The Bern Convention visits Vjosa

++ Representatives of the Berne Convention stress the importance of protecting Vjosa – Meanwhile, the Albanian government signs the concession contract for the Kalivaç HPP ++

Representatives of the Berne Convention visited Vjosa to investigate the extent to which hydropower development plans are jeopardizing the objectives of the Convention. The on-site assessment was accompanied by an independent expert.

The Bern Convention is one of the most important nature conservation conventions regarding the protection of biodiversity in Europe, which Albania has ratified. As part of the “Save the Blue Heart of Europe” campaign, we have repeatedly drawn the Convention’s attention to the acute threat Vjosa faces due to hydropower projects. Species and habitats that are protected under the Berne Convention, such as the Narta Lagoon near the mouth of the Vjosa in the Adriatic Sea, will be affected.

During the assessment mission in the country, Iva Obretenova from the Secretariat of the Berne Convention once again emphasized the uniqueness of Vjosa: “There are data, also provided by researchers and civil society, that the Vjosa river system is very rich in biodiversity and offers unique habitats and ecosystems of European importance. The Albanian authorities should explore the area as a whole as it may offer suitable sites to complement the Emerald Network in the country. Emerald areas are usually proposed to the Bern Convention by states and can achieve the same protection status as Natura 2000 areas in EU countries.

Currently, however, the Albanian government seems to be indifferent to its obligations to preserve the European natural heritage: at the same time as the assessment in place of the Berne Convention, the concession contract for the Kalivaçi hydropower plant has been signed – although, referring to the information we have , the environmental permit has not yet been granted. The concession contract was signed with the Turkish company, which was previously granted the construction permit for the Poçem hydropower project, whose works have stopped, after the declaration of invalidity of the concession contract by the Administrative Court of the First Instance, Tirana. Both hydropower plants are planned in the lower part of the Vjosa and would destroy a particularly important part of the river.

“This step comes as a slap in the face to the Bern Convention,” commented Theresa Schiller, coordinator of the Blue Heart campaign at EuroNatur. “Thankfully, the Berne Convention takes the Vjosa case very seriously. Now is the time to act: the Berne Convention must urgently provide the Albanian government with clear recommendations to permanently protect this unique European natural heritage, before it is too late.”

“The arrival of the Berne Convention to contact the residents of the affected areas, state institutions, environmental organizations, environmental experts and representatives of the European institutions in the country is a very good opportunity to create a clear overview of what it’s been happening in Vjosa for years – said Olsi Nika from EcoAlbania, the coordinator for Albania of the “Save the Blue Heart of Europe” campaign. – We are waiting for the report on this assessment mission, which we are sure will also testify to the level of operation of the law related to HPP concessions in Albania”.