9th Sava Youth Parliament 2021: Let’s protect our cultural heritage

The 9th edition of the Sava Youth Parliament, held on 8-9 October 2021 in Banja Luka (Bosnia and Herzegovina) and online, brought together students to brainstorm on how to enhance flood risk management of cultural heritage in the Sava River basin. The event was organised by the International Sava River Basin Commission and the UNESCO Regional Bureau for Science and Culture in Europe, with the support of the EU H2020 SHELTER project. Participants’ investigation, discussion with experts and results were presented in the context of the International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction on 13 October 2021.

In 2014, the Sava River Basin was hit by its worst floods ever recorded according to scale and impact. Several neighbourhoods, towns and villages in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia and Serbia were completely submerged. Large portions of the population were evacuated and displaced across the region, and a great number of resources were mobilised to provide aid in this difficult situation. The countries on the basin continue to be extremely vulnerable to flooding.

The Sava Youth Parliament, an annual event organised by the International Sava River Basin Commission (ISRBC), provides a platform for the younger generation living in the basin to have their voices heard. This year’s edition, titled ‘Let’s protect our cultural heritage,’ addressed the topic of disaster risk management and resilience.

This 9th edition gathered winners of the “Competition for secondary schools and youth”, from 8 schools in 4 countries, namely Bosnia & Herzegovina, Croatia, Serbia and Slovenia. Due to the constraints of the pandemic, the event which gathered over 50 secondary schools’ participants, was organised in a hybrid form.

A series of simulation games developed by UNESCO and SHELTER allowed the experts and students from the Sava River Basin countries to exchange knowledge and ideas, and enabled the youth to learn about the threats on cultural-historical sites in the Sava River Basin caused by the floods.

Through multiple sessions, the main themes and current achievements of the SHELTER project were presented and discussed. The different aspects of managing disaster risk - from the use of social media to the experts involved and solutions at hand were introduced. The students not only discovered, but also discussed potentialities, gaps and new ideas. The virtual activities involved 6 teams of students, aged 15-19, representing the 4 Sava River Basin countries in sessions of a 3-hour duration.

In the first virtual activity, the students were familiarised with the potential of social media as messengers for disaster risk management and they specifically discovered the tools developed within the SHELTER project, such as the Chatbot. They searched and produced flood-related content specific to the flood events in the region ready to be disseminated and shared with social media hashtags. Students realised the importance of social media and were motivated to develop ideas on its improvement for the protection of the Sava River Basin.

In the highly productive professional-student engagement session, students were able to engage in discussions and gain inspiration from the local professionals of disaster risk management invited to the sessions. In particular, they showed great interest in disaster-risk-related professions and some even considered them for their career prospects.

Students were enlightened with the most effective practices, developed as part of the SHELTER project, to protect the Sava River Basin from flood disasters. The participants thoroughly evaluated the methods and proposed new solutions for improvement of disaster risk management in the countries of the basin.

To fulfil the growing student interest in the activities of the SHELTER project and simultaneously ensure an increased youth participation in the project, a new initiative called ‘SHELTER Youth Ambassador” was announced. The UNESCO Regional Bureau will be actively participating in this initiative to raise awareness and interest in climate change and disaster risk reduction among young leaders. The programme is intended for the future generation to take ownership of protecting their cultural heritage.

The main results and ideas raised during the Sava Youth Parliament 2021 were published in a story map and promoted on 13 October as part of the International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction. In a global situation of disaster risk due to climate change, international cooperation is fundamental to tackle the climate crisis. Sava Youth Parliament demonstrated that the youth have the willingness to protect their cultural heritage and that they can play a vital role in implementing sustainable development and disaster resilience.

ISRBC and the UNESCO Regional Bureau, with support of the SHELTER project, organised educational trips for the 6 teams to build on the work and engagement exhibited by the students. .

On 9 October, the team from Bosnia and Herzegovina, in cooperation with the Republic Hydrometeorological Institution of Republika Srpska (RHMZRS), set the high-level water marks at the Elementary School “Desanka Maksimović” in Trn and visited Banja Luka and its surroundings.

The two teams from Croatia were taken on a guided tour, organised by the Croatian National Commission for UNESCO, to the Plitvice Lakes National Park, a World Heritage site. “The trip was absolutely perfect. The exploration of the beautiful autumn landscape of Plitvice Lakes left us completely breathless. After spending our day walking and getting acquainted with the flora and fauna of the Nation Park, we returned to our homes filled with impressions and newfound friendships,” said Mia Kasumović Grgec, student from X. gimnazija Ivan Supek from Zagreb.

The team from Slovenia visited two World Heritage sites together with the Secretary-General of the Slovenian National Commission for UNESCO on 24 November. The students, thanks to site managers, were able avail two guided tours to the Prehistoric Pile Dwellings in Ljubljansko Barje Nature Park and the Works of Jože Plečnik in Ljubljana.

On 26 November, the two teams from Serbia visited the Golubac Fortress, known as the point where Danube’s riverbed is the widest.

During the educational trips, elections for the Sava Youth Parliament Presidency were held and the new Presidency was established. Sava Youth Parliament Presidency consists of an elected President from the host country and 3 deputies from the other 3 countries.