Working together to overcome disasters


Article in Danube Watch 02/2006

Danube Watch 2 2006

Working together to overcome disasters

Nikola Marjanovic, Water Director at the Ministry for Agriculture, Forestry and Water Management of the Republic of Serbia and Head of the Delegation to the ICPDR, speaks about the recent floods, the importance of international cooperation and Serbia’s efforts to improve the water sector.

a man wearing a suit and tie Nikola Marjanovic, Water Director at the Ministry for Agriculture, Forestry and Water Management of the Republic of Serbia and Head of the Delegation to the ICPDR.

In its continuing series, Danube Watch presents portraits of the leaders whose passion and commitment actively steer ICPDR processes and help determine the future of the basin.

Danube Watch: What is the present state of water management in Serbia?

Marjanovic: During floods there is not much you can do — you hope the water will stay within protective structures. Sandbags can increase the height of dykes a bit, but this is not going to save you in the long run — this can provide a short term break only. You depend on your flood protection system, which means that you depend on what you have been doing for many years in the past.

Despite poor management in the water sector over the last 15 years (related to poor maintenance of the flood protection system), our protection system did not fail, not in 2005, nor in 2006. In both of these years we had record-breaking flows, in 2005 on the Tamish, in 2006 on the Danube and the Tisza. It was particularly difficult this year — we had extremely heavy fl ows, exceeding Q1%, along the Danube to Novi Sad. After the confluence of the Tisza River, flows along the Danube all the way to Romania were the largest ever recorded. This was a consequence of having extreme flows on both the Danube and the Tisza at the same time. Of course, the Iron Gate Reservoir provided some manoeuvring space in terms of pre-empting the reservoir or storing water. However, it has been shown that, at extreme flows (16,000 cubic meters per second at the Iron Gate dam cross section), the limiting factor is flow capacity in the Iron Gate Canyon.

If we want to do something to reduce a flood risk, we must do it now. Two years in a row, and four times in the last seven years, we have had statistically significant flows in the Danube Basin. Therefore, we should re-examine our calculations and check if the probability of these flows has been calculated correctly. In addition to statistical analyses, we should consider anthropogenic impacts (regulated river banks, new flood protection measures, deforestation of some areas within the basin, and so on) on flows.

Danube Watch: Serbia shares part of the Tisza and the Sava basins – the two largest sub-river basins of the Danube. What challenges are you facing when cooperating at the sub-basin level?

Marjanovic: Challenges are significant. Both of these basins are international, transboundary basins. Serbia is the most downstream country in both cases and, therefore, our interest in cooperation at the sub-basin level is the biggest. The Sava River Commission is somewhat different, because it started as a navigation project. However, now, this commission performs as a comprehensive body, oriented towards integrated river basin management. The secretariat has been established and we expect results rather soon — very high contributions can be justified only if results are provided soon, according to dynamics prepared by the commission. This will be possible only if all member countries keep the primary goals in mind and if they remember that these goals can be achieved only through hard, professional work, leaving politics behind.

With regard to the Tisza River Commission, our attitude is that all aspects of water management should be considered. As I have already mentioned, Serbia is the most downstream country in both basins. Therefore, we are very concerned with issues related to water quality and water quantity.

Finally, I would like to emphasise that all activities of both commissions must be under the ICPDR umbrella for these activities to be fruitful for member countries.

Danube Watch: How is the topic of ‘water pricing’ being tackled in Serbia?

Marjanovic: Water pricing is, actually, my favourite topic. I use every single opportunity to raise that issue. Financing the water sector is the biggest obstacle in achieving better management in the water sector. In Serbia, financial means can be provided from the water price only, there is no other source. Currently, the water price in Serbia is € 0.3 per cubic meter of drinking water, which is very low and far from the economic price of water. Here, we have spent a great deal of time and energy to convince local authorities who are responsible for water supply systems to increase the price of water. I believe we shall soon start getting closer to the target price of € 1 per cubic meter of drinking water.

Danube Watch: Thank you very much, Mr Marjanovic.


The Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes was formed in 1918 and became Yugoslavia in 1929. During the second world war, Nazi occupation was resisted by various paramilitary bands that fought each other as well as the invaders. The group headed by Marshal Tito took full control upon Nazi expulsion in 1945. Although Communist, his new government managed to steer its own path between the Warsaw Pact nations and the West for the next four and a half decades.

In the early 1990s, Yugoslavia began to unravel along ethnic lines: Slovenia, Croatia, Macedonia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina were recognised as independent states in 1992. The remaining republics of Serbia and Montenegro declared a new Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in April 1992. From 1992 to 1995 war shook the area. During the decade in which Milosevic was in power, Serbia faced many difficulties at both internationally and internally.

Federal elections in the fall of 2000 ousted Milosevic and installed Vojislav Kostunica as president. In 2002, the Serbian and Montenegrin components of Yugoslavia began negotiations to forge a looser relationship. These talks became a reality in February 2003 when lawmakers restructured the country into a loose federation of two republics called Serbia and Montenegro. The constitutional charter of Serbia and Montenegro included a provision allowing either republic to hold a referendum after three years that would allow for their independence from the state union. Montenegro’s formal declaration of independence came on June 3 2006 and Serbia’s on June 5 2006.


Size of the country (km²) Serbia total: 88,361
Central Serbia: 55,968
Vojvodina: 21,506
Kosovo i Metohija: 10,887
Area within the
Danube River Basin
81,374 km²
(92% of total area)
Share of the total
Danube River Basin
Population 7.5 million
(without Kosovo i Metohija)
Population in the
Danube River Basin
7.48 million
(without Kosovo i Metohija)
Capital Belgrade
Per-capita GDP $3500
(without Kosovo i Metohija)
Main tributaries to the Danube Sava, Tisza, Velika Morava,

Jasmine Bachmann works on public participation in the ICPDR Secretariat, and is the Executive Editor of Danube Watch.