Managing Landmines and Flooding in Bosnia and Herzegovina

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ST. PAUL, Minnesota — The frequency of flooding in Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Vrbas River basin has tripled in the last 10 years. Indeed, in May 2014, the country was subject to its most extensive and damaging floods in the past 150 years.

The flooding caused 23 deaths and $2.7 billion of damage — or 15 percent of the country’s GDP. As many as 90,000 people were displaced from their homes, and 25,000 homes were severely damaged or destroyed entirely.

The Vrbas River valley is home to war veterans, previously displaced populations and families living in poverty. Further, as the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) explains, Bosnia and Herzegovina “is significantly exposed to the threats of climate change, but has very limited capacity to address and adapt to its negative impacts, in particular, the frequency and magnitude of floods from its major rivers.”

One of the most pressing matters relating to flooding in Bosnia and Herzegovina also relates to the Balkan conflict of the 1990s. Many landmines and other explosive remnants of war — as many as 120,000 — remain buried across the countryside.

The majority of these landmines are buried near river banks and along borders, which makes them more likely to wash into a river as a result of flooding. The lightweight plastic construction of a landmine means it can travel far and fast, in the river’s current or in floodwater. Some landmines have been found as far as 14 kilometers from their original placement. Plastic landmines may also remain active even after being submerged in water.

In 2013, there were landmines in 28,699 locations across Bosnia and Herzegovina, and about 540,000 people out of the country’s population of four million lived near them. In the wake of the May 2014 flooding, Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Mine Action Center (MAC) reported finding bombs, grenades and other weapons washed up by flood water, and one landmine exploded. The flooding resulted in some 3,000 landslides, which could have significantly changed the map of landmine risk areas.

The government requested aid through the European Union Civil Protection Mechanism, and in May and June 2014, the MAC teamed up with the Belgian Royal Military Academy (RMA) to determine the new locations of landmines.

Together, the MAC and RMA used drones to map out landslides, with the intention of determining possible locations of landmines. The RMA ran 20 flights from 13 different locations, with the drones bringing back between 200 and 500 images per flight.

Then, the size and location of landslides were compared to the previously known locations of landmines. The University of Sarajevo’s Department of Geodesy aided this effort by applying statistical models to narrow down risk areas. The MAC was then able to focus on a more manageable area to search.

In order to improve future responses to flooding in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the UNDP has been working this year to develop a hydrometric monitoring network. Currently, this network consists of 20 rainfall monitoring stations, two meteorological stations, and six hydrological stations.

In addition, the UNDP is working with local governments in Bosnia and Herzegovina to establish disaster response plans which help various levels of government to work together cohesively. With these early response mechanisms and forecasting capabilities in place, residents of Bosnia and Herzegovina will be better able to plan their own responses safely.

Madeline Reding

Photo: Flickr

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