Catastrophic Floods Hit BiH

{gallery}newsletters/14/1/1{/gallery}What happened on December 1 to inhabitants of Foča and Goražde, and later other downstream municipalities on the banks of the Drina River, all the way to Bijeljina, can be labeled one of the biggest disasters in the past hundred years.

On that day, water level in the Drina started increasing rapidly. This did not seem alarming in the beginning and no one could have assumed what was to follow. In the night between 1st and 2nd December, parts of Foča and Goražde along the Drina found themselves under water. Around 500 residential and business units were under water, and 300 families were evacuated. Over 1,000 people ended up without electricity, water and phone lines. The damage in the municipality of Goražde is estimated at 15 million KM, and around 5 million in Foča.

Two days later, the Drina River began withdrawing into its river-bed, owners of the flooded residential and business units started cleaning, drying and disinfecting, and communal services started cleaning streets, parks and river banks.

Whose Fault is this?

{gallery}newsletters/14/1/2{/gallery}Inhabitants of Goražde and Foča are wondering who is responsible. Was this inevitable or could the disaster have been prevented? Some say the whole responsibility lies on hydroelectric power plant „Piva“, and discrepancy between hydro electric power plants in BiH, Serbia and Montenegro, while others claim the flood could not have been avoided.

What is certain is that the hydroelectric power plant „Piva“ released five or six waves (no one seems to know for sure how many), i.e. 996 turbine flow cubic meters of water per second. For comparison purposes we should note that the normal level in December is 210 turbine flow cubic meters per second.

Hydroelectric plant „Piva“ in Mratinje, 30 km from Foča, is 225 meters high and has a big accumulation lake. This plant does not work continuously, but only as much as necessary to meet the needs for electrical energy at consumption peak of Serbian electric and energy sector.

The management of „Piva“ admits to being responsible for the floods in BiH, but also claims that it could not keep that amount of water in the lake. But could they have at least warned the flooded municipalities that so much water was being released? I heard the mayor of Bijeljina say he knew Bijeljina would be flooded after he had heard about the floods in Foča. Well, Foča and Goražde were flooded with no warning!

It is probably true that the floods could not have been prevented. However, the wave could have been tamed by „Piva“ to a certain extent by a mere shift in priorities. The priority should not have been the amount of produced electricity, but the possible damage against health and lives of people. So much about our neighbors.

Since all I think of these days are cubic meters of water, accumulation lakes and similar, I cannot but remember all the election campaigns in past years and constant promises related to construction of hydroelectric plant „Buk Bijela“ in Foča, accompanied with promises that this would be the best hydroelectric plant in former Yugoslavia, resulting in Foča’s financial flourish. We are being told this by those who only calculate kilowatts, turning them automatically into Euros. All people say is that it could not get worse than this, that we had already reached the bottom, so they do not oppose construction of „Buk Bijela“. There are, however, those who do manage to see the whole picture, and who see that people are leaving Višegrad, despite the fact this town has one of the best hydroelectric plants in BiH.

What are Professionals Doing?

In 1980s, Foča sued hydroelectric plant „Piva“ because of constantly changing water-levels of the Drina river, even up to two meters, which was damaging flora and fauna of the river, distorting river banks and killing cattle, even people. Complete documentation in this case was destroyed in Sarajevo in 1992, so the case of Foča versus „Piva“ has never been resumed.

Inhabitants of Goražde and Foča are no longer afraid of water, but around five hundred people are wondering how and when they will be able to reconstruct their homes and return to normal lives.

And I cannot stop wondering what would happen in case, God forbid, an earthquake or poor geologic conditions destroy the hydroelectric power plant „Piva“. Professionals should ask themselves the same, in case they care…

Text and photo: Bojana MARIĆ