In the late spring of 2014, a series of floods ravaged through the Balkans. Many residents from Bosnia and Herzegovina, lost the security of their homes and possessions at the time. Sanski Most, a small town on the banks of the Sana river in North-Western BiH, did not escape the plight. The town’s centre was submerged in waters, with hundreds of people being left without access to food, water, or shelter. The floods in Sanski Most were among the most severe in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
A local young person recalled: ‘Like other cities, Sanki Most was hit by floods. A lot of people needed help and some of them lost everything. I joined the volunteers and they wanted to help. Lots of them needed food, clothes and someone needed support. It was really tough to see all that people, who lost nearly everything. It was really sad to see it, but still, have hope.’
A spirit of solidarity led many people to help when disaster struck, but in the long term, nearly four years since that devastation, what has the local government, who controls public funds, done to ensure the resilience of the town in the face of such possible disasters?
In the summer of 2017, the local government in Sanski Most began works aimed at preventing floods. The method used was primarily, dredging, most commonly known as cleaning the river. This method brings machinery into the river to dig the accumulated sediments, destroy natural rock formations, resulting in a faster flow of the river, as well as more space for water accumulation in the depths of the river.
However, this method is, usually the least effective, and the most expensive flood prevention measure when not accompanied by other methods. Experts say that by dredging the authorities work against nature, rather than with it.
The municipality used the funds to work only in ‘critical’ areas where flooding usually occurs. In one of these, the neighbourhood named Jezernice, Sanski Most did have a canal that redirected the water into fields nearby, but they are now a transit and residential area so the canal was closed.
As the works were completed, some say the mayor declared there would not be any more floods for the next 50 years. But if this indeed happened, could it be true? If only a couple of areas were cleaned along the Sana river, was it really enough to hold the large volume of water that the area experiences during heavy rains? Is dredging a process that should be done along the entire course of the river, in all areas with large sediments, to be efficient? Would this process have to be repeated every time there are severe rainfalls to be sustainable?
Some local residents were outraged at this method. They believed there was little transparency and many did not even realise what was happening even after the excavators were brought into the river which filled it with mud. Some did not believe this can prevent floods, and more so argued that when they will happen, there will be more destruction because unlike in the past when it would be just water flooding, this time it will be heavy mud that will come into people’s homes. Obviously, some wondered who paid for this work, and how the money was used. Particularly those who are concerned with environmental issues were outraged at the destruction of ecosystems which dredging entails.
Research into this issue, from the minimal information that was made public, suggests that Sanski Most was the beneficiary of a 2 million KM grant from the World Bank, managed by the Federal Ministry, aimed at flood prevention work in the region.
Fast forward to March 2018, and what is happening? The levels of the Sana river have been growing significantly to the point that floods are again imminent. This situation is one in which theoretically speaking we would raise more questions about the local governance of natural resources, public spaces, security, transparency, accountability, and the participation of local residents in decision-making. In practice though, it is more likely that the local community will once again have to show solidarity with one another in overcoming such crises, as though there was never any funds, or responsibility of the local authorities to solve these issues.
Cover photo: Irma Sarac Hukanovic