Big step towards a win for Albanian Vjosa river

One of Europe’s last big wild rivers is looking like it will be saved from hydropower development. On 25 September 2020 Albania’s Prime Minister Edi Rama announced that the Kalivaç dam project was rejected by the Minister for Environment and that the area will become a national park instead.

The establishment of the Vjosa National Park, also supported by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), could become Europe’s largest river protected site, covering several hundred kilometers of rivers and streams. “This would be a huge achievement for Europe’s nature and on the EU level, this might even serve as a role model for the Biodiversity Strategy within the framework of the Green Deal”, says Ulrich Eichelmann, coordinator of the Save the Blue Heart of Europe campaign at Riverwatch.

With the support of MAVA, Riverwatch, EuroNatur, EcoAlbania, IUCN and other partners have been fighting for the preservation of the Vjosa for about eight years. The Kalivac dam project is the biggest threat to this ecosystem – a project with a dam wall of approximatively 50 meters high, that would destroy the Vjosa in one blow.

However, with the collaboration of about 50 scientists from Albania and abroad, the Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) for this project was assessed and deemed entirely deficient. “The report is strongly biased and clearly falls short of the minimum scientific and legal requirements for such an examination. The whole ESIA report is highly deficient, important impacts and measures have been poorly assessed or not taken into account at all. And worst of all, the data we have assessed over the last years has been misused and incorrect conclusions drawn from it”, the 50 scientists concluded in a joint statement.

Their findings were presented in a public event hosted by the President of Albania, Mr Ilir Meta, in Tirana on 24 September 2020. In reaction to these findings, the President spoke up against the Kalivac project and instead promoted the idea of creating a national park.

Albania’s political leader, Prime Minister Edi Rama announced the next day via Twitter the cancellation of the Kalivaç project and the establishment of the Vjosa National Park.

This is fantastic news, not only for the Vjosa and for the organisations fighting for the river system, but also for Albania and Europe as a whole. The Vjosa National Park could become the first Wild River National Park in Europe and would also be financially beneficial for the people of Albania.

Stay tuned with the campaign “Save the Blue Heart of Europe“.

By Ulrich Eichelmann, Riverwatch / Christian Stielow, EuroNatur

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