The third exchange visit between representatives of institutions and NGOs from Greece and Albania on the governance and management of the Vjosa/Aoos river basin.

Asprangeloi, Municipality of Zagori, Greece, 04.06.2024. The third bilateral visit between Albania and Greece was held this time in the Municipality of Zagori, Asprangeloi in Greece, where there was a high interest in participation and exchange from local institutions of both countries. Representatives from local institutions of both states took part in a deep discussion about the progress of the ESPID4Vjosa project and the main problems and concerns faced by the Vjosa/Aoos river from both Albania and Greece.

The previous meetings have been significant steps in building an effective and formal bridge of cooperation between the decision-making institutions of both countries. During the second visit, the parties identified key areas of concern, including water resource management, water quality, tourism and agricultural development, and the impact of hydropower plants, establishing a basis for further cooperation and contributing to the drafting of an inter-institutional Memorandum of Understanding between the homologous and neighboring institutions at the local level of both countries.

“We have perceived Vjosa river as a great opportunity of conservation of biodiversity, flora and fauna, but also as a chance and a big opportunity to build a healthy local economy, to create a protected Nature Park according to European standards and at last to devise a new tradition of the whole community for the development of agrotourism and the whole community, that reside in this area.”, said Odise Kote, the Prefect of Gjirokastër County.

“The reason for this meeting and cooperation is that, we all, together, must find better ways for the management of Vjosa river. This park must not only be National Park, but International one, where two countries will have the fate to have one of the most important assets as the only wild river in Europe with its benefits and with the work, that we must carry out in the service of this purpose.”, he added.

To address the highlighted challenges, a Joint Action Plan was suggested during the third exchange visit, aiming at effective water resource management, the creation of a shared data system, and the involvement of stakeholders in the decision-making process, in accordance with the Water Framework Directive. Additionally, cooperation agreements were discussed as an efficient mechanism for engaging Greek-Albanian stakeholders in the implementation of the Action Plan, with three types of agreements: between border municipalities, respective prefectures, and between the Water Resources Management Agency and the Decentralized Administration.

“The full protection of Vjosë/Aoos river will be provided improving the protected area in a National Park through the expansion of National Park of Northern Pindos towards the border Greece-Albania. So, Aoos/Vjosa river basin will be included in an only mode of protection and then, it will fuse with the neighboring National Park to create the First National Cross-Border Park of the Vjosa-Aoos Wild River in Europe.”, said the mayor of Zagori, Mr. George Soukoubelos.

The bilateral cooperation between Albania and Greece is one of the important areas of ESPID4Vjosa, aiming to address the cross-border aspect at the local level to strengthen cooperation in the effective and sustainable management of the Vjosë-Aoos River Basin. The three visits held have shown that it is necessary for this initiative to continue further.

“At the end of this month, together with our partners and other organizations, we shall organize Scientific Week between Albania and Greece, where the main focus will be Sarandapor river, which is a tributary, that holds a status of nature protection. The joint mission is to not let Vjosa National Park to be only in the Albanian part, but to be the first river, that will hold the status of National – Cross-Border Park. This, without a doubt, will not be achieved without the help of knowledge and the help of science.”, said Olsi Nika, Executive Director of EcoAlbania.