++ Representatives of the Bern Convention emphasize the conservation value of the river ++ Albanian Government signs concession contracts for HPP Kalivaç nevertheless ++
Representatives of the Bern Convention visited the Vjosa in order to investigate to which extent plans for hydropower development are jeopardizing the objectives of the Bern Convention. The on-the-spot appraisal was accompanied by an independent expert.
The Bern Convention is one of the most important nature conservation conventions for the protection of biodiversity in Europe. Albania is a signatory to the convention. Within the framework of the Save the Blue Heart campaign, we have repeatedly drawn the Convention’s attention to the acute threat the Vjosa is facing due to hydropower projects. Species and habitats that are protected under the Bern Convention, such as the Narta Lagoon near the mouth of the Vjosa in the Adriatic Sea, would be affected.
At the on-the-spot appraial, Iva Obretenova from the Bern Convention Secretariat stressed the uniqueness of the Vjosa once more: “There are indications, also provided by researchers and civil society, that the Vjosa River system is very rich in biodiversity and offering unique habitats and ecosystems of European importance. The Albanian authorities should explore the area thoroughly as it might be offering relevant locations for the completion of the Emerald Network in the country.” Emerald sides are usually proposed to the Bern Convention by the countries and can achieve the same protection status as Natura 2000 sites in EU countries.
At present, however, the Albanian government appears to be indifferent towards its obligations to preserve European natural heritage: concurrent with the on-the-spot appraisal of the Bern Convention, the concession contract for the hydropower plant “Kalivac” was signed according to our information – even though the required environmental permit has not been granted yet. The concession contract was signed with the Turkish company which had previously been granted the construction permit for the hydropower project Pocem, which has since been stopped by the Albanian Administrative Court. Both hydropower plants are planned on the lower reaches of the Vjosa and would destroy a particularly valuable section of the river.
“This step is a slap in the face of the Bern Convention,” comments Theresa Schiller, Blue Heart campaign coordinator at EuroNatur. “Fortunately, the Bern Convention takes the Vjosa case very seriously. Now is the time to take action: the Bern Convention must urgently provide the Albanian government with clear recommendation to permanently protect this unique European natural heritage, before it is too late,“
“The arrival of the Bern Convention to get in touch with residents of the affected areas, state institutions, environmental organizations, environmental experts and representatives of European institutions in the country is a great opportunity to create a clear picture of what is happening in Vjosa for years” – said Olsi Nika from EcoAlbania, Coordinator for Albania of the campaign “Save the Blue Heart of Europe”. – We are awaiting the report on the spot appraisal mission, that, we are confident will also indicate the level of functioning of the law regarding the concessions of HPPs in Albania.