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HEALTHY FORESTS FOR HEALTHY PEOPLE: ACTIONS OF LOCAL COMMUNITIES ACROSS THE REGION

In the midst of increasing ecological problems in urban areas, communities throughout the Western Balkans are increasingly actively fighting for the preservation of forest and green areas. The International Day of Forests, March 21, is an opportunity to highlight their efforts, which were also recognized by the Regional Programme on Local Democracy in the Western Balkans 2 (ReLOaD2), funded by the European Union (EU), and implemented by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in 63 partner local government units throughout the Western Balkans.


The beginning of spring and the awakening of nature for the green activists means the beginning of the arrangement and cleaning of parks and forests. Such are the springs for Vera Mijatović, from a small town at the foot of the Romanija mountain in Bosnia and Herzegovina. For years already, Mijatovic and her fellow citizens have been trying to send the world a picture of the beautiful forest they are surrounded by. Being aware of the natural wealth they have, the locals of the Romanija region passionately protect their mountain with its rich history and beautiful landscapes.


“The first destination you should visit in Romanija is the ‘Crvene Stijene’ mountain lodge. When you move on, you will be greeted by the beauty of untouched nature and areas that you will want to visit again,” said Mijatović, secretary of the Glasinac Mountaineering Society.


Thanks to the years long efforts of this society, at the beginning of 2023, the locality “Crvene Stijene” was declared a Natural Monument. The importance of the activities carried out by the Mountaineering Society “Glasinac” was also recognized through the partnership of the EU, UNDP and the City of Istočno Sarajevo within the ReLOaD2, through the implementation of the society’s project entitled “Romanija, more than a mountain”. 

As a result, Romanija is richer for a significant number of landscaped areas. 35 kilometers of the “Hajduk Trail” have been traced, marked and equipped with benches and tables suitable for excursions. Numerous areas that were previously inaccessible have been renovated, and facilities for children and adults have been improved to encourage them to spend more time in nature.

“Enormous effort and enthusiasm have been invested so that the once neglected natural beauties of Romanija finally get the place they deserve on the tourist map, not only in BiH and the region, but also beyond,” Mijatović pointed out.

As forest lovers in Bosnia and Herzegovina fight for the preservation of Romanija, the citizens of Montenegro fight for their green oasis Park Forest Gorica, located in Podgorica. This protected Montenegrin area was created in the 50s through intensive reforestation. However, the biggest danger that threatens this park today is fires. In the past year, the citizens of Podgorica tried to use an intensive campaign to point out the importance of protecting Gorica and preventing the occurrence of fires. The campaign was carried out as part of the “For a preserved Gorica” project, which was supported by ReLOaD2, and implemented by the Park Dinarides Network. As part of the project, fire-fighting equipment was purchased for the needs of the Agency for Management of Protected Areas in Podgorica, and volunteers were trained in fire-fighting techniques. Warning boards were placed around the park for the purpose of fire prevention, and a Protocol for actions in the event of a fire in Gorica was prepared.

“The main goal of the campaign was to promote the biodiversity values of Gorica as a protected area, but also to appeal to the citizens to become more proactively involved in its protection,” said members of Park Dinarides Network.

Hundreds of kilometers from Podgorica towards the Macedonian city of Gostivar, forest and mountain lovers launched the project “Gostivar is calling you: Come to the mountain” organized by the Association of Democratic Initiatives (ADI), within ReLOaD2. 40 kilometers of mountain paths and 160 kilometers of bicycle paths in the forest areas near Gostivar have been marked and visitors can now enjoy the space for recreation, training, walking and spending time in the fresh air. In addition, over 90 children aged 4 to 19 attended mountaineering trainings that had the goal to help them create healthy habits from an early age. The Macedonian Association ADI says that they are happy because they noticed the improvement of the healthy lifestyle of the citizens of Gostivar and the surrounding area. However, they add that many representatives of their local community are not yet aware of the wide-ranging importance of forests. Proof of this are forest fires caused by people’s negligence, illegal cutting of forests and a low level of reforestation.

“Every person on the planet should be aware that the destruction of forests is one of the biggest environmental disasters that we face as humanity,” said members of the ADI Association.

Forests do a lot for our health and therefore their preservation and preservation of other ecosystems is one of the 17 global goals of the United Nations that make up the Sustainable Development Program until 2030. In addition to purifying water and cleaning the air, they improve the quality of our life and reduce the summer heat by giving us shade. This year’s International Day of Forests is celebrated under the slogan “Healthy forests for healthy people”.

On the positive side, a lot has been done in the past two years to raise awareness about the preservation of natural resources and forests. 

In addition to the contribution to forests preservation, the ReLOaD2 programme also supports the improvement of green areas in urban environments. One of those examples can be found in the Municipality of Novo Sarajevo in the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina, where the Association for the Development and Affirmation of Society “NODAS” has implemented numerous activities within the project “Urban forests – knowledge and participation of all”. During the project, more than 300 young and adult residents of Novo Sarajevo learned about the importance of urban ecology and the development of solutions for the preservation of green areas. As part of 20 workshops, they were trained on the correct selection of seedlings, the process of planting and decorating parks, and ways to solve the problem of air pollution. Then they used the knowledge they had learned to arrange parks in their local community through several volunteer planting actions.

“We will call this place Šumarak, a small forest in our settlement”, is the slogan of the project participants who independently enriched parks in their surroundings.

The project manager and the manager of the Association “NODAS” Šemsudin Maljević says that this project reminded citizens of the sense of responsibility, care and preservation of public green areas.

“Urban forests are becoming very popular in the world, especially in polluted cities which simply have to start transforming into green oases, as there are not many alternatives. We wanted Sarajevo to be the first in this, and we achieved that by initiating the process of arranging green areas. We hope that this process will continue and that cities in Bosnia and Herzegovina will start competing in good initiatives,” Maljević pointed out.

This project was supported by the Municipality of Novo Sarajevo, which recognized the idea and potential of investing in the protection and restoration of urban greenery.

“Elevating urban forests is one of the few measures that can and should be started immediately, as a realistically small investment with huge benefits – temperature reduction, air flow and cleaning, a nicer and healthier environment, less noise and a whole series of other benefits. After all, do we want to see the forest from the window and listen to the birds or get a parking lot?” Maljević concluded.

The International Day of Forests has been celebrated for 11 years and efforts are being made to protect the forest, as the most diverse ecosystem and home to over 80% of land species of animals, plants and insects. Healthy forests make people healthy, and every local action contributes to the change at the global level. It also helps in realization of Sustainable Development Goal 15, which encourages protection, restoration and promotion of sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainable forest management, combating desertification, and stopping land degradation and biodiversity loss.

Resource: Healthy Forests for Healthy People: Actions of Local Communities across the Region | United Nations Development Programme (undp.org)

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