Albanian and international science community stands up against damming the Vjosa river
17 Φεβρουαρίου 2020
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++One of the largest science petitions in global freshwater ecology calls to stop Vjosa dam projects in Albania ++ Scientists demand Albanian government to respect scientific standards in Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for the Kalivaç hydropower project ++

Tirana, 17.2.2020 In a remarkable press conference in Tirana on February 15th, twelve Albanian scientists, supported by another three colleagues from Austria and Germany, raised their voices for the Vjosa and especially against the ongoing process in regards to the Kalivaç dam project.

1. PC EIA (c) Ulrich Eichelmann.jpg
Albanian scientists, supported by colleagues from Austria and Germany, held a press conference to raise their voice against the ongoing EIA process in regards to the Kalivaç dam project. © Ulrich Eichelmann

Their position is backed by an enormous support from the scientific community: 776 scientists from 46 countries signed a petition to stop the dam process on the Vjosa river and to follow international standards in this matter. Amongst them, some of the most renowned scientists of the world. This is one of the largest science petitions in freshwater ecology globally. Remarkably, the petition was also signed by 129 experts from Albania, which has never happened before in modern history of the country.

The petition is addressed to the Albanian government, namely Prime Minister Edi Rama, Minister of Tourism and Environment Blendi Klosi and Minister of Infrastructure and Energy Belinda Balluku. The signees warn about the risks and consequences of the hydropower dam projects on the Vjosa such as loss of ecological uniqueness, water quality deterioration, groundwater deterioration, hazards of seismic activities, coastal erosion, etc. However, neither the Prime Minister nor the Ministry of Tourism and Environment were willing to receive the petition. Instead, and on behalf of the Albanian people, President Ilir Meta accepted the petition and welcomed a science delegation on Friday, February 14th. He underlined his support to protect the last wild river in Europe. In addition, the petition was handed to the Head of Parliament, Vice Minister of Infrastructure and Energy and the ombudsman in Tirana.

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Albanian president Ilir Meta welcomes a delegation of scientists and accepts their petition against the damming the Vjosa, signed by 776 Albanian and international scientists. In addition, the petition was handed to the Head of Parliament, Vice Minister of Infrastructure and Energy and the ombudsman in Tirana. © Official photos from Albanian Presidency

The concern of the scientists proves to be more valid than ever. Recently, the summary of the EIA (Environmental Impact Assessment) for the Kalivaç hydropower project was presented to the public in Memaliaj. Its poor quality indicates that scientific standards and evidence have not been met: the time period for the entire assessment was way too short (just months instead of 2-3 years), no transboundary impact was evaluated, important data is missing. “The whole process, I am afraid, is fake. For years, Albanian scientists together with our colleagues from other countries have offered support in the Vjosa case, but the Albanian politicians have persistently ignored us. However, we continue to speak up not only for the Vjosa, but also for respecting scientific standards in Albania, for the benefit of our people and nature”, says Prof. Aleko Miho from Tirana University.

Prof. Ferdinand Bego from Tirana University adds: “The Vjosa, the only wild river left to us as created by nature, is a river we owe to our future generations. It is the only salvation for us and our future generations, who will live in this country to correct our mistakes and recover wild river life even for other rivers in the country. No environmental analysis, much less the one presented by the EIA in question, may stand or be justified in the face of such a national emergency.”

Prof. Fritz Schiemer, University of Vienna: “Today, the Vjosa is more than a beautiful river in Albania: she is famous in the scientific community all over Europe and even on a global scale. Unfortunately, we have evidence that the Kalivaç EIA is more a caricature of an EIA than an actual serious EIA. Our own assessments prove the enormous value of the Vjosa system. However, further detailed studies for at least 2-3 years are required as a basis for a valid EIA. Apparent risks and hazards of damaging nature, people and economy of the country remain to be addressed”.

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The entire freshwater science community in Albania and internationally stand united for the protection of the Vjosa river. From a scientific standpoint, keeping this last pristine river system intact is key for the future of riverine ecosystems © Nick St. Oegger

In addition, Dr. Klodian Skrame from the Polytechnical University Tirana emphasized a very up to date issue, the seismic risks: “Building a dam in the Vjosa basin is wrong, because the area is one of the most active seismic areas in Albania. The area from Kalivaç to Poçem is bordered by an active fault on the Southern part. Its effects on the present landslides and on hydropower constructions need to be widely defined. Dams with large reservoirs would increase the risks for people that live downstream the dam.”

All scientists confirm that they are willing to support the government, if the government should decide to start a proper process respecting modern scientific and legal requirements. Therefore, the experts are once again calling on the responsible authorities to start an honest process and to stop this misleading, fake procedure in regards to the Kalivaç project. “The Vjosa is of tremendous value for Albania and all of Europe and therefore we will not give up in this matter”, all scientists conclude.

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The Vjosa is one of the last intact natural rivers in Europe outside Russia – a jewel of pan-European importance. If she is being dammed as the government foresees for this year, the consequences would be detrimental, so the scientists warn.

© Gabriel Singer

Contact information
Prof Aleko Miho, University Tirana aleko.miho@fshn.edu.al
Prof Ferdinand Bego, University Tirana ferdinand.bego@fshn.edu.al
Prof Fritz Schiemer, University Vienna friedrich.schiemer@univie.ac.at
Besjana Guri, EcoAlbania, b.guri@ecoalbania.org
Ulrich Eichelmann, Riverwatch, ulrich.eichelmann@riverwatch.eu +43 676 6621512
Anja Arning, EuroNatur, anja.arning@euronatur.org +49 (0)7732 – 927213

Background information

DOWNLOAD the Petition of Scientists for the Vjosa River and the Statements of prominent petition supporters
The scientific arguments against damming the Vjosa are manifold. In short videos, the scientists warn of the many aspects of concern, including erosion of the coastline, loss of biodiversity, threat of dam break due to earthquake-prone area, loss of economic income and many more.
The Vjosa river in Albania is one of the last intact natural rivers in Europe outside Russia. While the Albanian government wants to build dams in the river – starting with the Kalivaç dam – the alternative vision is to establish Europe’s first Wild River National Park. Scientists from Albania, Austria, Germany, and France have been researching the Vjosa over the last 4 years. Find some results here: Vjosa biological assessment, Vjosa sediment assessment. Furthermore, they held an International Wild Rivers Science Symposium and Wild Rivers Night in Tirana in October 2019. The outcome of this meeting was a declaration, in which the participating scientists call upon European Institutions, political leaders in South-East Europe and the Albanian Government specifically to protect the remaining intact rivers in Europe. This is by no means the first time the scientific community advocates for the protection of the Vjosa. In 2016, the scientists called for a moratorium on dam construction in a joint memorandum signed by 228 scientists from 33 countries and also criticized the EIA of the Poçem dam project. In 2017, they held a press conference on a gravel island in the middle of the river as part of their Vjosa research week.
This is a joint press release by EcoAlbania, EuroNatur and Riverwatch
The campaign “Save the Blue Heart of Europe” aims to protect the most valuable rivers in the Balkans from a dam tsunami of about 3,000 planned projects. The campaign is coordinated by the NGOs Riverwatch and EuroNatur and carried out together with partner organisations in the Balkan countries. The local Partner in Albania is EcoAlbnia. Find more information at https://balkanrivers.net/
Photos attached: The attached photo material can be used once in connection with this press release and indicating photo credits.

Cornelia Wieser

RiverWatch

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Neustiftgasse 36

1070 Wien

http://riverwatch.eu/
http://balkanrivers.net/