Irena Vojáčková-Sollorano, UN Resident Coordinator & UNDP Resident Representative - Serbia:

Better Prepared for Future Risks

With the support of the government of Japan, and in partnership with UNDP, Serbia is now better prepared to face future threats – both at the municipal level and in terms of the overall response to future crisis management in the case of disasters

A broad partnership established between all partners, at both the government and municipal levels, as well as between numerous partners in state institutions and organisations, and with the help of civil society and donor support, promises that Serbia will be in a better position to face possible new threats.

A year and a half after disastrous floods that hit Serbia, where do we stand when it comes to the flood relief effort, in terms of UNDP’s involvement?

Together with our partners in the Government of Serbia, above all with the Government Office for Flood Relief and Reconstruction, we have progressed a long way from what was initially an emergency response followed by reconstruction and recovery, to now having our eyes fixed firmly on the future, on implementing lessons-learned, on joint actions for disaster risk reduction and prevention measures.
We have moved from building back better to constructing better and safer new homes in places like Krupanj, Valjevo and Obrenovac, to building crucial infrastructure to save lives and sustain development in the face of future threats. We have done this by constructing, for example, two dozen torrential barriers on smaller rivers in the mountainous parts of Western Serbia, of the kind that demonstrated so much destructive power last year.

Together with our partners in the Government of Serbia, we have moved a long way from what was initially an emergency response to now having our eyes firmly set on the future

Moreover, we have assisted Serbia in moving towards being in a position of global leadership when it comes to building the legislative framework for effective disaster risk management, one which encapsulates the goals of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, adopted earlier this year in Japan.

How is this issue being addressed by the Japanese funded ($3.64 million) project “Increased Resilience to Respond to Emergency Situations”?

Japan supports municipalities in Serbia, this year with a $3.64 million grant aimed at increasing local-level resilience and preparing to respond to future disasters.  We are pleased to be implementing this 12-month project with a view to benefiting local communities in at least 27 municipalities in Serbia, which between them account for some 1.3 million inhabitants in total.

With this project, Japan and UNDP are supporting three landmark activities in Serbia:

The Flood Risk Management Study of the Kolubara River Basin – a detailed and comprehensive study of the entire Kolubara river basin, with practical recommendations on minimising future risks posed by flooding. In short, what should be built/removed and where, in order not to have floods in the future; create design for the Rehabilitation of the “Stolice” Antimone Mine, which is polluting Serbian rivers. The Government Office for Reconstruction and Flood Relief, together with Public Water Company “Srbijavode”, will implement the works based on this design; UNDP was able to contract a design company for a complex set of measures to rehabilitate and cultivate the tailings landfill of the “Stolice” mine in Krupanj municipality. The May 2014 floods caused the western landfill for tailings to collapse, causing great volumes of flotation sludge to spill into local rivers and on into the Drina.

Most notably, the BEWARE project has created the basis for the Landslide Register in the Republic of Serbia, hazard and vulnerability maps and training of municipalities on how to monitor them and avoid creating on landslide risks. Information on this area is available at www.mre.gov.rs/geoliss/beware

I think the long-term vision of this partnership is also testament to the quality and flexibility of support provided by the Government of Japan.

Moreover, the project also includes small scale infrastructure works, including reparation and improvement of water supply systems, wastewater treatment and improving sanitation at the municipal level; enhancement of municipal capacities for disaster preparedness in line with the EU Civil Protection Mechanism and many other activities.

What were the guiding principles when it came to selecting projects and what major goals need to be achieved?

Based on the previously conducted post-flood needs assessment, project activities are geared towards supporting recovery, reducing vulnerability and increasing resilience.

The long-term vision built into the project “Increased Resilience to Respond to Emergency Situations” is a testament to the quality and flexibility of support provided by the Government of Japan to Serbian communities

As with all of our work, UNDP is able to deliver thanks to its ability to forge smart and effective partnerships, which include those with local governments, experts and specialised public companies, such as Srbijavode, as well as civil society organisations, which in this case also include those with the capacity to include women in local disaster risk management.

How will Japanese knowhow be transferred and implemented in Serbia, thereby empowering local communities to prevent further damage of this kind?

We already had a visit from Professor Kyoji Sassa, Chairman of the International Consortium on Landslides, who supported our project. One of the many beneficial aspects of this project is certainly the adoption of both social and technological innovation in addressing challenges in local level resilience, such as using the latest technology for mapping and managing thousands of landslide sites across Serbia and using drones for reconnaissance and inspection of fires, damaged infrastructure or other types of disaster environments which would otherwise prove extremely life-threatening situations for first responders.

I think the support by Japan has given all of the partners in the project more than just the financial resources: it has infused our collective efforts with the culture of being more open to innovation and the use of the latest technology.

How does UNDP cooperate with the local municipalities and civil society organisations involved in the implementation of this project?

We do more than just cooperate – we forge smart partnerships by allowing local stakeholders to enhance their own capacities through the implementation of project activities, which they themselves have conceived and designed.

UNDP, with the support of the Government of Japan, was also involved in an equally important project related to human security in the Sandžak region. How does this approach to human security differ from other interventions related to social security and why is it an important framework for action?

The concept of human security underscores the universality and interdependence of a set of freedoms that are fundamental to human life: freedom from fear, freedom from want and freedom to live in dignity. This is the common denominator for achievements facilitated by the Joint UN Programme entitled “Improving Human Security in Southwest Serbia”, and the concept Japan uses as a guiding principle for its official development assistance (ODA).

Funded by the UN Human Security Trust Fund and the Government of Japan, the programme is worth 2.8 million dollars and was implemented by four UN agencies (UNDP, UNFPA, UNOPS and WHO), working in close partnership with the people and local governments of the region in order to deliver diversified support to economic, environmental, community, political and cultural security, as the drivers of regional development.

Physical infrastructure has been improved in ways that respond directly to the development priorities of local partners. The brand new recycling centre in Novi Pazar, for example, was financed by the UN Human Security Trust Fund and the Government of Japan.