Broad coalition calls for hydropower projects’ halt on the Albanian Vjosa River

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06 May

In light of the national Albanian elections – held on 25 April 2021 – a group of Members of the European Parliament, scientists and even Hollywood actors have now joined ranks with national and regional environmentalist NGOs. Their request is plain and simple: national authorities need to put an end to hydropower dams’ proliferation and to create a national wild river park in Vjosa River so that to preserve the region’s ecosystem.

The 270-kilometre long Vjosa River is one of the Old Continent’s last wild river. Stretching from the Greek mountains to the Adriatic Coast in Albania, the river is characterised along its entire course by beautiful canyons, braided river sections, oxbows and islands covered with vegetation. Home of intact and free-flowing tributaries, its ideal and preserved aquatic habitat provides hotspots for a myriad of maritime species, especially fish. To name just a few, the river currently hosts critically endangered migratory fish species such as the eel Anguilla Anguilla, the Ohrid loach or the Pindus stone loach.
Yet, conservatist NGOs and scientists are afraid hydropower projects could annihilate this pristine river system. In line with the EAA Hydropower Position Paper (October 2020), they raise the alarm that any change in water flow and sediment transport would dramatically alter the last river ecosystem of its kind in the Balkans and in Europe, but also disrupt the migration route of globally threatened fish species.
On that basis, activists have brought international attention to avoid this ecological disaster by starting grassroot movements, such as the project “Save the Blue Heart of Europe - a campaign for the protection of Balkan Rivers”. In doing so, they aim at putting the creation of this national wild river park on the top of the Albanian political agenda ahead of the upcoming national legislative elections.

Lately, this awareness-raising campaign seems to be giving momentum to this issue. The campaign received the support of Hollywood actor Leonardo DiCaprio, who recently tweeted to his 20 million followers that the “EU has now to pledge its support to help save the #BlueHeartofEurope.” Similarly, the clothing brand Patagonia released the film ‘Vjosa Forever’, asking concerned citizens to show their support for the preservation of this ecological and cultural heritage. Last but not least, in its 2021 Albanian Progress Report adopted in March, the European Parliament “urges the government to minimise the impact on biodiversity by stopping hydropower development in protected areas, in particular in areas near the Valbona and Vjosa rivers”.

The ball is now in the next Albanian government’s court, to achieve what would be unparalleled conservation efforts in Europe both in terms of ecological importance and scale!
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