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Battle over a unique European river

Activists fear running out of time to save what they call the last major “wild river” in Europe

The pristine landscape of the Vjosa River, which cuts into rocky mountains, meanders through the plains and finally hits the sparkling Adriatic Sea of ​​Albania, is a national treasure but under imminent threat.


Activists feel that they are running out of time to save what is called the last major “wild river” in Europe. The flow has not changed by industry, cities or dams. We employ A-listers like Leonardo DiCaprio for their purposes.

The immediate concern is the plan to build a 50 meter (165 ft) high hydroelectric dam.

Turkish and Albanian companies have the rights to this project. This is the first development to divert the approximately 200 km (125 miles) Albanian river that crosses the Greek border into the Pindus.

Dams flooded areas of rare flora and fauna, wiped out farmland, damaged fishermen’s lives and expelled thousands of people from their homes.

“Vjosa is my greatest love. My life is here, my childhood is here, my youth is here,” says local restaurant owner Arjan Zeqaj.

His roadside restaurant in the village of Kesarat enjoys spectacular views of the undulating meadows that roll into the chaotic waterways of the gray gravel plains.

When the reservoir comes, it’s all gone. The water hits the edge of the road just a few meters from his terrace.

The immediate concern of the Vjosa River is the plan to build a 50 meter high hydroelectric dam.

The immediate concern of the Vjosa River is the plan to build a 50 meter high hydroelectric dam.

“I will have to relocate,” says Zeqaj. “There is no other way to survive here.”

The legal line above the dam has been hanging above the inhabitants for 20 years. And for years, activists have been pushing for the same solution.

“A little too much”

“Vjosa Valley must be declared as a national park,” EcoAlbania NGO Besjana Guri told AFP. “This not only protects its unique ecosystem, but also enables stable development and promotes tourism and local ecotourism.”

EcoAlbania is working with international NGOs to raise awareness, and Austria-based River Watch Ulrich Eichelmann describes it as “the only opportunity in Europe” to save such a river system.

Activists point out that 1,175 species of flora and fauna have been recorded along Vjosa, including 119 species protected by Albanian law and 39 species that are endangered internationally.

EcoAlbania is working with international NGOs to raise awareness about rivers.

EcoAlbania is working with international NGOs to raise awareness about rivers.

Albania also argues that it does not need any more hydropower and should focus on other renewable energy sources.

In the face of that, the Albanian government agrees.

Authorities oppose large-scale development along Vjosa and say they are developing a project that includes solar power and liquefied natural gas.

Activists won a big victory last year when the Ministry of the Environment did not allow Turkish and Albanian venture Ayen-ALB to start working on the dam.

However, the government is resisting the designation of national parks and instead opting for a less stringent “protected area” classification.

“National parks are a bit too much,” Prime Minister Edi Rama told AFP, arguing that the designation would stop tens of thousands of people from living their daily lives and stop activities from agriculture to ecotourism.

The Albanian government is resisting the designation of national parks and instead opting for less stringent

The Albanian government is resisting the designation of national parks and instead opting for a less stringent “protected area” classification.

“Vjosa is essential”

Activists and locals are not convinced.

Designation as a national park provides legal protection for hydropower projects, airports and other developments, but does not apply to designation of protected areas.

Rama’s claims about ecotourism have also been challenged.

“The industrialization of the area by the construction of dams will make foreign tourists more generally lose all interest in exploring Albania’s Vjosa and the wilderness,” says tourism expert Albiona Mucoimaj.

But while she talks about torrent rafting and pristine mountain excursions, the government dreams of packaging thousands of tourists.

Authorities say they are using a number of new airports to promote coastal mass tourism and economic development, one airport is planned for a wetland near the Vjosa Delta and activists are in a reserve. I will.

The Albanian government dreams of packaged tourists, but some experts say industrialization will ruin the region.

The Albanian government dreams of packaged tourists, but some experts say industrialization will ruin the region.

The battle for Vjosa summarizes the global debate over the future of mankind. It’s environmental protection above all, no matter how much you develop at any price. Similar debates are raging everywhere from China to Chile.

And activists are determined to consider Vjosa a global issue.

“This is an unparalleled opportunity to set an example in Europe and the world,” said Annette Spangenberg of EuroNatur, an NGO involved in conservation efforts.

She added that the river and all its tributaries are still untouched, and maintaining the system will set “a new standard of what nature maintenance can do.”

But at the heart of it is the fight against dams to maintain and improve the daily lives of the villagers.

“Vjosa is an integral part of our lives, our land, our food, for us,” said Dam, worried that it would destroy the lives of thousands of people. Says the old local Idajet Zotaj.

The essence of the fight against the dam is to maintain and improve the daily lives of the villagers.

The essence of the fight against the dam is to maintain and improve the daily lives of the villagers.

“I miss my child,” says 86-year-old Mezan Zyme Zotai. All seven of his children have left the area and four have migrated.

“Once Vjosa becomes a national park, they’re all confident they’ll be back here to build the future at home,” he said, just a few meters from the rumbling river. He adds that he is patiently caring for a flock of sheep that are not there.


Uproar as Albania blocking Europe’s “roughest river”


© 2021 AFP

Quote: No dam, dim: Unique battle over rivers in Europe (May 15, 2021) from https://phys.org/news/2021-05-undammed-undimmed-unique-european-river.html Acquired on May 15, 2021

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Battle over a unique European river

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