For three years, IUCN worked with SNV-Netherlands Development Organisation and WWF-Mediterranean Programme Office on the implementation of the Environment for People in the Dinaric Arc cooperation programme.
The programme was designed to improve transboundary environmental conservation and governance in the Dinaric Arc – a region of South-Eastern Europe encompassing a large portion of the Western Balkans between the Adriatic Sea and the Pannonian Plain. Stemming from the Dinaric Arc Initiative, and most recently from the Big Win for Dinaric Arc joint statement, this programme proved to be an important step in bringing countries closer to finding solutions for increasing environmental challenges.
The Environment for People in the Dinaric Arc programme was not the first project to promote transboundary cooperation in the region but it was one of the first to focus on nature conservation and local communities including on-the-ground work in six transboundary sites in each country of the Western Balkans.
After the separation of former Yugoslavia, relations between the countries have been maintained, yet over time differences in management, governance and development processes have grown. The long isolation of Albania has created a strong divide in people’s mind and has separated the country from its neighbours, although the country is currently getting closer to its neighbours.
The Environment for People in the Dinaric Arc programme re-established and strengthened the links between the countries at local level in order to foster sustainable development of rural communities on the basis of the conservation of biological diversity and maintaining traditional landscapes. The programme created a solid basis for cooperation in its six programme sites and increased the understanding of the benefits of transboundary cooperation urging local institutions to take leadership in the cooperation process. The stakeholder meetings organized in each site were a crucial step in this process leading to bilateral agreements for future cooperation according to a transboundary sites’ joint vision.
The programme supported the implementation of site action plans that led to a number of outputs such as a tourist map of Sutjeska National Park, a marked and signposted trail in Durmitor National Park; biodiversity field studies in the upper part of Dinara Mountain, cross border festivals, etc. Small scale initiatives with local ownership are a powerful tool for developing a spirit of collaboration, sharing know-how and building skills for the implementation of larger cross-border actions. Concrete joint actions and initiatives implemented by local stakeholders built the trust, cohesion and created the foundations for further cooperation among actors at local and regional level.
A major regional conference within the project helped the networking process in the region and promoted other international initiatives fostering transboundary cooperation. A sound capacity building programme was developed in the form of trainings, workshops, study visits and environmental awareness campaigns targeting key issues and key actors. All this, combined with the production of high quality publications, has increased the knowledge and understanding of the concept of transboundary coopertion, the application of international criteria in nature conservation such as the IUCN Red List of Threatened SpeciesTM and the IUCN Protected Area management categories system, the planning and development of sustainable tourism in protected areas, civic engagement in nature resource management and maintenance of traditional land use practices.
Thanks to the programme, local communities became aware of the value of the cultural and natural heritage, cross-border initiatives at different levels were initiated, and countries received support on the implementation of European Union legal frameworks with the creation of two local action groups within the EU Rural Development LEADER approach.
IUCN believes that this programme has been an effective instrument to influence change, behaviours and interactions for long-lasting transboundary cooperation and will continue to work towards this goal.