Joint press release from Riverwatch, EuroNatur and EcoAlbania
++ Day 33 of the Balkan River Tour: protest organized by kayakers, politicians, residents and conservationists against the dams planned to be built on the Vjosa River ++ The government will build big dams ++ Environmentalists demand the announcement of Vjosa National Park++
Qesarat, Tepelen, Albania, May 18, 2016. “Vjosa – No dam!” It was the slogan addressed today to the Prime Minister of Albania, Edi Rama. About 150 people – kayakers from all over Europe, Albanian parliamentarians, residents, artists, members of the Albanian and international organization for the protection of the environment as tourist operators as well as the Vice President of the European Parliament – gathered on the banks of Vjosa and called on the Prime Minister to stop the construction of planned dams in Vjosa.
The Vjosa is the last wild river in Europe, and constitutes a rare dynamic ecosystem in Europe. In a distance of 270 kilometers – from the Pindi Mountains to the Adriatic Sea – the river flows freely and uninterruptedly.
However, the Albanian government has recently decided to build a large hydropower plant, the concession for the construction of which was obtained by a Turkish company. The “Pocem” hydropower plant involves the construction of a 25-meter-long dam, which will destroy one of the most ecologically valuable parts of the river. The bird population of this natural treasure has not yet been explored and the interest in their study is very high.
The Pocem hydroelectric project would destroy this unique river in one fell swoop. “It’s a miracle that such a river still exists and it’s a great opportunity for Albania and Europe. Blocking this river would be a crime against nature and would show a lack of capacity to protect nature in Europe,” says Ulrich Eichelmann from Riverwatch as well as coordinator of the campaign “Saving the Blue Heart of Europe”.
In its statement in the expanded report of April 2016, the European Parliament called on the Albanian government “to control the development of hydropower plants in environmentally sensitive areas such as the Vjosa River and in protected areas, to regulate the quality of the Impact Report on environment (EIA) according to European standards and to inform and involve the public in the planning procedures.So far, these requirements have been totally ignored regarding the Pocem project.
“Albania is a candidate country for EU membership and it would be catastrophic if one of the most valuable natural treasures the country has to offer is lost. At the very least, the government should evaluate the Pocem project according to European standards before signing the permit for its construction” said Ulrike Lunacek, Vice-President of the European Parliament. “While the countries of the European Union are required to fulfill the requirements of the Water Framework Directives, these criteria have been established and exceeded in the countries of the Western Balkans, moreover in Albania “. This advantage should not be underestimated in the name of the hydropower boom”.
Deputy Arta Dade encouraged the residents to protect their river and said that “I hope that the Prime Minister pays attention to the protection of these natural assets in order to have a balanced development of natural resources”.
Gabriel Schwaderer, director of EuroNatur, the coordinating organization of the campaign “Save the blue heart of Europe” together with Riverwatch, demands the protection of the river: “We demand that the entire Vjosa – from the mountains to the Adriatic Sea – be declared a National Park, the Park the first National of a Wild River in Europe. This would be the best solution for the economy of the valley. All the inhabitants of the valley support this request because they know the potential that a National Park has in terms of developing eco-tourism .
Olsi Nika from EcoAlbania and the national coordinator of this campaign in Albania emphasizes the lack of a proper concept for energy in Albania: “400 hydropower plants are planned to be built, threatening practically every river in the country, while the biggest potential – solar energy – it is left totally untapped.There is no energy policy, only dam policy.
Kayakers from Albania, Greece, Italy, Germany, Austria, Holland and the USA participated in today’s activity. This activity was part of the “Balkan Rivers Tour” – an activity of kayakers from all over Europe against the tsunami of dams threatening the Balkan rivers. “We have paddled rivers between Slovenia and Albania for 33 days. The grand finale of the tour is in Vjosa – the queen of the Balkan rivers. Building dams in it is unacceptable. We are here to take a stand against them,” he says. Rok Rozman, tour starter and former Olympic champion.
On May 20, 2016, the tour ends in Tirana where all paddlers will march with their kayaks to the office of the Prime Minister to deliver a special gift: a kayak decorated with hundreds of signatures against the dams planned in Vjosa and for its announcement National Park.
The protest was part of the Balkan River Tour: for 35 days, kayakers from different countries are paddling the most stunning and threatened rivers of the Balkans in order to draw attention to the inevitable tsunami of dams. Led by former Slovenian Olympian Rok Rozman, the tour started on April 16 in Slovenia’s Sava River and will end on May 20 in Tirana, Albania.
The Balkan River Tour is an activity organized as part of the “Saving the Blue Heart of Europe” campaign, launched by EuroNatur and Riverwatch in order to protect the Balkan rivers from their inevitable destruction as a result of the development of hydropower plants. The Balkan Rivers Tour is an initiative of LeewayCollective, EuroNatur, Riverwatch and WFF Adria and supported by Patagonia, MavaFoundation and Manfred-Hermsen-Stiftung.
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OlsiNika – EcoAlbania: [email protected] +355 69 29 44 757