23 August 2022, BANJA LUKA – The mayor of Banja Luka joined the initiative “Dams-Free Municipalities”. By this act, Banja Luka commits not to issue any concession or permission for constructing dams or small hydropower plants on its territory without prior consultation with citizens. After July’s ban on new concessions for small hydropower plants in the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina , the accession of Bosnia's second-largest city to the declaration is another vital step toward preserving the natural state of the rivers in the Western Balkans.
Mayor Draško Stanivuković expressed political will to listen to the increasingly loud voices of citizens, which often come from vulnerable communities, calling to protect rivers from ill-conceived interventions. Based on experience with already realized hydropower projects, environmentalists and local people have warned for years that small hydropower plants cause damage to nature, the economy, and local communities, and the benefits arising from their construction are little or none for the state and society.
“Signing of this declaration is a confirmation of the strategic commitment of the city of Banja Luka to preserve its nature and its natural resources and, above all, to preserve the Vrbas river as a symbol of our city. Every dam construction disrupts the river's natural flow and can destroy flora and fauna. Therefore, we must show responsibility and protect what we have, especially in the era of generally irresponsible treatment of nature,” said Draško Stanivuković.
Jelena Ivanić from the NGO Center for the Environment reminded us that the city of Banja Luka had already declared twice in 2005 and 2018, that it was against the construction of planned large hydropower plants on the Vrbas River. “By signing the declaration, Banjaluka has once again shown its determination to protect its rivers from harmful projects like the construction of small hydropower plants. According to the Spatial Plan of the Republic of Srpska, the Vrbas canyon and gorge are planned to be a protected area, and the Center for Environment plans to launch an initiative for this type of formal protection. I hope that we will again receive the support of the city in the implementation of these plans. We would permanently save the river by declaring a protected area there,” explained Ivanić.
There are already 120 small hydropower plants in operation in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and a stunning number of 353 are planned or under construction. The original plans now contradict the later Declaration for the Protection of Bosnia and Herzegovina Rivers , which parliaments of both federal entities adopted, which admitts that small hydropower plants are harmful projects, and their implementation must be stopped.
A step towards stopping these projects was also made by the new Law on Renewable Energy Sources of the Republika Srpska of Bosnia and Herzegovina adopted this February, which no longer provides incentives for hydropower plants with a capacity of more than 150 kW. In August in the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Amendments to the Law on Electricity in the Federation entered into force. It suspends the issuance of energy permits for hydropower plants up to and including 10 MW, and these facilities cannot legally be built without them. Both laws are undoubtedly a result of the previous efforts and struggle of environmental activists , experts, and local communities who have felt the damage from these hydropower projects through their own experiences.
With the city of Banjaluka, a total of 13 municipalities and cities in Bosnia and Herzegovina signed the Declaration "Dams-Free Municipalities" and supported this initiative of the Coalition for the Protection of the Rivers of BiH. The initiative is part of the activities jointly implemented by Arnika (Czech Republic), Coalition for the Protection of Rivers of BiH, and Center for Environment with the support of the Program for the Promotion of Transition of the Czech Republic.
More information can be found on the website: https://arnika.org/en/countries/bosnia-and-herzegovina
Martin Zelinka│ International PR | ARNIKA
We protect our environment │ www.arnika.org/en
 The country of Bosnia and Herzegovina was divided by the Dayton Peace Agreement in 1995 into two entities: the Republika Srpska of Bosnia and Herzegovina (republic divided into municipalities) and a Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (federation of partly independent cantons) and in 1999 a self-governing administrative unit, the Brčko District, was formed. Both entities are independent in most administrative agendas and lawmaking (for example, they both have their own parliaments); the armed forces, office of the president, and foreign policy is united.
 You can find the declaration’s full text in Bosnian here: https://czzs.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/DEKLARACIJA-O-ZASTITI-RIJEKA-ZAPADNOG-BALKANA.pdf
 You can find a story of the Goldman Environmental Prize winner Maida Bilal who led a group of women who blocked the access road to the construction site of harmful dams on the Kruštica river for 503 days and nights here: https://arnika.org/en/news/brave-woman-of-kruscica-won-bosnia-herzegovina-s-first-goldman-environmental-prize