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Energy companies are using the coronavirus curfew in Bosnia and Herzegovina to speed through construction of damaging hydroelectric power plants without construction or environmental permits.
With public assembly banned and a curfew in place, the local investor - ”Srbinjeputevi” doo Foča - illegally began construction of two separate hydropower projects.
Local communities have been backed into a corner, after the local and state authorities failed to intervene. They were left with no option but to break the restrictions on gathering in public to stop construction workers reaching the site.
Hydropower in Bosnia & Herzegovina is a hugely destructive issue – the region is home to some of the last wild river systems in Europe, with people and nature in rural areas dependent on them. Damming rivers for hydropower cuts off communities’ access to water for sanitation, drinking and leisure, and rips riverbed and forest ecosystems apart.
There is also no oversight of the construction on the ground. The coronavirus containment measures in Bosnia & Herzegovina mean that official supervision of the construction by local authorities is not permitted.
In April, local residents gathered with environmental activists to block construction of two planned hydropower plants on the river Bjelava and its tributary Mala Bjelava (Foča, Republika Srpska). Without supervision, the energy company had already cleared at least 10km of access road through the forest.
The protestors successfully blocked workers reaching the construction site. They took precautions, keeping the number of people there to the minimum necessary to block passage to the construction site, and wore masks and gloves throughout.
Unable to resume work, the construction workers eventually left.
The blockade stopped construction of the access road for a day, but the workers have returned since and are continuing to clear a path through the forest.
The local communities and Center for Environment/Friends of the Earth Bosnia & Herzegovina have filed criminal charges against the investor with the Prosecutor’s Office, and continue to submit requests for information on how the concessions for construction were granted. (So far, they have unearthed only a questionable permit issued by the Republika Srpska Ministry of energy and mining which allows the investor to conduct “geological research” – with no mention of constructing a hydropower plant)
Centre for Environment/Friends of the Earth Bosnia & Herzegovina and the local communities are continuing to call for an immediate halt to all illegal hydropower construction on the river Bjelava, as well as the fifteen planned plants further north on the river Neretvica.