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Jelena Puzović, Ph.D., Head of the JVP Srbijavode Public Relations and International Cooperation Sector

Serbia Must Ensure the Conservation of the Precious Resource That is Water

Public Water Management Company Srbijavode engages in numerous activities aimed at overcoming the challenges brought by climate change – implementing projects to develop and improve irrigation systems, as well as conducting works on protection against flooding and torrential inundations

The increasing significance of international cooperation in the management of water is keeping pace with the growth of the world’s population and changes to the global climate. The nurturing of collaboration at all levels, and an understanding for the challenges in the field of water, is aimed at preserving this precious resource, but also protecting people against water’s harmful effects, or even agricultural crops during dry periods of the year. Speaking in this interview, Srbijavode’s Jelena Puzović explains just what this cooperation means to our region, and how far we’ve advanced in the fight against climate change.

The Western Balkans is among the world’s region’s that are facing more pronounced climate change compared to the planetary average. From your point of view, what does this mean in practical terms when it comes to climate change impact assessments in your field?

We are today witnesses to the consequences of climate change, such as floods, droughts and melting glaciers. These kinds of changes imperil human lives and infrastructure.

Climate change, with all the risks and consequences it brings, are present worldwide. Serbia is no exception to this climate change trend, with extreme weather events occurring ever-more frequently in our country. Waves of flooding haven’t bypassed us during hardly any of the previous several years, and they have had devastating consequences. This has once again highlighted the need to better organise the entire system and improve flood defences.

The Republic of Serbia invested in infrastructure during the 2014-2024 period and, together with Public Water Management Company Srbijavode, conducted extensive rehabilitation works to ensure the functionality of the protection systems for new waves of flooding, while the protection system was also improved significantly in individual locations. Systemic changes were made by working in cooperation with the then Office for the Management of Public Investments of the Government of the Republic of Serbia, the current ministry, as well as the Interior Ministry’s Department for Emergency Situations, resulting in the territory of Serbia being made safer and better prepared.

One noticeable consequence of climate change, apart from extremely heavy rainfall, is the extending of the dry season

One noticeable consequence of climate change, apart from extremely heavy rainfall, is the extending of the dry season. As a result of the ever-increasing vulnerability of the country to negative climate impacts, the Government of the Republic of Serbia decided to improve, expand and modernise irrigation infrastructure.

With consideration for the importance of agriculture in Serbia, which – given appropriate support – could become a significant driver of the growth of the national economy, as well as Serbia’s available potential, irrigation projects were launched… These include construction of the Resavska Celina irrigation system in Svilajnac, Negotin and Topola, construction of a hydro-amelioration system in Mačva, Parmenac in Čačak, Pančevački rit, and the Udovički Plateau irrigation system.

Given that this is a global phenomenon, to what extent is your institution focused on cooperating and exchanging information with international organisations and similar national organisations. Could you cite some examples of successful cooperation?

As water is the key element in sustainable development and that it has great value from social, economic and ecological perspectives, water resource management issues, as well as issues related to climate change prevention and consequences, must be addressed at the local, national, regional and international levels. The importance of international cooperation in the management of water is growing together with the world population and changes to the global climate. The nurturing of collaboration at all levels, and an understanding for the challenges in the field of water, is aimed at preserving this precious resource, but also protecting people against water’s harmful effects, or even agricultural crops during dry periods of the year.

The Republic of Serbia has resolved to conduct the process of implementing the EU Water Framework Directive and the EU Flood Directive in coordination with the other countries of the Danube. The Directive has set goals in the field of environmental protection, as well as prescribing processes for planning approaches to the management of water resources in EU member states, stipulating specific activities, as well as essential deadlines to achieve integral management.

The Republic of Serbia is a full member of both the International Commission for the Protection of the Danube River (ICPDR) and the International Sava River Basin Commission (ISRBC).

Within a multilateral cooperation framework, Srbijavode is actively engaged in the implementation of the Convention on Cooperation for the Protection and Sustainable Use of the Danube River and the Framework Agreement on the Sava River Basin.

