International protest against the destruction of Europe’s last wild river

Joint press release by Riverwatch, EuroNatur and EcoAlbania

 

++ Day 33 of the Balkan Rivers Tour: protest action of kayakers, politicians, residents and nature conservationists against projected dams on the Vjosa in Albania ++ Government wants to have large dams constructed ++ River conservationists demand Vjosa National Park ++

 

TVjosa, no dams! About 150 people gathered at the Vjosa today to direct this appeal to Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama. © Oblak Aljazepelena, Albania, May 18, 2016. “Vjosa – No Dams!” An extraordinary alliance directed this appeal – written in letters seven meters high – to Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama today. More than 150 people – kayakers from all over Europe, Albanian parliamentarians, residents, artists, Albanian and international environmental organisations as well as the Vice President of the European Parliament – gathered at the banks of the Vjosa and called upon the Prime Minister to stop the projected damming of the Vjosa.

The Vjosa is Europe’s last big wild river outside Russia. On a course of 270 kilometers – from the Pindus Mountains to the Adriatic Sea – she flows freely without any artificial obstacles. Scientifically, the river is largely unexplored.

However, the Albanian government has recently decided to have a large hydropower plant constructed and has already granted the concession to a Turkish company. The project “Poçem” will feature a 25 meter tall dam wall which will destroy one of the ecologically most The last paddling day of the Balkan Rivers Tour ended at Europe’s queen of rivers: the Vjosa River in Albania. © Oblak Aljazvaluable river stretches, characterized by gravel islands and alluvial forests. The bird population of this natural treasure has not even been explored yet.

The hydropower project Poçem would destroy this uniqueness in one scoop. “It is a miracle that a river like this still exists – it constitutes a huge chance for Albania and all of Europe. To block this river would be a crime on nature and evidence of the incapacity of European nature protection”, says Ulrich Eichelmann from Riverwatch and coordinator of the “Save the Blue Heart of Europe” campaign.

In its statement on the current Enlargement report in April 2016, the European parliament called upon the Albanian government „… to control the development of hydropower plants in environmentally sensitive areas such as around Vjosa River as well as in protected areas....”, to adjust the quality of Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA) to EU standards and to better inform and include the public in the planning procedure.  So far, these demands have been completely ignored in regards to the Poçem project.

“Albania is an EU candidate state and it would be disastrous if the most valuable natural treasures the country has to offer would be lost beforehand. At the very least, the government must assess the project Poçem according to EU standards before issuing a license for its construction”, so Ulrike Lunacek, Vice President of the European parliament. “While EU countries are required to comply with the guidelines of the EU Water Framework Directive, these criteria have so far been met or even exceeded in Western Balkan countries – first and foremost in Albania. This advantage must not be frivolously dismissed on behalf of the projected hydro boom.”

Gabriel Schwaderer, CEO of EuroNatur, who is coordinating the campaign “Save the Blue Heart of Europe” together with Riverwatch, promotes the protection of the river: “We demand that the entire Vjosa – from the mountains to the Adriatic Sea – be declared as a national park, Europe’s first Wild River National Park. This would also be the best solution for the economic future of the valley.” All mayors of the valley support this demand as they recognize the potential of a national park for the development of eco-tourism.

Olsi Nika from EcoAlbania and national coordinator of the campaign in Albania points to the absence of a proper energy concept in Albania: “400 hydropower plants are planned in our country threatening practically every river, while the biggest potential – solar power – is left entirely unexploited. There is no energy politics, only dam politics.”

Kayakers from Slovenia, Albania, Greece, Italy, Germany, Austria, Netherlands and the US participated in today’s activity. It was part of the “Balkan Rivers Tour” – an activity of kayakers from all over Europe against the looming dam tsunami in the Balkans. “We have been paddling rivers between Slovenia and Albania for 33 days. The grand finale of the tour is at the Vjosa – the queen of Balkan rivers. Damming her is unacceptable. We are here to take a stand against it”, says Rok Rozman, initiator of the tour.

On May 20, 2016, the tour ends in Tirana where the paddlers will march with their kayaks to the Prime Minister’s office to hand over a special gift: a kayak decorated with hundreds of signatures against the projected dams on the Vjosa and for the establishment of a national park.

 

Background information

  • The protest was part of the Balkan Rivers Tour: over 35 days, kayakers from various countries are paddling the most stunning and most threatened rivers in the Balkans in order to draw attention to the imminent dam tsunami. Led by former Slovenian Olympic athlete Rok Rozman, the tour started on April 16 on the Sava in Slovenia and will end on May 20 in Tirana/Albania.
  • The Balkan Rivers Tour is an activity organized within the framework of the “Save the Blue Heart of Europe” campaign, which was launched by ‘EuroNatur’ and ‘Riverwatch’ in order to protect the Balkan rivers from the imminent destruction due to hydropower development. The Balkan Rivers Tour is a joint initiative by Leeway Collective, EuroNatur, Riverwatch and WWF Adria and is supported by Patagonia, Mava Foundation and Manfred-Hermsen-Stiftung.

 

Contacts
Katharina Grund (EuroNatur), katharina.grund@euronatur.org, +49 7732 9272 10
Cornelia Wieser (Riverwatch), cornelia.wieser@riverwatch.eu, +43 650 4544784

Olsi Nika – EcoAlbania: o.nika@ecoalbania.org +355 69 29 44 757
Rok Rozman (Leeway Collective), rok@leeway-collective.org,   +386 51 421 303