{gallery}newsletters/17/3/1{/gallery}Countries in the Western Balkans are planning intensified cooperation in the field of civil protection.  At gatherings focused on this issue, new policies are being adopted which seek to enhance the rescue of individuals.  This can be achieved via the psychological education of rescue teams within civilian protection, especially for children in crises, and the creation of strategies for risk and disaster reduction.

Authors: Adnan AVDAGIĆ and Jasna PEKIĆ

Regional events are connected at multiple levels.  This conclusion can be observed in the wake of heavy rains which flooded Montenegro, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) and Croatia in late 2010.  Since none of these countries are capable of independently dealing with the consequences of natural disasters, civilian protection institutions throughout the region must act together.  Western Balkan countries have been attempting to establish such forms of cooperation for over a decade.   

Improvement of Civilian Protection

In November 2010, a regional conference about risk management and emergencies held under the auspices of the Balkan Institute for Assessment and Management of Risks took place in Belgrade.  In addition to representatives from the host country, officials from Slovenia, Croatia, Montenegro, Macedonia, BiH and Albania were also in attendance.  These countries all support regional cooperation in the field of disaster risk reduction via the Disaster Preparedness and Prevention Initiative (DPPI).  These activities occur in accordance with recommendations from the UN Global Platform on Disaster Risk Reduction and the European Forum on Risk Reduction.   

The conference clearly indicated an improvement in relations among regional countries.  It also introduced several ground-breaking mechanisms such as psychological education for rescue teams, special techniques for assisting children in crisis and the creation of a regional strategy for disaster risk reduction.

The primary advantage in coordinating regional responses to crises is that joint action can save more lives than a single-country response.  This indicates that the security of all the region’s citizens is being taken into account.   

“Our country is maintaining excellent cooperation with other countries through the DPPI and the Council of South-East Europe for Civil-Military Emergency Preparedness (CMEP),” said Deputy Minister of Security Samir Agić

Regional cooperation has proved an entirely positive experience thus far.  Predrag Marić, Chief of the Sector for Emergencies at the Serbian Ministry of Internal Affairs, noted that following the earthquake in Kraljevo, institutions throughout the region offered assistance within three hours of the catastrophe. 

BiH concluded a bilateral agreement with Croatia in 2002 that contributed to the development of its independent protection and rescue system.  Agić illustrated the positive aspects of regional cooperation in civilian protection through the example of the agreement between Croatia and BiH. 

“Help provided by the Croatian State Authority for Protection and Rescue has been present for years.  This help is most visible in the summer when large forest fires often start in southern BiH near the Croatian border.  Our Croatian colleagues consistently provide equipment, troops and firemen to assist BiH.  This help has always been given free of charge.”

{gallery}newsletters/17/3/2{/gallery}Agić explained that certain aspects of the agreement did not function perfectly at the outset.  The agreement was amended in 2007 with the addition of a document called Standard Operating Procedures for Crossing Borders When Providing Assistance.  As its name implies, this amendment regulates the crossing of borders and addresses several problematic issues that were not originally part of the 2002 agreement.  

A Collective Approach for Saving Time and Money

Similar bilateral agreements followed with Montenegro (2007), Macedonia (2008) and most recently, Serbia (2010).  These agreements are significant in that they represent complex protection systems which bind all the of the country’s institutions.  This means that  every level from the municipality to the Parliament of BiH contributes to the protection of citizens.     

“The third agreement, signed with Serbia, might be the most sensible one.  Our relations are improving and the agreement is a good indicator institutions addressing protection and rescue are not being politically manipulated,” Agić concluded.

BiH has signed a memorandum of understanding with the Agency for Emergency Management of the Kingdom of Denmark and a memorandum of intent to establish cooperation with the Russian Federation.  Future bilateral agreements are planned with Slovenia, Turkey, Bulgaria and Greece.   

According to some UN indicators, collective approaches to emergencies save time and money. One USD invested in prevention reduces the costs of damage up to eight times.  An investment of 100,000 USD would save 800,000 USD after damage occurs.