River Vrbas Basin Environmental Protection and Tourism Development Programme - “CLEAN VRBAS”

What is the project about?

Eco regatta 2012Eco regatta 2012

Rivers do not stop at administrative or political boundaries. The only way to protect and use rivers is therefore through the collaborative efforts of all the stakeholders within the natural geographical river basins.  

That is why European waters have been managed using a river basin approach since 2000, when the EU Water Framework Directive was adopted by the European Union, creating a new tool for the effective management of water resources. Although Bosnia and Herzegovina is not a member of the European Union, and as yet has no formal obligation to implement EU regulations, both Entities in BiH have chosen to implement the EU Water Framework Directive and in this regard have prepared new water laws that incorporate the basic principles of the Directive.

In order to implement these laws and to fulfill its international obligations related to water (EU Water Framework Directive, Convention on Co-operation for the Protection and Sustainable Use of the Danube River, Framework Agreement on the Sava River Basin), BiH must implement a number of activities. All stakeholders, including local communities, civil society, public utilities, private companies and international organisations (ICPDR, WWF, etc.,) will need to be involved in the process.

The Vrbas River is a major river in western Bosnia and Herzegovina, reaching 234 km in length. It is a tributary of the River Sava and together with other water basins in BiH belongs to the Black Sea watershed area. The Vrbas River begins at the southern slope of the Vranica Mountain, at around 1,530 metres above sea level, and collects the run-off from the central part of the northern slopes of the Dinaric Mountain massif. The Basin covers the territories of both Entities (63% Republika Srpska and 37% Federation of BiH) with a total area of about 6.380,00 km2. Around 464,000 people live in the Vrbas River Basin and, with the River’s potential as a source of potable water, agriculture, tourism, biodiversity and other uses, it is economically important for the whole region. The area is well known for its natural beauty, including the Bardaca Wetland, one of the three Ramsar sites in BiH and the only one in the Danube Basin in BiH.  However, uncontrolled human activities in the basin have put a lot of pressure on the river.  Untreated wastewater is one example.  With a catchment area of 6.386 km2 and with no functional wastewater treatment facility of any kind to service the numerous communities in the area, the entire length of the Vrbas River has remained polluted throughout the post-war period.

What We Do

Kotor Varos, supported activity of cleaning of river Vrbanja initiated by Municipality, 2013Kotor Varos, supported activity of cleaning of river Vrbanja initiated by Municipality, 2013

The Mayors of the riparian Municipalities recognised that the Vrbas River required protection and that they were joint custodians of the environment and responsible for the promotion of sustainable development in the area.  Therefore, in 2010, they formed the Co-ordination of Mayors of Vrbas Municipalities for the Protection of the River.

The core of their mandate was that the activities undertaken in Banja Luka, resulting in the successful clean up and protection of the Vrbas River in that area, be replicated throughout the entire length of the River. Currently 13 municipalities are active members in the Co-ordination team and their key goals are to protect the environment and enhance the touristic and economic development potentials of the Vrbas River Basin.

Within its Rural and Regional Development Sector, UNDP BiH began implementation of the Vrbas River Basin Environmental Protection and Tourism Development Programme – Clean Vrbas - in order to assist these Municipalities.  The project uses an integrated approach focused on strengthening environmental protection, and developing touristic potential and local governance, thus addressing a number of key developmental challenges affecting local communities. Building on the success of the pilot project, “Clean Vrbas”, the current project contains a comprehensive set of activities which support the unique, genuine, grass–roots initiatives of the Co-ordination team, and the platform it provides for co-operation across Entity, administrative, ethnic and mental boundaries.

The key aims of the project are to contribute to the environmental sustainability of the area, and to facilitate the development of adventure and tourism activities as drivers of local and economic development and the employment of the rural population in the area.

Based on an assessment of the first phase, and the findings and recommendations of the “Action Plan for Protection of the Vrbas River Basin”, as endorsed by the Coordination Team for Protection of Vrbas, the project focuses on the following key objectives:

  1. Improved environmental protection, awareness and knowledge
  2. Increased utilisation of the touristic and development potentials of the river basin
  3. Strengthened local governance, policy frameworks and capacities

What have we accomplished so far?

  • Contract signed and activities commenced on mapping and developing a GIS Data Base and on mapping the polluters in the Vrbas River Basin (solid waste depots and untreated waters)
  • Supported provided to the local authorities’ and NGOs’ initiative - Let’s do it - in all 13 project municipalities
  • Over 6,000 volunteers collected 3,700 bags of waste and 36 trucks of solid waste
  • “The Charter for Clean Vrbas” was prepared and signed, in co-operation with all key stakeholders (Entity and cantonal ministries, municipalities, donors)
  • Contract signed and activities commenced on the development of a Feasibility Study for the Establishment of a Recycling Yard in the Municipality of Kotor Varos
  • Communication with the general population, especially youth, improved through https://www.facebook.com/#!/cistvrbas

Continued action

Let’s do it 2013Let’s do it 2013

Activity 1: Improve environmental protection, awareness and knowledge

The project will focus on the mapping and removal of illegal solid waste dumps and untreated wastewater discharges, which currently affect the Vrbas River. Additionally activities will take place to raise awareness and knowledge throughout the population, especially school children, through targeted educational and community-based solid waste collection activities. To the extent possible the activities will be organised through local civil society organisations (CSOs), institutions and the public, as this is the best way to increase their capacities and secure real ownership and long-term sustainability.

Activity 2: Increase the touristic and development potential of the River Basin

The project will support the development of adventure and eco-tourism in the Vrbas River Basin and its promotion as an important driver of the local development agenda. The work will focus on the integration, improvement and expansion of natural resources and cultural heritage-based tourism, and on improving the touristic infrastructure and quality of services offered. It will also identify and support the development of those value chains with the greatest potential for generating employment and value added for local businesses and the population in general.

Activity 3: Strengthen local governance, policy frameworks and capacities

The long-term sustainability of the project results depends heavily on the ability of local authorities to take ownership and carry forward the positive changes that have been created.   Technical assistance and support will therefore be provided to strengthen local governance capacities, review and align relevant policy frameworks related to the use and management of water related resources, and increase the capacities of local authorities to effectively raise and allocate the resources needed to advance the Vrbas River protection and development agenda.

Who Finances it?

Donor Name

Amount contributed per year



$  33,328



$  53,404

Government of Japan

$  47,137

The Coca Cola Company

$  19,000



$   52,848

Government of Japan

$ 515,963

The Coca Cola Company

$   44,088


Government of Japan

$ 285,827

Delivery in Previous Fiscal Year

DEC 2012

$ 100,560

DEC 2011

$   33,328

Geographic coverage