In September 2018, I attended the Understanding Risk Balkans youth side event organised by the Water Youth Network. It was designed as an interdisciplinary workshop. All the participants were assigned to three teams with five members in each team.
The first part of the workshop had requirements for each participant to make “something” that represents disaster resilient Balkans for them. Most of them started working on some idea right away. I was just sitting there, I had no idea what to do, and I admired them for their instant creativity. Minutes passed and I started wrapping the blue wire around the ice cream stick, still not knowing what I was doing. In that process, I got a blurred idea of what I wanted to make. So, in the end, I built my model, and I was happy that it was not nearly as hard as I thought it would be. You just need to start working! My model represented Balkans laying on the four elements (earth, water, air and fire) that need to be balanced to keep everything together and enable resilience. After that, we all introduced ourselves to the group and presented our masterpieces. It turned out to be an amazing way to break the ice for all of us.
The next part was for all the groups to come up with as many challenges and opportunities for young people in the Balkans considering DRR. That is where the brainstorming started, everyone was active, and we were building up the pace for the main part of the workshop. I realized that there are a lot of challenges. The lack of finances and low public awareness being the biggest ones. However, I learned about some great opportunities, such as Flood risk management master’s program (see link here). At the end of this short exercise, we had two boards full of both opportunities and challenges.
After the introduction, and heating up, it was time for the main part of the workshop. Each team was given the same problem: Flood risk management in the city of Čačak in the West Morava River Basin Serbia. We were provided with the materials, maps of predicted flooded areas, and damage levels, as well as cards with flood prevention and management measures. Each of the five team members selected a role as one of the stakeholders (mayor, government, civil protection, NGOs, and utility companies). Every stakeholder had to select two measures that were the most important from their point of view, and then, as a team, we would select top five measures out of the total ten we have individually chosen. That was, in my opinion, the most dynamic part of the whole workshop. Every stakeholder was representing their choices the best way they could, and everyone had valid arguments why their chosen measures were the most important. It very much seemed like a real life situation, because we really got into our roles. However, in the end, we made some compromises and managed to pick our top five measures, which we put on a board that presented our flood management plan. After choosing five team measures we were supposed to narrow it down to the three most important of the most important ones. Surprisingly, we agreed on those pretty quickly and actually we were not thinking that different after all. We agreed that prevention is the key, so we focused on forecasting system and public awareness, as well as protecting critical infrastructure. The final part of this amazing exercise was for every team to present their plan to the whole group, where it was very interesting listening to what the other teams prepared.
For the last part of the workshop, the teams were shuffled a little because the goal was to pick some of the challenges for the youth in their home country and try to find a way of solving them. Once again, the exercise was very productive, and in the end, we realised that all of the countries for which the exercise was being done (Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Albania) were facing similar issues regarding young professionals. However in the end, I think we came up with some great solutions, and in the future, we have a chance of relieving Balkans of some of the challenges. This exercise motivated me to join the Water Youth Network, and in that way try to help my country, by working with as many different energised young people as I can.
In the end, we all had a well-deserved lunch, where we got the chance to meet each other a little better. Then we headed to the Belgrade city hall for the UR Balkans opening statements. During the next two days, we attended some great presentations, we met a lot of professionals from the whole world and had a lot of a great time.
For me personally, UR Balkans was an amazing experience. I have never attended a conference with such a high level of organization. The WYN workshop was the unique opportunity to meet colleagues from my region and all over the world and to experience interdisciplinary problem-solving teamwork. All I can do is to thank the
Water Youth Network and UR Balkans organizers for making it happen, and I am looking forward to working with them in the future.
Written by Vasilije Gajic