Saving the Blue Heart of Europe an inspiring experience

++The internship experience of Eledia Bundo at EcoAlbania++

Environmental conservation can be a relentless struggle against corporations that see nothing wrong with diminishing the natural environment in the pursuit of profit. With that, Albania’s natural beauty has come under fire, predominantly from companies that want to stump the flow of its beautiful rivers and untamed waters. The Vjosa river is the latest victim in this pursuit which has seen the national government bend to the demands of a few companies that wish to see the last wild river in Europe, outside of Russia, become the latest poster child for the new hydropower plants that will be constructed. The dams in Kalivaç and Poçem have been given the go-ahead by the government despite local communities; national organisations and international activists showcasing how destructive the dams would be for the locals that live on the land and the country’s environmental conservation goals.

During the rafting activity with journalists in Permet. (c) O.Nika/ EcoAlbania

The Vjosa River flows untamed in Albania for 270 km and remains a pivotal part of daily life for the people that live on her banks, bathe in her waters and consider her a sacred part of Albanian heritage. The government has very little interest in keeping her wild and free, as she has always been known, and have done little to show support for those who would lose everything should this change. Renowned scientists from Albania, Austria and Germany, have argued that the unique biodiversity under threat at the Vjosa would be a loss not only for Albanians but also European and global cultures. The river represents miles of unstudied waters that scientists have yet to formulate complete studies on the biological losses that would occur should these hydropower plants be constructed. The loss of life is not just human but also biological and environmental.

Organisations like EcoAlbania, who I had the privilege of working with the over spring months are campaigning endlessly to fight the good fight and prevent these dam constructions from going ahead. The work Olsi and Besa have done over the years was truly special to witness, the relationships they have built with locals in the Vjosa Valley is undeniable and their commitment to protecting the environment and natural beauty of Albania was a rewarding thing to be a part of.  My experiences with EcoAlbania were of learning, understanding, campaigning and helping to amplify the voices of local communities that have been abandoned by the government. Their rights to their own land and water has been evaded for the desire to make money for the few who do not care about their fellow countrymen. The communities we were welcomed into such as Anëvjosë, Qesarat, Kalivaç, Poçem, Kutë, and Nivicë all spoke about the lack of engagement they had witnessed by government policymakers with local and effected communities, whose survival was dependent on the hydropower plants not being built. They were communities that would be wiped out if these destructive structured are erected, and if that be the case, communities that would see no sufficient reparations.

The fight to Save the Blue Heart of Europe is an important one, and one that I hope is truly realised. Thank you so much to EcoAlbania for the opportunity you gave me to work with you – Olsi, Besa and Vali, I trust, will become lifelong friends as well as colleagues. It has been an immense opportunity for me to learn about the organisations working tirelessly to save Albania’s natural beauty, and has ignited my desire to continue working with passionate, considerate and inspiring people such as yourselves.

Qershor 2019, Ledi Bundo