The Vjosa river at the crossroads – Tsunami of dams or National Park?

Press release from EuroNatur, Riverwatch and EcoAlbania

NGOs declare: 33 hydropower plants are planned in the watershed of the last wild river in Europe. The “Friends of Vjosa” initiative was created to support the idea of declaring a national park.

Tirana, Vienna, Radolfzell, March 12, 2015. Today, the international NGOs Riverwatch and EuroNatur together with the Albanian partner EcoAlbania present a document that for the first time reveals the full extent of the threat in the area of the Vjosa watershed. According to this document, the last great wild river in Europe is threatened with complete destruction. A total of 33 HPPs have been designed along the Vjosa and its branches, 6 of which in Greece (where the Vjosa is called Aoos) and 27 in Albania. Currently, 4 hydropower plants are being built. However, the resistance against these projects is growing and an alternative idea is gaining more and more popularity such as: Proclamation of Vjosa National Park. A new Albanian initiative is also supporting this vision.

The Vjosa, in the south of Albania, is one of the last intact wild rivers in Europe. Throughout its length of 270 km it flows free and untouched and in some areas the riverbed is more than 2 km wide. Its branches are also largely intact. Its beauties are unmatched in Europe.

The Vjosa river in the middle course. (c) B. Hoxha/ PPNEA

However, this treasure can be destroyed very quickly. An in-depth NGO analysis reveals that apart from eight hydropower projects along the Vjosa, all of its tributaries are slated to be cut off and diverted. “If the branches are cut, eventually Vjosa will be destroyed. It’s like cutting the branches of a tree which will immediately wither”, said Ulrich Eichelmann from Riverwach, the coordinator of the campaign “Saving the blue heart of Europe”.

The Vjosa diversion project in Greece (where the river is called “Aoos”) has also been strongly opposed. Olsi Nika from the Albanian NGO EcoAlbania said: “Although within a national park, the Aoos tributaries are planned to be cut off and diverted to another watershed. This will cause serious consequences for Vjosa in Albania. We support the resistance of our colleagues in Greece against this project”.

Gabriel Schwaderer, executive director of Euronatur added: “We must stop this tsunami of dams along the entire Vjosa in order to save this natural treasure. Together with the local communities, we want to achieve the declaration of a national park, not only as a benefit for nature but also for the inhabitants of the Vjosa valley. Through the national park, their potential can be used for a sustainable socio-economic development in the future. We believe we are still in time”

Press conference. (c) B. Guri/ Ecoalbania

The new initiative “Friends of Vjosa” was presented at the conference in Tirana. Citizens with different profiles have gathered for the same purpose: to raise awareness and lobby for the protection of Vjosa and its declaration as a national park. “We invite all citizens to join this initiative and raise their voice for the protection of this heritage for themselves and future generations,” said Lavdosh Ferruni, environmentalist. In May, “Vjosa Day” will be held in Tirana, for which the residents of the Vjosa valley will travel to the capital to promote the beauty and diversity of their river. They will openly express their support for declaring Vjosa a National Park.

General information

The campaign for the protection of the river Vjosa is part of the international campaign for the protection of the most valuable rivers of the Balkan peninsula. More than 630 HPPs are currently designed from Slovenia to Albania. To oppose this wave of destruction, “EuroNatur” and “RiverWatch” have launched the campaign “Saving the blue heart of Europe” in cooperation with local partners in the respective Balkan countries.

For more information:

Besjana Guri – EcoAlbania      [email protected]                            00355 692954214

Katharina Grund – EuroNatur  [email protected]    0049 7732 927210

Cornelia Wieser – Riverwatch [email protected]        0043 650 4544784

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