event 02 mars 2020

Policy Brief // Increasing welfare in the Sava countries through a transboundary nexus approach

By UNECE. This paper proposes several solutions towards intersectoral challenges identified in the Sava River Basin.


This project as initiated by the Advisory Assistance Programme (AAP) of the German Environment Agency (Umweltbundesamt) and implemented by UNECE in the frame of the project "Assessment of the water-food-energy-ecosystem nexus: dialogue in Sava Basin, Western Balkan". Goal of this project was to establish a dialogue between the concerned ministries, agencies and stakeholders towards the "water, energy food and ecosystems" NEXUS of the UNECE in the Sava River Basin. The evaluation of the relationships in water usage regarding food security, energy and ecosystems and the reduction of prevailing conflicts were the primary objectives.

The Sava River Basin is home to 8.1 million people covering a total area of 97,713 km2 that includes considerable areas of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Montenegro, Serbia and Slovenia, as well as a very small part of Albania. A significant share of water, hydropower, land area and economic activity in the Sava countries is based in or derived from the basin, for example electricity generation capacity amounts to 53 per cent or 76 per cent of thermal power plants.

The assessment of the water-food-energy-ecosystems nexus in the Sava River Basin aims to support the implementation of the Framework Agreement on the Sava River Basin (FASRB), particularly with regard to the further integration of water policy with other sectoral policies, as well as advancing dialogue with key sectoral stakeholders, notably in the sectors of energy and agriculture. The participatory assessment process included an intersectoral workshop that brought together sector authorities and other key stakeholders from the riparian countries to identify the main intersectoral issues and their possible solutions. This picture was enhanced by a subsequent analysis, followed by consultations among the various sectoral authorities concerned both in the form of meetings and the gathering of comments. The main findings are briefly described below.

The Dinaric Karst Aquifer is a main source of drinking water. Water and land resources support significant agricultural production and navigation. Intact floodplains contribute towards flood mitigation and biodiversity conservation. Pristine natural ecosystems and recreational water-based modes of transport attract tourism. Forests and wetlands are interwoven with local culture and community livelihoods, providing foraged food, fuel and timber. And low carbon electricity production contributes to significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

Key messages

A transboundary nexus approach enabling cross-sectoral and cross-country intervention is needed to address current challenges. For example, lower impact floods, which can often last for up to four days, can be bettermcontained if natural floodplains are complemented by spare reservoir capacity, in which case a centennial flood (with levels of about 6,000 m3/s) hitting the Sava River Basin could be delayed by at least four hours if current water storage infrastructure (with a capacity of 1,752 km3) are half full. Efficient irrigation measures would also reduce the total volume of water that would need to be pumped, reducing energy demand, with a more pronounced effect when water is scarce (when energy costs are higher).

The Sava nexus assessment has identified a menu of solutions to address specific intersectoral challenges in the Sava River Basin. Institutional solutions include further improving the relatively well developed governance architecture by clarifying roles and responsibilities, particularly in the monitoring of basin resources and in the support of the application of sustainable development principles in economic and sectoral planning and decision-making. International coordination and cooperation at basin and regional level offers opportunities to “manage the nexus” beyond what is possible at national level.

There are many benefits of adopting a transboundary nexus approach in the Sava River Basin. For example, given that the value of water varies across the basin (‘upstream water’ has a high value as it can pass through a greater number of hydropower plants), investments in irrigation efficiency in the upstream parts of the basin would become economically attractive even if conditions for agriculture are more favourable downstream. The Sava nexus assessment identifies a number of benefits both related to and independent of economic activities that are generated by improvements in the management of the basin’s resources as well as by the enhanced trust between the Sava countries.


July 2017


Policy Brief: Increasing welfare in the Sava countries through a transboundary nexus approach

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