Following the meetings of Friends of Vjosa, representatives of institutions, journalists, and environmentalists gathered on October 15, 2020 in Tirana to discuss the progress, related to the construction of hydropower plants on the Vjosa River. This meeting followed the decision of the Ministry of Tourism and Environment to refuse the environmental permit, which would allow the construction of the Kalivaç hydropower plant, as well as after important steps taken by the Energy Community to open the case against Albania, on drafting the Report of the Environmental Impact Assessment, for the construction of the Poçem hydropower plant.
In the meeting held in compliance with all safety protocols against COVID-19, Gjergj Buxhuku, Confindustria’s Administrator let the participants know that the institution he leads will organize the ‘Building a strategy for sustainable development of the Vjosa basin Forum’, where he invited EcoAlbania for cooperation.
Well-known journalist Ben Andoni emphasized the pre-election political situation, suggesting scenarios after the national elections happening on April. “We must lobby for the placement of the Vjosa issue on the electoral programs,” said Andoni.
The participants discussions also focused on the challenges and steps to be taken in the future for the area sustainable development.
The ‘Friends of Vjosa’ efforts for the campaign of protecting the last wild river in Europe will continue, supporting the vision for declaring the Vjosa Valley a National Park.
Meetings of Vjosa friends are periodic meetings aimed at protecting the last wild river in Europe. To be part of the next meetings you can contact us at: [email protected]
++ Concerned about their future residents seek support from organizations and lawyers ++
Tirana, September 29, 2020. Under the slogan “Give Voice to River Protection” EcoAlbania organized a conference in Tirana with participation of local communities affected by hydropower projects, lawyers and activists, in order to share their concerns about these projects and to be advised by environmental experts and advocates on ways that can be pursued for their opposition.
The situation of HPPs throughout the Albanian territory is alarming, the rivers across the country are affected by the HPP disease. Over 700 hydropower plants are planned to be built across the country, affecting their rich flora and fauna. On the other hand, these projects are endangering the well-being of communities who have connected their lives with the water resources of their area, leaving them with no water and affecting the development of tourism and the local economy.
“There are not only 10 cases in Albania, there are much more and in most cases have been the residents who contacted us. We have supported every community in Albania, even those in Kosovo, who are facing the same concern” said Olsi Nika, Executive Director of EcoAlbania. He presented to the participants the whole experience with 10 meetings and especially the long experience with the Vjosa River. He recommended the residents and communities of all the villages to resist and support each other until the end of this battle.
Part of the panel were also representatives from the Gur i Bardhë, Bicaj and Zhulat villages who shared their concerns with the residents and asked for the help of the organization to make possible the permits cancellation for the construction of hydropower plants. “Gur i Bardhë village is one of the 100 tourist villages announced by the government, where there are planned to be built 2 hydropower plants. The local community is against the construction of HPPs” said Resul Baleta, the mayor of Gur i Bardhë village.
“In the Sheja’s canyon, Kukës area, which is part of the Korab-Koritnik Natural Park, the decision to build another HPP was taken abusively, while another hydropower plant is at the end of construction. If this hydropower plant will be built, this area becomes uninhabitable, because there we have agricultural lands and livestock “, said Naim Mehmetaj, a resident of the Bicaj Administrative Unit. “We believe we will stop it,” he added.
The same concern is shared by Murat Keraj, a resident of Zhulat village, Gjirokastra, “The construction of the HPP on the Zhulat river will drain the water and the community is ready to protect it in all the ways.”
Local communities from Kukës, Mati, Mirdita and Gjirokastra, had the opportunity to consult with 2 lawyers present at this conference Elvana Tivari and Dorina Ndreka, who were willing to advise them on the steps that communities should follow to oppose these projects. Based on their experience with the legal battle for other hydropower cases such as the Poçem case in Vjosa, the hydropower plants on the Osum River and those in the Zall-Gjoçaj area, lawyers encouraged communities to seek the help of lawyers and organizations to follow their cases.
General information: The “Give Voice to the River Protection” conference was the closing meeting of the sharing meetings tour with the affected communities in Albania and Kosovo, which was organized within the “Give Voice to the River Protection” project.
The “Sharing Experience” tour was conducted in 10 villages in Albania and Kosovo:
In a reaction to the statement of Albanian President Ilir Meta, Prime Minister Edi Rama announced to the media today that he also is in favor of establishing a Vjosa National Park and that the Kalivaç dam has been rejected by the Minister for Environment. MORE HERE
On his official twitter account, Edi Rama posted: “I agree with Ilir Meta that the future is not destruction, but how good it would have been if he had protected Valbona from destruction when he was deputy head of Sali Berisha’s government, as he protects Vjosa today from the imaginary danger of hydropower plants that will not be built. Our government has declared the Upper Vjosa a National Park. Our Ministry of Environment has officially refused to grant a permit for HPP projects in the lower Vjosa river.”
