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The first International Conference on River Protection in Southeast Europe is taking place in Podgorica, gathering more than forty participants from both sides of the Atlantic
Faced with growing effects of the climate crisis, global overheating and all resulting changes, it is crucial to preserve freshwater ecosystems, particularly free-flowing rivers. Healthy rivers not only serve as a source of drinking water but also affect the entire living world that surrounds them. They regulate air temperature, purify water, minimise floods and are a source of nutrients without which life in our seas and oceans would not be possible.
Their contribution to our own well-being and health is immeasurable, and we are all aware of the natural, cultural, historical, spiritual and recreational values our rivers provide. This is especially important knowing that more than 60% of European rivers are in bad health, and that our region is a sanctuary for the last remaining free-flowing rivers in Europe.
However, in the last ten years, there has been a systemic pressure on the rivers of Southeast Europe ranging from many unplanned small hydropower plants and extraction of sediment, as well as pollution caused by municipal and industrial wastewater and solid waste.
Therefore, TNC and WWF Adria have launched an initiative to review the conditions for implementing durable river protection mechanisms in Southeast Europe, modelled on legislation used in some European countries and the USA.
"Having recognised the need to protect our region’s incredible water wealth from unsustainable exploitation and systematic destruction, we have gathered in Podgorica to explore the possibilities and test our countries' readiness to take decisive steps to protect the rivers and secure a future where there is a place for both nature and people," said Milija Čabarkapa of WWF Adria.
The decision to organize the conference in Podgorica was not accidental. At the beginning of the year, the municipalities of Podgorica and Danilovgrad launched an initiative to protect the lower course of the Zeta River. Shortly thereafter, WWF Adria, in collaboration with the Ozon Ecological Association and with the support of TNC, launched an initiative for the protection of the river’s upper course. This is an example of good practice that is based on cooperation and mutual support, and it is now up to decision makers in Montenegro to recognize the importance of protecting rivers and take concrete implementation actions.
"The initiatives to protect the Zeta show the need for cooperation between the non-governmental sector and local authorities in order to achieve common goals. Protecting the Zeta River is of national importance and can be an example of good practice that can be successfully applied in other countries in the region," added Čabarkapa.
This conference is one of the first steps in establishing a common platform for the exchange of experiences and examples of good practice, but also to get a better understanding of the current situation and needs of individual countries in the region.
"Today, Montenegro has the opportunity to become a leader in the region when it comes to protecting rivers and establishing durable protection mechanisms. There are already significant legal measures in place in Montenegro that should ensure the protection of rivers, but it is time for them to be fully implemented, especially in protected areas. The best example is the Cijevna River, which received the status of a protected area, but a governing body to implement the existing legal regulations has not yet been established", said TNC's Dragana Mileusnić.
"We hope that there is a strong political will to spread the issue of river protection beyond the borders of Montenegro, because the specific messages we will send through this conference can serve as an example to other countries in the region," Mileusnić concluded.