The Albanian environment at the crossroads – what can be improved

By Prof. Aleko Miho

The path followed throughout this transition period for the use of natural resources and the protection of the environment has been very depressing, with very impressive traces, in many cases irreversible, with many costs and serious consequences in the country’s economy, but also in health itself Human’s. It is enough to mention here the excessive use of forests, the extreme depletion of fauna, of aromatic-medicinal plants, the indiscriminate use of agricultural land, urbanization, its pollution from the indiscriminate use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, pollution from waste water, from urban and industrial waste, the occupation of the coastal dune belt, construction in protected areas, and finally the overexploitation of rivers for hydropower. Many people use the saying “The environment in Albania is an orphan” for this disregard for the environment and natural resources! This had its own historical reasons, state of transition, thirst for immediate benefits, for quick and easy development, for quick enrichment, but also from ignorance, lack of experience and limited qualification of environmental experts.

Prof A. Miho

Regarding the latter, I can say with complete conviction that the scheme today for the qualification and licensing of environmental experts is a failure. The two responsible institutions, the Agricultural University (UBT) and the Polytechnic University (UPT) and the Ministry of Environment itself (today the Ministry of Tourism and Environment – MTM) have shown more formalism and why not also sectoral policy in the preparation and licensing of experts, as in quantity as well as quality – ‘lots and lots’, as the people say. Expertise in the Environment and for the proper recognition and utilization of Natural Resources requires a comprehensive qualification, with a strong basis in the natural sciences (biology, geology, geography, physics, chemistry), but also with knowledge in the related basic sciences (economics, law environmental), and by no means only with basic agronomic and engineering preparation, as has been done so far. In other words, an expert with basic agronomic or engineering training cannot give valid opinions on the use of natural resources, whether they are forests, medicinal plants, or when they are marble rocks or other minerals, surface, underground, sea water , river inert etc. Supported by the acts still in force, these types of experts have had and still have the main weight in all the environmental expertise in the country, but unfortunately also in the organic of the MMj, the KTA, and all other dependent institutions, in the center and the local government. This spirit, unlike all advanced experience, must turn, if we really want sustainable development, to stop further destruction, to save what remains, to renew where possible, and thus , to restore the trampled values of nature, to revive the hope of the new generation that our country is not different from all others in the region.

Both UBT and UPT, respected institutions for their diplomas, in their main purpose prepare experts who serve as users of the environment, i.e. how can the environment and its assets be exploited for economic purposes, for economic benefit from them in certain sectors of development! I don’t want to say that they don’t want to know about the other values of their recognition or protection, but this always remains secondary in relation to exploitation as the main goal. For this reason, it is not possible for these same experts to take on the evaluation of the quality of the environment, so it is not up to them to deal with the graduation of experts who must evaluate the natural resources and their preservation, or even the use of stable. Moreover, the environmental diplomas of UBT and UPT cannot be a reference, as the acts say today, for all other environmental diplomas from departments that prepare experts directly interested in environmental assessment, from natural sciences, biology, chemistry , physics, including geology and geography, but also economics and environmental law, etc. All these types of master’s degrees are fortunately left out of this scheme. This has prevented the natural sciences from going further in establishing or improving comprehensive interdisciplinary degrees for real experts who can be real leaders for environmental assessment (team leader). I think this spirit needs to change! This also requires cooperation with the Ministry of Education (MES), which knows well the institutions and their environmental curricula, but the MES can also encourage, support and accredit the opening of interdisciplinary environmental programs at HEIs with more experience. The Environmental Expert must also be included in the regulated professions, and the MAS can also follow their continuing qualification, as in the entire system of regulated professions.

There is another wonder in the attitude towards the environment. EIA reports are drawn up today by studios or physical experts contracted directly by the construction entity – understand here paid, not bad at all! In this way, no matter how qualified a particular studio or expert is, it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to reject a project when it conflicts with the values of nature! The fact is that whenever a concession permit is granted by the relevant Department in the Ministry of Energy (today the Ministry of Infrastructure and Energy – MIE), for the construction or use of an area, all the expertise tries to explain how the construction or use should be as efficient as possible. friendly with nature, doing for this mostly the advocacy of the construction subject, but never opposition or reversal as impossible construction! The solution of this contradiction/conflict of interest certainly requires legal regulation, creating complete independence of environmental expertise from the construction entity or developer.