Each year, in the build-up to the International Day of the Sava River and the International Day of the Danube River, Srbijavode implements various initiatives in the field of water resource protection and raising public awareness, including educational workshops, campaigns to clean riverbanks and activities for children that serve to encourage environmental awareness and responsibility. Such activities are recognised as a priority for raising environmental awareness of the importance of protecting rivers and water.

These and other activities carry the essential message that we must all take steps to ensure the preservation of this precious resource, which we should approach consciously, conscientiously and correctly every day.

When it comes to discussing climate change and bodies of water, we most commonly talk about rising sea levels. However, what impact is climate change having on other waterways and how do the challenges differ between densely populated urban areas and sparse rural areas?

Events that have marked previous years point to a rapidly changing climate, and the frequency of floods confirms that every month of the year is equally dangerous and can see the occurrence of extreme weather events. We have situations today in which dry periods are very long, then we have a short period of very high intensity precipitation and the soil is unable to handle such quantities of rainfall, after which torrential flooding occurs. On the other side, excessive urbanisation has led to an increase in impervious surfaces, so cities are particularly hard hit by increasingly frequent urban floods, with existing systems that aren’t designed to handle such large amounts of water in a short period.

Srbijavode has implemented 18 capital projects by utilising financial resources provided by the Government of the Republic of Serbia

Public Water Management Company Srbijavode engages in numerous activities aimed at overcoming the challenges brought by climate change. And projects are implemented within the Srbijavode framework to develop and improve irrigation systems, representing a response to droughts and changes to precipitation patterns, as well as works on protection against flooding and torrential inundations. Srbijavode has implemented 18 capital projects by utilising financial resources provided by the Government of the Republic of Serbia, while it is currently in the process of constructing the country’s first Green Dam and the “Arilje – Svračkovo Profile” Reservoir, which will have the primary purpose of providing supplies of clean drinking water for 500,000 citizens.

Predicting movements of surface waters and groundwater is among the many areas in which artificial intelligence is being used today. Do you rely on the water management information system or is it planned to be able to be relied on in the future?

One of the very successful and high priority strategies that we’ve established is a strategy to develop IT within the scope of the Water Information System at Srbijavode. The Water Information System of the Republic of Serbia (VIS) has the all-encompassing goal of enabling the National Water Directorate and Public Water Management Companies to boost their efforts to improve the protection and management of water resources, as well as the quality of water and public health.

VIS represents an information system for managing surface waters and groundwater resources, as well as all operational processes in the water management field. VIS is a spatial information system that comprehensively and integrally supports the management of the watershed, while providing users with tools that make it easier for them to fulfil their obligations under the Law on Water, as well as reporting in accordance with the Convention on the Protection of the Danube River, bilateral agreements and EU bodies.

In the context of further development and IT applications in the water management field, we are in the process of developing an advanced notice and early warning system. This system aims to provide timely notice of imminent flood threats and make decisions on the implementing of measures to protect the population and infrastructure.

The establishing of the Flood Defence Management Centre within the Srbijavode framework has led to significant progress in terms of the timely forecasting of flood waves that enable the more efficient implementing of regular and emergency flood defence measures. The command centre has been conceived as a “smart room” that will be the hub to manage and monitor the state of the systems being developed at Srbijavode.

With the aim of ensuring the most efficient possible use and control of the state of dams and reservoirs as multi-purpose facilities, but first and foremost for the safe handling of flood waves, the SCADA (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition) system has been implemented at several dams, while pre-existing systems have also been modernised and improved significantly. The SCADA system represents a process automation system that collects information from remote locations with the primary purpose of provided advanced warnings of problems that may occur. This system has also enabled the real-time monitoring of all data important to stability and management.

Despite the challenges confronting us, we are investing and implementing new projects, increasing our productivity and finding ways to be socially responsible. Progress isn’t merely about fixing the past. By investing in prevention today, we are moving continuously towards a safer future.

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