Saving Bosnia and Herzegovina's rivers and the environment for the benefit of all
In July 2022, the UN General Assembly adopted a historic resolution declaring access to a clean, healthy, and sustainable environment a universal human right.
In Bosnia and Herzegovina, as across the world, "the fight is not always easy, but it is always worth it when we know what we are fighting for," says Sara Tuševljak, an environmental activist. Saving the Kasindolska River from excessive exploitation and destruction united Sara and citizens in the fight for its preservation.
The goal of this informal group of citizens from East Sarajevo is to stop the construction of mini-hydroelectric plants on the Kasindolska River by joining efforts. A healthier environment in Bosnia and Herzegovina is becoming a reality for the society through the actions of this and similar groups, despite the challenges and often negative exposure that these activist groups face. The story of how three workers, three students, two high school students, and one pensioner became environmental heroes in Bosnia and Herzegovina was shared with us by one of the group members – Ms. Sara Tuševljak, activist and a student at the Faculty of Law in East Sarajevo.
"I believe that ecology and activism should be important to all people, not just young people. Our Constitution stipulates that every person has the right to a healthy environment and that everyone, in accordance with the law, is obliged to protect and improve the environment within their capabilities", says Sara.
The announcement of the construction of three mini-hydropower plants: "Podivič", "Slapi", "Samar", was the wake-up call for action of this informal group of citizens, of which Sara is a member.
"Kasindolska river", says Sara, "is an important resource. It springs on the Jahorina mountain, passes through canyons, and flows into the Željeznica river at Ilidža. For almost 90% of its flow the water is potable, and the first wastewater is poured when it reaches the Public Health Institution in Kasindol."
Sara grew up by the river, learned to swim there, and her love for nature was instilled in her by her family.
The problems started when a foreign company received concessions for the construction of as many as three mini-hydropower plants on the Kasindolska river in 2014. Environmental permits were issued for all three in 2015.
"Citizens", says Sara, "directed initiatives and requests to the competent authorities during the construction, to point out the problems of illegal construction, procedural and legal errors, and violations of environmental standards. Ultimately, the construction of three mini hydropower plants would cause catastrophic consequences for the flora and fauna, and the human health."
Sara and her uncle created a Facebook page “Stop the construction of mini hydropower plants on the Kasindolska river after learning that the construction of another mini-hydropower plant "Samar" on the same river will soon begin. The Facebook page was a channel of communication through which this group of activists informed the citizens of East Sarajevo that the first mini-hydropower plant "Podivič" has been operating since 2018 and pointed out the changes that have occurred since it was built. Cooperation was soon initiated with the Resource Aarhus Center, the Center for Civil Initiatives, the Foundation Atelier for Community Transformation (ACT), and Sara is already a Member of the Coalition for the Protection of Rivers of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
"Not even during the issuance of Location Conditions Assessment, which is a prerequisite for building permits for mini-hydropower plants, was the opinion of the local community where construction is planned asked or taken into account, which is contrary to the provisions of the Law on Spatial Planning and Construction. The District Court in Banja Luka, after a lawsuit was filed regarding the illegal construction of the three mini-hydropower plants on the Kasindolska river, issued four verdicts in favor of the citizens and annulled three environmental permits as well as the construction permit for the mini-hydropower plant "Samar". Nevertheless, one mini-hydropower plant - “Podivič"- was still built."
Sara's fight, and that of other activists, is still going on. Large amounts of forests were cut down and roads were built for the construction of the “Podivič” plant. Activism and the need to seek legal protection and remedies might have been the leading motivation for Sara’s law studies.
"I spend a lot of time in nature, hiking, and that's why it's very important for me to protect the nature. Especially the Kasindol river, because I spent beautiful moments around it with my family and friends," said Sara.
The current goal of this informal group of citizens is to challenge the work of the still running "Podivič" plant, and to completely stop construction of the other two planned plants by pointing out irregularities in the process of issuing permits and putting pressure on the decision-makers. They are looking for a permanent solution and a ban on the construction of mini-hydropower plants.
"The fight is not always easy, but it is always worth it when we know what we are fighting for" , Sara pointed out at the end, sending a message to all activists.