But my opinion here should be that the MTM, as directly related not only to the management, but also to the conservation of natural resources, should have more influence and more legal power in the management of natural resources, in issuing preliminary permits for construction or natural exploitation. For example, the waters of the country, before being an energy, agricultural asset, etc., are a multi-use natural asset, and their use by MIE, MBZhR, etc. should be well harmonized and agreed with MTM. The same can be said for the use of forests, aromatic-medicinal plants, coastal dune belt, protected areas, urban use of agricultural land, etc. For this reason, the permission for the use of natural resources must be issued first by this Ministry (MTM) and not be issued a priori by the above Ministries, which have more in mind the use, the economic benefit, sometimes the benefit of the moment, than the preservation and their protection. Perhaps the National Agency of Natural Resources (AKBN) itself should change its affiliation, passing to MTMj. In this way, the State Water Inspectorate, Water Basin Agencies, Institute of Geosciences, Energy, Water and Environment, Albanian Geological Service, etc. These institutes, the only ones in the country in terms of the importance of recognizing natural values, cannot be dependent on departments with a narrow interest in the use of the environment.

In this field, the review of EIAs in the National Environment Agency (NAE) is also very important. KTA is the only opposition for environmental protection, in the whole ordeal of permitting construction projects. For the next surprise, KTA is the last to be considered, since the project was previously approved by many other responsible departments, central or local. However, today the review of EIAs and the issuance of the environmental permit seems to be a great burden for the Directorate of EIAs in KTA. This Directorate has a total of 11 people on its staff, divided into three sectors: the EIA Sector, the Environmental Permits Sector and the Environmental Responsibilities Sector. The EIA Commission examines an average of 15 files every week, which may be added in the future. An application file is composed of several documents, where only the EIA Report runs to several tens of pages (60-70 pages on average). The proper processing of all this information is not a very simple thing by these few experts of this directory; with all today’s standards for document processing, in so much time available, the review of EIAs cannot be done otherwise, but too superficial, too superficial! We would advise MTM and KTA to request an increase in personnel and more internal specialization for the review of these practices for the issuance of the environmental permit. But it is just as important that KTA simultaneously encourages and supports the ongoing qualification of its experts, not only in the EIA Directorate, but also in other directorates.
The impetus for this article always remains sustainable development and the emphasis on keeping this principle in mind case by case during the country’s development. Indeed, sustainable development is often mentioned today by policy-making, decision-making, sometimes even by private business itself, but I am convinced that for the works we see this contemporary concept is almost not really understood, it is no longer implemented. Sustainability means balancing social and economic development, together with the careful use of natural resources in the country. This means the use of biological and natural assets in accordance with the protection of the environment, so that these assets are preserved and renewed, so that the needs are met not only for today’s generations, but also for future generations.

During the period February 2016 – May 2017, more than 440 EIA construction projects spread throughout the country were reviewed by KTA. From a general overview of them, it can be seen that Albania continues to rely on the construction sector (about 70 projects) and on the use of natural resources in its development – specifically on quarries, mines, river inerts, HPPs, etc., in total over 120 projects or 28% of all reviewed projects. It must be said that natural assets are not infinite, some are renewable (forests, aromatic-medicinal plants, fish and molluscs, etc.), although they are renewed with great difficulty and at high cost when they are used without criteria, but others are not renewable – minerals, marble stones, oil and gas, etc. For this reason, it is very important that the authorization of use is done with responsibility and professionalism, by the responsible Agencies and Directorates of MIE, MTMj, etc., taking into account the use according to their criteria.
Here I would strongly advise that encouraging the country’s development across the spectrum of economic sectors would be more sustainable than relying only on the construction sector (housing, services & resorts), or on mining, quarrying, HPP etc. For this, the Government, the relevant departments, local government and private business, should encourage investments in the productive and processing sectors, modern agriculture (including the cultivation of industrial plants, seedling production and forestry, aquaculture and reforestation of watersheds), light and processing industry, utilization of alternative energy sources, road infrastructure and tourism. This would bring even more employment, but also more material goods at a cheaper cost. In addition, the development in the productive sectors will also be able to discharge the heavy burden that the environment and natural resources carry today in the Albanian economy. Despite our historical poverty, our country cannot become part of the United Europe with an exhausted, disfigured, polluted environment, with natural resources misused and sold for “5 lek”!

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