Albania: National Park for Vjosa River instead of Dams

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Europe’s last big wild river to become national park

Joint press release by EuroNatur and Riverwatch

Approximately 70 people participated in the press conference on the island of the Vjosa River, among them the mayors of the nearby cities of Qesarat, Permet, and Tepelena. All three of them support the idea of a Vjosa National Park and oppose the projected dams. Credit: Adrian Guri

Approximately 70 people participated in the press conference on the island of the Vjosa River, among them the mayors of the nearby cities of Qesarat, Permet, and Tepelena. All three of them support the idea of a Vjosa National Park and oppose the projected dams. Credit: Adrian Guri

Tepelena, Radolfzell, May 8, 2014. An unusual press conference is taking place in Albania today. On the gravel islands of the Vjosa River – the last big wild river in Europe – representatives of international and national environmental groups come together with the local mayor and business people in order to propose an idea to save the Vjosa: plans for hydropower projects shall be abandoned and the last big wild river of Europe instead be designated as national park.

“We are here to announce our will to establish a Vjosa National Park. We want to protect this river for the benefit of nature and local communities”, says Kujtim Mersini, CEO of the Albanian environmental NGO Protection and Preservation of Natural Environment in Albania (PPNEA) and organizer of this event.

Credit: Adrian Guri

Credit: Adrian Guri

The location of today’s press conference was not only chosen due to its impressive beauty, but also because the valley near Tepelena will be flooded, if the nearby Kalivac dam would actually be completed. An Italian company has already started the construction of the dam; the main source of funding is the Deutsche Bank. However, construction works have been on hold for the two four years. For the environmental organisations the delay constitutes a glimmer of hope in a race against time.

“For many people in Albania the Vjosa might be just another ordinary river. From an international perspective however, the Vjosa is particularly extraordinary. Even many international freshwater experts are unaware that a river of such high ecological value still exists in Europe. Not only Albania would benefit from the creation of a Vjosa National Park, but also Europe and the entire world” says Ulrich Eichelmann, CEO of Riverwatch.

Credit: Adrian Guri

Credit: Adrian Guri

The Vjosa River is one of Europe’s last living wild rivers. Along its entire course of over 270 kilometers – from its source in the Greek mountains to the Adriatic Sea – it is untamed and free flowing. Together with its tributaries, the Vjosa provides a dynamic, near-natural ecosystem that is without par in Europe. However, this natural treasure is at great risk. The Albanian government intends to have eight large dams built on the Vjosa. Many smaller ones are projected along its tributaries.

“These projects are based on very weak data. No environmental impact assessment has been conducted according to internationally recognized standards”, criticizes Gabriel Schwaderer, CEO of EuroNatur.

Credit: Adrian Guri

Credit: Adrian Guri

The Vjosa River is one of the last almost entirely unexplored rivers in Europe. Very few studies are at hand to this date. But the few existing studies underscore the importance of the river as Albania’s biodiversity hotspot, providing ideal aquatic habitats for numerous species. “The Vjosa is of  incredible importance for the biodiversity, especially for the fish, molluscs and other species”, Spase Shumka, one of Albania’s leading scientists, confirms.

“We live with the river. We want the Vjosa to stay alive and we are hopeful that our communities would benefit from a national park. Dams create no jobs for our people, a national park would do so. We are supporting the idea of a national park”, says Hysni Cela, mayor of Qesarat.

Background information:

The projected dams along the Vjosa River constitute only one wave of a true dam tsunami that is putting Balkan Rivers at risk. More than 570 new dams (> 1 MW) are currently projected between Slovenia to Albania. In order to counteract this spate of destruction, EuroNatur’ and ‘RiverWatch’’ have launched the “Save the Blue Heart of Europe” campaign in cooperation with local partner in the respective Balkan counties. Find out more here: http://www.balkanrivers.net/

Contacts:

EuroNatur: Contact person: Romy Durst, Media contact: Angie Rother

Tel: 0049 7732  92 72 24. Konstanzer Str. 22, 78315 Radolfzell.
Fax: 0049 07732 92 72 22, info@euronatur.org, www.euronatur.org

Riverwatch: Ulrich Eichelmann, Tel: 0043 676 6621512, ulrich.eichelmann@riverwatch.eu;

Cornelia Wieser – 0043 650 4544784, Neustiftgasse 36, 1070, Vienna www.riverwatch.eu

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