“… waters that run freely, or tamed ones to be used by humans, or immense – infinite as seas and oceans, or unfathomable, mysterious as underground, thermal and mineral ones; waters simply as an irreplaceable and indispensable part of life. “
In this issue we talk with Professor Tarik Kupusovic, who is familiar with the developments in the water sector in the world, region and Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Dear Professor, we are here on behalf of the eVAL magazine and we thank you for your time. The purpose of this interview is to highlight the importance of water resources as a potential and as a necessity for both development and everyday life of citizens. On the website of the Institute of Hydrotechnics you are a director and chief researcher, a professor elected at the Sarajevo University, and an expert in several areas related to water management, including water potentials. Apparently, a lot of effort and love have been invested in your scientific research career, which area would you identify as special?
Yes, waters have been my love since my early childhood – waters that run freely, or the tamed ones to be used by humans, or immense – infinite as seas and oceans, or unfathomable, mysterious as underground, thermal and mineral ones; waters simply as an irreplaceable and indispensable part of life. The first civilizations were created with large watercourses – they were used, developed and protected from their occasional harmful effects. And then, there comes civil engineering – construction and hydro-engineering so that they could understand nature, think, calculate, design, build, manage and monitor the functioning of infrastructure systems in order to enable and continually improve the comfort of life of people and communities.
However, with the development and growth of civilization, there is a need for waters to be protected because people pollute waters by using them, so, waters could become useless, dangerous to health, or they can even completely disappear.
So, all areas of water management are vital, and so important to me, so that I would not single out any particular area – the key is in the integral management of water resources, and also with the active involvement of all professions and interest groups, including all citizens.
Will we have enough water for drinking and economic development in 20 years?
We should, we will, but it can also happen that we will not have water; everything is up to us – how we will manage waters. When we need it most, water is the least, and when it’s too much, it can flood us and make other damages. Waters are a very sensitive resource, characterized primarily by quantity and quality, spatial and temporal distribution, including proportions through which we observe everything. The world is changing rapidly today, facing many problems and global challenges as never before: dramatic climate change; explosion and concentration of the population in large cities; rapid growth of the economies of the most populous countries, often by virtue of the untimely exploitation of natural resources and habitats; shortage of water, food and energy. All these topics lead to a crucial issue of how to ensure the long-term sustainability of civilization values.
Although it is not the answer to the question asked, it is clear that one cannot continue working the same (as before), on the same (planet)! And the most developed are the most responsible: They slowly realize that in ever-increasing global interdependencies they gradually lose the benefits of the past centuries, they offer solutions to the underdeveloped according to their own taste, but it is up to the intellectual elites of the others how and what they will or will not accept, how they will devise their own development – their own escape from poverty and misery, hopelessness.
Solutions to these global problems will not come from politicians, generals or managers, nor from philosophers, poets or artists (with due respect to each of these honorable professions). Solutions will come from engineers and scientists-technologists, because they are the ones who find solutions and make things possible and accessible to people.
It is up to us in Bosnia and Herzegovina and the region to follow all this and actively participate in it, for the benefit of our communities and citizens, or the entire region – from Slovenia to Albania.
Drinking water is a problem and estimates are that about 40% of people on the planet Earth do not have adequate access to drinking water. Economically powerful countries often have a large and expensive infrastructure for purification, several purification projects have been launched in the FBiH, these are very expensive and demanding projects, especially for local communities, which maintenance would often account for a quarter of the total budget. Since we are a relatively poor country, how to behave more responsibly towards nature, with (no) large allocations in terms of percentage?
In nature, water is self-purifying, but when people exaggerate with pollution, nature cannot do it quickly. Instead of building expensive high-tech purifiers like in developed countries, there are much cheaper and simpler engineering solutions, where natural processes are imitated, thus helping “nature” to overcome pollution. True, we need here much more space, but it is still much cheaper here than, for example, in Germany or the Netherlands.
Are there any European principles or standards when it comes to the institutional and legal framework in water management? According to your judgment, how much effort do we have to invest in the water management system to meet these standards?
The principles are clear: every basic infrastructure service must be affordable to all citizens. Life is today, with several other conveniences, unimaginable without drinking water in the apartment or home, running hot water, safe disposal and disposal of wastewaters, less risk of flooding, landslides and the like, and a pleasant environment of living in a green and blue environment. All communities of all levels in our country, that is, their leaders, need to work diligently and systematically on this matter, and “ordinary” people recognize what their life priorities are and gradually reach the standards of the developed.
Why do some watercourses disappear, even younger citizens remember that sometimes creeks or small rivers have once flowed; the feeling is that we are losing watercourses? Why is this happening? Can the lack of water jeopardize social and economic development?
Yes, some watercourses do disappear – we are really losing some creeks or small rivers; some of them occasionally, and some of them permanently. The point is in changing the way of land use, urbanization and construction of transport infrastructure, and above all in climate change. Even here, there has been a significant reduction in the duration and thickness of the snow cover, as well as the accumulation of water, prolongation of the summer and dry periods, and other changes in the flow regime, which are already seen both with naked eyes and as a fact. There are some solutions and engineers can offer them, as they already do, for example, in Slovenia, Austria or Switzerland. The lack of water is certainly jeopardizing socio-economic development, but water is at the same time a possible “engine” of development – the one who has water has a safe potential for sustainable, balanced development.
Do you have the impression that local government units often buy either social peace or elections, for the price of water that is insufficient from the aspect of system sustainability? What can be done through improving the legal and institutional framework?
The price of water services and the economic viability of water systems is a very specific, especially important topic, especially in a country like BiH, where several transitions are underway. I think that the most painful thing is the mental and actual transition – transition from socialism and non-alignment in a society of liberal market economy, as part of the world and European community, which is inevitable for us. Hence the constant stories, promises and pressures from outside for reform, which go awfully slowly. However, the entire election process and the democratic elections per se, especially in local governments (municipalities, where almost everyone knows everyone) are for now, in my opinion, the only way to speed up these reforms. A significant number of our municipalities in BiH have already come out of the underdevelopment and poverty on a local level, thanks to the dynamics and capabilities of local elites, so that there is no need to buy social peace!
How much is the water sector connected to other segments of the environment, forests, air? How to perform jointly?
It is undoubtedly connected, but not only to other environmental segments, but to the whole economy – from agriculture and food, industry, energy and tourism, to urban planning and spatial planning, traffic… There is no doubt that the most important resources today are as follows::
- Social system (which allows people to work and create); and then
- Money, that is capital, and in the end
- Material resources (that is, natural resources (except for some time for the country that is abundant in oil), and most importantly – already created infrastructure by human work – in the developed countries).
I think that our chance is in connecting the energy, agriculture and water production. This is a big challenge, but energy engineer and agronomists, along with economists, can solve this, with only a slightly more favorable political and legal ambience! So, there is knowledge, natural resources and people in BiH, and when it comes to good ventures, money is the least problem today!
What do you see as the most important policy in the field for the next 30 years? And how to monitor the situation in the area, what are the key status indicators of water resources in a country?
Key indicators are calculated and monitored by relevant international organizations, whereby our statistical agencies only need to slightly improve the credibility of their calculations, that is, the first data collected. The most important thing for us in BiH is the relations with our neighbors and the region, and beyond … without any loftiness (we are the smartest) or victimizing ourselves (we deserve something more than others, because we are the greatest victims of the last war). The past is important, and things need to be gradually cleared, but it is in the present that we are working for the future … so, god willing, we are about to see what will happen in the next 15 or 30 years.