“We highly welcome todays statement of Albanias PM Edi Ramas, that the Vjosa river will be saved and the Kalivaç dam will not be build. Following the PM’s message, this is the right time to start a dialogue with the scientists, public authorities and civil society about the future of the Vjosa and the establishment of a Vjosa National Park. I am sure many international institutions will be ready to support this path”, says Riverwatch CEO Ulrich Eichelmann.
“Establishing a national park on the entire Vjosa and stopping hydropower is the right step. But in Albania there are other destructive projects like in Valbona National Park – we strongly urge that they will be stopped immediately as well”, says Gabriel Schwaderer, Executive Director of the EuroNatur Foundation.
++ Vjosa Research Centre in Tepelena inaugurated ++ Scientists refute Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) on Kalivaç hydropower plant ++ Albanian President speaks out in favour of Vjosa National Park ++ IUCN promises support ++
Tirana/Tepelena, Albania. September 25th, 2020. Today, the President of Albania, Ilir Meta, together with representatives of the Universities of Tirana and Vienna and the Mayor of Tepelena Tërmet Peçi, inaugurated the Vjosa Research Center at the banks of the river in the small Albanian town of Tepelena. This center will serve scientists and students from Albania and abroad to study this last great wild river in Europe and its tributaries. Great honor was bestowed upon the Viennese Professor Schiemer. Due to his merits for the research and protection of this river, the research center has been named “Vjosa Research Center Fritz Schiemer” at the suggestion of his Albanian colleagues.
Prof. Schiemer from the University of Vienna, who knew nothing about this tribute and only learned about it during the inauguration ceremony, says: “I am deeply touched. This honour, but especially this new center is yet another incentive for me and my colleagues to protect this unique river and to prevent the looming dam projects.”
Albanian President speaksout in favor of national park and against the hydropower projects
Following the inauguration of the Vjosa Research Center in Tepelena, the scientists embarked on a boat trip on the Vjosa River. On the shore of the river, President Ilir Meta used the opportunity to promote the idea of a Vjosa National Park, instead of damming the river: “I am in favor of a national park. The electricity can be generated differently, mainly by solar and wind, so there is no need to destroy the Vjosa. However, we need to have more dialogue between the different stakeholders, including the governmental institutions, to discuss the future of this remarkable river.”
Kalivaç EIA is a farce
The day before, on September 24th, a roundtable discussion on the future of the Vjosa was held in Tirana at the invitation of the President. Due to the COVID19 situation, only 30 people could participate; next to Albanian and international scientists, ambassadors of several countries were also present. On behalf of over 50 scientists, Prof. Fritz Schiemer and Prof. Aleko Miho presented their evaluation of the EIA (Environmental Impact Assessment) for the planned Kalivaç hydropower plant – a large dam project with a dam wall of approx. 50 meters in height, that would destroy the Vjosa in one blow. Unbelievably, the authors of the EIA, commissioned by the Turkish-Albanian dam consortium, had hardly collected any in situ data of their own, but instead almost exclusively used data that Albanian and international scientists had collected over the past years, but drew completely contradictory conclusions from it.
The experts’ conclusion is clear:“The report is strongly biased and clearly falls short of the minimum scientific and legal requirements for such an examination. The whole ESIA report is highly deficient, profound impacts and measures have been poorly assessed or not taken into account at all. And worst of all, the data we have assessed over the last years, has been misused and incorrect conclusions drawn from it.”
“This EIA report is unacceptable. Our Minister for Environment must reject this ESIA and cannot issue the environmental permit on its basis. The Vjosa is of international importance and this EIA is a farce,” says Prof. Aleko Miho of the University of Tirana.
The IUCN also supports the Vjosa National Park The IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) – the global authority on protection of nature, recognizes the international importance of Vjosa River. Andrej Sovinc, representing IUCN’s World Commission on Protected Areas, reminded the participants at the roundtable in Tirana that the proclamation of the Vjosa National Park would, in addition to protecting the river, provide income for the local communities living along it. “The Vjosa River will never be known for its hydropower potential, but it is already known as one of the last braided rivers in Europe”, he concluded his presentation.
“The future of the Vjosa will be decided at the planned Kalivaç dam. If we manage to prevent this hydropower project, the chances of establishing Europe’s first Wild River National Park are very high. It is wonderful that the supporters of the national park idea are increasing in numbers,”says Ulrich Eichelmann from Riverwatch, who joined the scientists during the events in Albania.
These events for the protection of the Vjosa were held in light of the upcoming World Rivers Day, on September 27th.
The Vjosa river in Albania is one of the last intact natural rivers in Europe outside Russia. While the Albanian government wants to build dams on the river – starting with the Kalivaç dam – the alternative vision is to establish Europe’s first Wild River National Park.
The campaign “Save the Blue Heart of Europe” aims to protect the most valuable rivers in the Balkans from a dam tsunami of about 3,000 planned projects. The campaign is coordinated by the NGOs Riverwatch and EuroNatur and carried out together with partner organizations in the Balkan countries. The local Partner in Albania is EcoAlbania. Find more information at https://balkanrivers.net/