Disaster Risk Assessment in Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Importance of Societal Vulnerability Sphere

By James McArthur, UNU-EHS

Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) per the World Risk Index by UNU-EHS is the 2nd most vulnerable country in Europe after Albania, and the 3rd most fragile state after Russia and Ukraine per the United States Think-tank Fund for Peace.  After the 1995 Dayton Peace Accords that led to the end of the Bosnian War, over two decades later the country remains fragile socially, economically, and politically.  The remnants of war are still very visible and present an issue of complexity for progress.  The BiH Mine Action Center determined there were 120,000 mines and unexploded ordnances still to be found and cleared as of 2016.  The nation has been seeking peace and progress since the worst war on European soil following WW2.  However, this post-war nation has been left in a vulnerable and stagnate state that also faces additional challenges with climate change and exposure to natural hazards.  Disasters across the country continue to hinder the livelihoods of many post-war communities on their path to recovery and rehabilitation year after year.  This small mountainous European nation on the outskirts of the EU is exposed to earthquakes, landslides, droughts, heatwaves, wildfires, extreme weather events, and the most frequent and increasing challenge of flooding.  The 2014 flood and landslide disaster was remarked as the worst devastation the country has faced since the war by President Bakir Izetbegović.


A natural hazard is a natural process or phenomenon, but a disaster is a socio-economic phenomenon.  Disasters in BiH are due in part to the high vulnerability of the societal sphere.  This can be attributed to high susceptibility, lack of coping capacity, and a lack of adaptive capacity.  Unfortunately, many in the international community have turned a blind eye to the long ongoing situation in BiH leading to isolation.  Per the European Commission’s Union Civil Protection Mechanism who provides prevention, preparedness, and response support and cooperation among participants, BiH is not included.  The list of participants comprises of the 28 EU member states, Iceland, Norway, Serbia, The FYR of Macedonia, Montenegro, and Turkey, thus leaving BiH an isolated island within Europe.


My master thesis research focuses on disaster risk assessment in BiH and the importance of the societal vulnerability sphere.  By reducing disaster risk across the nation, we can help build resilient communities and provide a foundation for the people of BiH to truly have an opportunity for progress.  The priority of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction is to understand disaster risk.  To move onto the second priority of strengthening disaster risk governance, I strongly believe the priority should be thoroughly reviewed to ensure an efficient risk assessment is being incorporated into decision making for investment and implementation of future projects.  Evidence shows a lack of incorporating socio-economic indicators into risk models in BiH, specifically the most vulnerable groups to disasters; economically vulnerable people, women, children and elderly, returnees and IDPs, minorities, persons with disabilities, and farmers.  My research aims to develop a socio-economic vulnerability index nationwide to find out where these vulnerable groups are prevalent.  With this index, it can be incorporated into current hazard exposure databases to provide a more robust insight into whom is at most risk.  If the government and international community is provided with more knowledge of where these specific communities are, than hopefully the most at risk will be better addressed.