“Towards a shared vision for the integrated management of the Sava river” was the theme of an international conference in Zagreb, Croatia, on 4-5 November 2009, organised by the IUCN programme office for southeastern Europe. The Sava river is the second largest tributary (after the Tisza) to the Danube river. Until recently, the Sava was the biggest Yugoslav river – it became an international river, however, with the dissolution of the socialist federal republic. Nowadays, the sources of the Sava are in Slovenia. From the Slovenian mountains their waters flow eastwards through Croatia and its capital Zagreb, form then the border between Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina and finally cross Serbia, where they enter the Danube near the capital Belgrade.
In 2002, the four new riverine countries signed a Framework Agreement and established the International Sava River Basin Commission (ISRBC) to coordinate navigation, establish sustainable water management practices, and prevent (or limit) hazards such as floods, droughts, ice and accidents in the river basin. The Commission was set up according to the model of the successful Danube Commission (ICPDR). So far, it has mainly focused on the establishment of a safe internationial navigation regime, but permanent expert groups on accident and flood prevention and on river basin management were also set up. And it is the latter which can profit most from the results of the European Union-funded LIFE project (with additional Swiss and national counterpart funding) on the “protection of biodiversity of the Sava river basin floodplains”. The conference in Zagreb presented the results of this project. And the Ramsar national focal points from the four countries concerned can now play a crucial role in establishing the right exchanges with their counterpart experts of the Sava Commission.
The 100 or so expert participants of the four countries, including representatives of the European Commission, UNESCO, ICPDR, Ramsar, IUCN and WWF, agreed that to assure effective integrated river basin management planning (as outlined in Ramsar’s Handbook 7), it was probably most effective to extend the existing Stakeholder Council for the central Posavina region by establishing a similar structure to focus on the entire floodplain along the Sava river. At the heart of the central Posavina region lies the Lonjsko Polje Nature Park and Ramsar site. As reported earlier, the management of this Ramsar site has successfully tested innovative approaches to manage the wider floodplain, in a river basin context, that could easily inspire wetland managers elsewhere.
Currently, six Ramsar sites are designated in the Sava basin: the upstream Cerknisko jezero karst lake in Slovenia, Crna Mlaka fish ponds and Lonjsko Polje floodplains in Croatia, Bardaca wetland complex in Bosnia and the Obedska Bara and Zasavica oxbow wetlands in Serbia. In line with the conference conclusions, the managers of these protected areas are encouraged to meet regularly and to exchange their information and know-how, in order to establish a coherent network of river-related protected areas throughout the basin, from the upstream Julian Alps to the downstream Pannonian Plain. Site management needs to be integrated with agricultural, tourism, forestry, energy and spatial planning activities. To this end, setting up inter-ministerial working groups at national level can help to support the international Sava Commission to fully integrate environmental concerns in their programme of work. More information on the biodiversity project and environmental activities in the Sava basin can be found on www.savariver.com .
-- Tobias Salathé, Ramsar
Two typical wetland ecosystems of the central Sava floodplain, inside the Lonjsko Polje Ramsar site in Croatia: an oxbow arm of the Sava river used for fishing and recreation, as well as an important biodiversity refuge, and one of the main flood retention areas used for grazing and forestry outside of the annual flooding periods.