Save the blue heart of Europe

By Ani Ruci/ DW (Deutsche Welle)

In recent days, the European Parliament (EP) called on the government of Albania led by Prime Minister Edi Rama to review the hydropower projects along the Vjosa River and its branches.

In article 27 of the newly approved Resolution on Albania’s progress in the European integration process – compiled by German MEP Knut Fleckenstein, EP rapporteur for Albania – it is noted that “these projects will damage the ecosystems of the Vjosa river, one of the last rivers in Europe that has remained intact, almost in a natural state.” Although EP Resolutions have only an advisory role in the process of EU decisions on enlargement policies, Article 27 of the said resolution is based on the EU Framework Directive on Water and Ecosystem Protection. The Vjosa River has been described by European experts as the “Blue Heart of Europe, as the last, large river in Europe that has remained almost untouched in its 270 km length. But the government of Tirana plans to build 27 hydropower plants on the Vjosa river and its tributaries, of which two have already started.

Save Vjosa! (c) Eco/Albania

Vjosa – a stunning river, natural treasure of all Europe

The signal sent by the EP to the government of Tirana to stop the hydropower construction projects on the Vjosa River comes at a time when European environmental associations, local ones, civil society groups, cultural and artistic personalities in Albania and residents from the regions, where crosses the Vjosa river, they are persistently demanding that it be declared a National Park. Ulrich Eichelmann, Executive Director of the European association Riverwhatch, heavily involved in efforts to save the Vjosa from hydropower construction, tells DW:

“In Albania we are trying together with EuroNatur in Germany and EcoAlbania in Tirana to stop the implementation of projects for the construction of hydropower plants on the Vjosa river. In their place, we aim for the Vjosa River to be declared the first National Park of an untouched European river. In the European context, the Vjosa River is stunning, a natural treasure, a gift for all of Europe,” Ulrich Eichelmann, Executive Director of Riverwatch, based in Vienna, told DW. It shows that where the river Vjosa passes there are spectacular waterfalls, deep canyons, green forests and an extraordinary biodiversity: 69 species of fish, including the Danube salmon, an extinct species in the EU countries through which the Danube flows, which are only found in the river Vjosa and nowhere in the world; 40% of Europe’s endangered freshwater mussels and snails live in the ecosystems of the Vjosa River.

Hands off the Vjosa river!

Albania has joined the international campaign “Save the blue heart of Europe”. In the framework of this campaign, a protest against the construction of 5 hydropower plants in the branch of the Vjoza river, in Bênçe of Tepelena, one of the most amazing areas through which the Vjosa passes, took place in the last few days. Over 150 residents from the regions through which Vjosa passes, ecologists, representatives of Riverwatch and EuroNatur participated in this protest. “We want to live, we want water, life, nature. We do not want the Vjosa river to be imprisoned by dams, we want the Vjosa to remain as it has been created here for hundreds of years. We will become poorer, and we will become richer if the hydropower plant is built here,” Golik Jaupi, one of the protesters, a resident of Benca, told DW.

In the branch of Vjosa, which is located in Bençe of Tepelena, the works for the construction of the dam have just started.

You can read the full article published in DW here (in Albanian)

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