establish it?

In the coming years climate change is predicted to increase both the frequency and intensity of flooding and droughts in the region. The serious situations during the flood events in 2010 emphasized the need to establish an integrated early warning system for the whole Drin/Drim – Buna/Bojana Basin with special focus on the lower part.

The project supports the establishment of the flood early warning system in the following steps:

  • Assessing gaps and needs to establish flood early warning system
  • Design, procurement and installation of hydrological and meteorological stations and IT set-up for real-time data
  • Organizing measuring campaigns
  • Building up the hydrological model
  • Organizing regional data exchange and cooperation

The serious situations during the flood events in 2010 emphasized the need to establish an integrated early warning system for the whole Drin/Drim – Buna/Bojana Basin with special focus on the lower part.

In total, 33 water level and rainfall stations in the Drin river basin are rehabilitated and upgraded. Real time information for issuing flood warnings is now available in the four countries of the area and approximately 300.000 potentially flood affected people can be warned in advance. For the first time, a hydrological model covering the whole basin has been developed and will be operated very soon.

The project included work of many scientists. Who was involved?

A lot of assessment and deliverables have been done during the project, like drought plans, the participatory development of flood risk management plans, the gap analysis of hydrological information and the hydrological planning model for the Drin Basin were of particular importance for the project partners in the Western Balkans. A lot of local expertise was involved but also GIZ provided consultants from Germany.

What are the challenges in flood protection in urban areas and what are the newest solutions?

The main challenges in the most of urban areas in the region are inadequate urban planning and illegal building which caused a lot of channels and small rivers to be blocked. Disposal of solid and working waste material in riverbeds makes the problem worse. Due to huge precipitation in very short period of time and inadequate maintained channels we have flash floods in the urban areas. When we are thinking about the management of flood risk and newest solutions we cannot skip or substitute effective urban planning and strong community engagement.

When we are thinking about the management of flood risk and newest solutions we cannot skip or substitute effective urban planning and strong community engagement.

The correction in urban planning could be done by strict implementation of the flood risk management plans which have listed infrastructural protecting measures. There is also the need to build strong social infrastructure which includes disaster planning, capacity-building and training that can help communities mobilize in the event of disasters.

One new developed mechanism with the aim to help cities to increase urban resilience, to share experiences, expertise and knowledge about how to reduce vulnerability and accelerate recovery is Mayors Adapt – the Covenant of Mayors Initiative on Climate Change Adaptation has been set up by the European Commission to engage cities in taking action to adapt to climate change.  Cities should develop a comprehensive local adaptation strategy or integrating adaptation to climate change into relevant existing plans. Three cities that we have worked with – Podgorica, Belgrade and Tirana, are in the process to sign the covenant and start implementing the action plans for adaptation to climate change developed through the CCAWB project.

Who were GIZ’s most important partners? Are there examples of new cooperation established between institutions across borders during the project?

The regional Flood Early Warning System for the Drin River Basin was and will be the main component of the project and in line with this, hydrometeorological services from four countries where and are the most important partners. The improved communications in the field of data exchange in the Drin river catchment has been an important impact of the project, which would not have been possible without the important mediating function of GIZ, but also the readiness of the institutes to provide the data and to cooperate.

Although the signing of the Memorandum of Cooperation and Exchange of Data between the countries is expected for March, the institutes already have established a daily exchange of data in the basin and react in the case of an increase in water level in the Drin and Lake Skadar Watershed. Compared with the situation in 2010 when there was not any cross-border exchange of information, this can be considered as a significant success.

Is there progress in climate change awareness?

In the Balkan countries I would say yes, especially when people are facing extreme weather events such as floods, droughts, heat waves or huge precipitation. People start to think about it. There is still a need to do a lot of more in sense of education, how to act at the local level, in our daily life. People should be aware about the need to be prepared, informed and ready to act, not wait for the government or rescue system to help you in the case of extreme weather events.

People should be aware about the need to be prepared, informed and ready to act, not wait for the government or rescue system to help you in the case of extreme weather events.

The CCAWB project intends to help raising awareness about climate change in the region in a different filed: supporting celebration of the Drin Day in the Drin river catchment area in all four countries, supporting local non-governmental organizations to develop events with local people with the aim to raise awareness about the sustainable use of rivers; supporting educative brochures about flood risk management in the region of Skadar lake and Bojana/Buna river for people from both side of the border in Albania and Montenegro; in 2013 we supported the Heat Wave Campaign in Podgorica and Air Quality Campaign in Tirana; currently we are supporting the climate change awareness campaign in the city of Belgrade with the accent on adaptation in urban area.