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Balkan Vital Graphics: environment without borders

GRID-Arendal launches a new publication that highlights environmental challenges and economic opportunities in the Balkans.
A new publication called “Balkan Vital Graphics: environment without borders” will be launched at the Sixth Ministerial Conference “Environment for Europe,” to be held in Belgrade on 11 October 2007.

The publication is available online at:

Jointly produced by United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and GRID-Arendal (Norway)  for the Environment and Security Initiative, partnership with funding from, among others, the Canadian and Austrian Governments, the “Balkan Vital Graphics” depicts vividly the Balkans region, focusing on the challenges and opportunities in the sectors of economic cooperation and environmental sustainability. It provides a well-illustrated and easily readable synthesis of the complex environmental issues and trends of the region.

Dr. Otto Simonett, Programme Manager at GRID-Arendal states that “from the economic and the environmental perspective, the Balkans are highly interesting, offering a broad variety of resources and services.” With their vast mineral resources as well as their high potential for renewable energy and agricultural activity, the Balkans are on their way to play an important role in the Europe of tomorrow. A  case study on Kosovo in “Balkan Vital Graphics” presents the World Bank-funded development of a coal-fired power plant that, together with the exploitation of a new lignite mine, is expected to bring 3.5 million million (billion) Euro of  Foreign Direct Investment by 2012. The project aims at securing the energy supply for an area still suffering from regular power outages, facilitating economic development in an environmentally sustainable way.

Although the potential for economic progress is high in the Balkans, it can be observed that complex administrative structures, unresolved liability issues and political instability are still widespread problems that impede development. At the moment, joining the EU is top priority for Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia.  Already today, the efforts to comply with EU requirements are perceived to be a key driver in the sustainability and better management of many economic and environmental initiatives and efforts.

Environmental protection is one of the areas where the Balkan countries still face a big challenge to catch up with their western neighbours. After the 1990s conflicts and the breakup of Yugoslavia, six new Balkan states emerged.  Apart from integrating environmental concerns into the new policies, a major challenge is environmental management across new borders. What used to be six international river basins in the Balkans have now evolved into 13 internationally shared river basins and four transboundary lake basins. The situation is similar for areas of high ecological value, many of which are often located in mountainous border areas. To ensure effective protection, entire ecosystems have to be addressed regardless of the political borders that are dividing them on a map. Transboundary cooperation between countries sharing one or more natural resources is therefore indispensable for creating common frameworks that promote their sustainable use while offering an opportunity for confidence-building between cooperating countries.

At the same time, relations between neighbouring states can be significantly affected by adverse environmental impacts disregarding borders, particularly in such a fragmented region as the Balkans. The risk of transboundary pollution is mainly posed by hazardous industrial sites causing water or air pollution. In the Balkans, these are often related to outdated mining operations, both active and inactive. Modern technologies and sustainable approaches have to be regulated within frameworks established by the governments and supported by the private sector to develop a mining industry that delivers benefits to the region.

 “Balkan Vital Graphics” was produced for the Environment & Security Initiative which addresses environmental issues to reduce the risk of political conflicts and to use the environment as a non-threatening topic for creating crossborder cooperation and collaboration in areas of conflict.

The use of colours in the publicaton– grey for the political background, blue for water, brown for mining and green for the environment – provides a thematic presentation of the rich diversity of the Balkans’ socioeconomic development, case studies and stories of the people, the challenges and opportunities facing the Balkans and the importance of regional, transboundary cooperation.

A special feature is the creative artwork the publication exhibits, capturing the spirit of the Balkans in a way that cannot be expressed with mere facts and figures. The photographs by Vlado Alonso, taken from two collections, “On the Expectation Side (Bor, Serbia)” and “Belgrade 07,” provide images of the Balkan people, capturing moments of shared destiny, pride and loss in the Balkans.

The maps and graphics, with their overview and nicely-detailed perspectives, provide enhanced visual comprehension at a glance.

The soft copy edition of the “Balkan Vital Graphics” is freely available for download at the Vital Graphics website hosted by GRID-Arendal (  Hard copies can be ordered directly from GRID-Arendal (  or from Earthprint ( .

Ieva Rucevska, Editor, “Balkan Vital Graphics” project, GRID-Arendal,
e-mail:, mobile +47 9289 5483
Thursday 11 Oct 2007
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