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Urban life reconsidered: From ash clouds and floods, to green energy and climate action, adapting to climate change means transforming cities in Bosnia and Herzegovina

Bosnia y Herzegovina
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With its rich history and multicultural cities, Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) is an inspiring example of cosmopolitanism and green urban renewal.

Zenica, an industrial hub where ash clouds have been known to dominate the sky, is striving towards a green transformation – combatting air pollution and proving that cities can be a locus for change.

In the interior of Bosnia, the cantonal capital Zenica lies at the literal centre of the country.

Whenever there is heavy rain in Zenica, locals in the village of Topcic Polje flashback to scenes from the 2014 floods and landslides that wiped out entire neighbourhoods and caused widespread damage they are still recovering from. The village’s 1,700 people look to Zenica for its key role in keeping people safe, especially in times of crisis.


Since the devastating floods six years ago, some river and stream basins were modified to accommodate stormwater overflows, but this amounts to a temporary solution. Early last year, a code red alarm was triggered when the Starinski stream rose to critical levels after organic matter blocked its flow down to the river Bosna.

‘Heavy machinery that we needed was brought. The riverbed was continuously cleaned for two days and two nights. In the riverbed, which is almost four metres deep, there was [only] 30cm left for it to be full and cause a catastrophe. It was in the last moment, but it was the city administration that came to help clean up’, recalls Suad Skopljak, Topcic Polje community president.

City administrations usually have small budgets that do not allow for major infrastructural projects. However, as Skopljak explains, the local city government is the first point of contact when people are in need.


When it comes to climate-induced disaster risk, secondary watercourses are the gravest problem in Zenica. The central river Bosna runs throughout the city; it is largely manageable and has suitable infrastructure in the urban area, but many of its tributaries run through wild and disorderly riverbeds.

Jakuta Imsirovic, expert associate for protection of the environment with the City of Zenica, explains how people who live by the rivers and those who cultivate the lands near them are the most endangered category of citizens when it comes to exposure to natural disasters.

She adds that the city administration has limited options and a somewhat narrow role, both financial and by jurisdiction, but that the city is endeavouring to complete large-scale project activities to clean the river beds, develop projects that will regulate wastewater, transform municipal heating to stop using coal, and various green renewal activities such as tree planting (initiated by UNDP’s Go Green Initiativein 16 municipalities – including Zenica – throughout BiH), increasing the energy efficiency of residential buildings in the urban area, and facilitating bicycle use.

‘The problem we have is that this is a valley and villages are up the surrounding hills, and each time the snow and ice melt waters cascade down’, Imsirovic says. ‘It could be slowed down with retention basins, building barriers and other technical tools’.

As a mechanical engineer, Ms Imsirovic explains how through the implementation of the UNDP’s National Adaptation Plan (NAP) project, financed by Green Climate Fund, there are efforts to systematically map existing climate change issues and prepare the requisite documentation to seek donor assistance, as the city is financially strapped and cannot solve all of its problems without help. Ms Imsirovic emphasises the need to recognise the area’s problems and start matching them with long-lasting solutions, using a strategic approach.

BiH’s NAP project has initiated pilot projects in Zenica and Laktasi to develop an innovative strategy for financing climate change adaptation activities. The first online trainings on financial modelling of municipal creditworthiness and long-term financial budget planning for climate change adaptation activities were held for representatives of utilities, financial authorities, and infrastructure departments for both municipalities. Strategic investment and the implementation of adaptation measures to climate change will increase the resilience of communities, populations, and the economy, and will enable economic development that will be resilient to climate impacts.

Developing municipal assistance tools for adaptation planning and financing in order to design ‘bankable’ adaptation interventions will help secure financing for climate change adaptation action and facilitate medium- to long-term planning.


Climate, and especially climate extremes in BiH has changed over last decades. Just in the last ten years, six where very to extremely dry, while five characterized by dramatic floods, experiencing also heat and cold waves, storms and hail. The most vulnerable sectors to climate effects in BiH are agriculture, water management, forestry, power, tourism, biodiversity and human health. The droughts are marked as the biggest threat to BiH, causing huge economic, environmental and social losses.

High temperatures, heat stress and droughts are causing disastrous effects in agriculture in recent decades, sometimes resulting in 70% losses as it was in 2012.

Thus, it is of crucial importance to plan proper adaptation measures, entities for their implementation as well as financial models to realize measures.

Agriculture is especially affected by droughts but also by floods…


Some 165 kilometres to the northeast of Zenica lies the municipality of Laktasi, a predominantly agriculture-oriented area close to the city of Banja Luka.

In the last decade, Laktasi was inundated by floods four times, the most devastating of which took place in 2014, when the total damage was calculated at about USD$14.2M. By way of comparison, the total budget for the municipality that year was only USD$10M.

The frequent floods are forcing the local authorities to focus most of their disaster risk prevention projects into building riverbank fortifications. As there are numerous rivers and streams throughout the municipality’s territory - 90 per cent of which is rural - there are still dozens of kilometres of fortification that need to be built.

‘Most of the activities in the future should be aiming for remediation, regulation and cleaning of the rivers and creeks. The Municipality is dedicating some funds in the budget each year for cleaning the riverbeds, which is something that was not done prior to 2014. And this gives results. Some parts are not flooding again’, said Goran Vujakovic, head of the Department for local development in the Municipality of Laktasi.

He explained how some of the projects implemented with UNDP support resulted in the development of a risk analysis resource available to citizens via the municipality website, which can show them risk assessments for their dwelling due to floods or landslides.

Despite scarce funds, local authorities are continuously working on building the waterway fortifications bit by bit. Mr Vujakovic noted how efforts are being put into securing better conditions for local farmers as well as for the companies in the industrial area. The primary remaining need is the construction of the riparian fortifications in the key area from Klasnice to Trn, which would cost about USD$11.8M, a figure currently beyond the capacity of local authorities.

Through its support for the NAP project, UNDP is helping Zenica and Laktasi to prepare a strategy and financing model in order to develop a tool for financing measures that will enable municipalities to have better access to financial resources in the open market. After initial tests in these two municipalities, the tool will be made available to other cities throughout BiH.


To make this work possible, the governmental institutions involved in the NAP process are the Ministry of Spatial Planning, Civil Engineering, and Ecology of Republika Srpska as the country’s UNFCCC and GCF focal point, the Ministry of Foreign Trade and Economic Relations of BiH as a state-level ministry in charge of coordination of climate change adaptation activities throughout the country, and the Federal Ministry of Environment and Tourism.

This work is also advancing BiH’s efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In particular, this project supported progress on achieving, SDG1 on poverty, SDG 5 on gender equality, SDG 7 affordable and clean energy, SDG11 on sustainable cities and communities, SDG 13 on climate action, and SDG 17 partnerships for the goals among others.

For more information on the project, please visit the project profile here.

For more information on UNDP BiH, visit here.