Prime Minister Edi Rama claimed ahead of the general election in Albania that no hydropower plants would be built on the Vjosa river, saying it has been declared a protected area.
Following a coordinated visual action in several European capitals for World Water Day and pressure from the local population and environmentalists, Prime Minister of Albania Edi Rama reiterated that the attempts to install a string of hydropower plants at the Vjosa river have been prevented for good. He continued to insist on the position on his campaign trail as the Balkan country’s citizens are preparing for a national vote scheduled for April 25.
The issue with one of the continent’s last free-flowing rivers dates back to the reign of his predecessor Sali Berisha a decade ago. Rama again blamed the former prime minister for the hydropower plant expansion and pointed to the disputes concerning such systems on the Valbona river. Back in 2019, he vowed not to allow any hydroelectric facility up to 2 MW to be built in Albania, saying they are “useless and harmful.”
Activists demand stricter protection of Vjosa river
Ahead of this year’s World Water Day, which is marked on March 22, several nongovernmental organizations took action at landmark sites in Paris, Berlin, Brussels and Tirana to demand the Vjosa area to be declared the first wild river national park. Such a move would safeguard 300 kilometers of rivers and streams, host to over 1,100 species, many of which are threatened, according to the Save the Blue Heart of Europe campaign.
Plans submitted by the Albanian National Agency of Protected Areas include only minimal protection for the Vjosa
“In September 2020, Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama announced his intent to make the Vjosa a national park. However, the government has not taken any clear steps towards this designation. Plans submitted by the Albanian National Agency of Protected Areas include only minimal protection for the Vjosa, risking future hydropower construction, and falls far short of the protections inherent in a national park designation,” the announcement adds.
Leonardo DiCaprio supported initiative to establish national park
A recent opinion poll indicated that 94% of the country’s inhabitants support the initiative. The Vjosa National Park Now campaign has also received international support including from celebrities like actor Leonardo DiCaprio.
“We purposefully chose these cultural heritage sites for this action as they are comparable to how we value the Vjosa in Albania. It is unimaginable to destroy these monuments in Europe’s capital cities, so why would we think differently about our pristine river that has been a part of our cultural history for thousands of years?” said Director of EcoAlbania Olsi Nika and called on the European Union to embrace the idea.