The construction permits have not spared even the national protected areas such as the Shebenik-Jabllanice National Park which stretches over the territory of 6 former communes in Librazhd region. Experts ring the alarm bells on the environmental damages caused by the efforts to divert the river water flows.
By Fatmir Popja
The construction of HPPs is putting more and more to danger the existence of national parks. The situation appears to be very problematic in the major part of our country where 500 concessionary permits have been issued so far. The region of Librazhd has the most visible traces of the alarming situation created by the large number of concessionary permits issued. 45 concessionary permits for the construction of power facilities using water resources result to have been issued only in the area in the Shebenik-Jabllanice National Park. According to environmental experts, the HPPs pose a potential risk for the almost complete eradication of the fauna and flora in the Shebenik-Jabllanice National Park, which was declared a national park more than seven years ago. In addition, according to environmentalists and ecologists, the construction of such power facilities is damaging in all aspects the lives of thousands of families in that area, especially agriculture and livestock and even mountainous tourism which has been developed rapidly in recent times.
Water resources are constantly being dried out in the Shebenik-Jabllanice National Park and these ecological damages have such consequences that cannot be recovered in the future. According to ecologists, a few years later, the region of Librazhd could be a dry area and in some places it could resemble to small deserts, and this will have catastrophic consequences on the flora and fauna of the entire area. Because of these serious catastrophic consequences, often the inhabitants of the villages have staged powerful protests to oppose the construction of the hydropower plants. During the protests, the inhabitants have demanded from the government and from law-enforcing institutions not to turn a blind eye in the face of the abuses made with the HPP concessionary permits. They claimed that the consequences that impact the life of the community have a frightening scale. Time after time, it was suggested that the HPP concessionary permits were revised because the observations made often by competent experts, with the persistence of the dignified representatives and local elected people, have shown that the concessionaries are destroying the massive forests and the environment while the case of Rrapun is a typical example.
So far, besides the endless accusations made by the local population, the government has turned a blind eye to the barbarism and destructions on the natural resources of Librazhd. The community in the areas where the HPPs are being constructed or are planned to be constructed feels deeply sorry that their government has partnered with the concessionaries of these hydropower facilities by seriously damaging every water resource they used for water supply and irrigating their agricultural lands. It is a great fatality that today, in the massive forests of Librazhd, there is no water even for the water sources where herds of cattle used to drink water. In the near future, the shepherds would need to supply their farms with tank trucks to provide water for the goats, sheep, and cattle while the situation would be even more critical for the wild animals and birds. Unless strict discipline is applied to those who are abusing the use of water resources, livestock breeding in the mountainous regions of Librazhd could be mission impossible. In the Shebenik-Jabllanice National Park the major part of flora and fauna could barely survive and the time when they may disappear might not be too far-fetched.
Prime Minister Edi Rama declared that no HPP would be allowed to be built in the protected areas. According to him, experts are preparing a new draft law on the protection of the environment in order to punish every environmental crime and put an end to the existing situation. His stand on this issue has been strongly supported by the Minister of the Environment, Lefter Koka and Minister of Energy, Damian Gjiknuri. However, despite the promises made by the Prime Minister and his cabinet on the protection of nature and rivers, the situation remains the same. Currently, all over the territory of Albania there are 23 HPP under construction, 42 are operational, while construction works have not started yet in dozens more. No one can say for sure how many of the HPPs planned to be built in the Shebenik-Jabllanice National Park would not receive the green light.
The decision of the government to stop the construction of HPPs in the protected areas has been supported even by the civil society whose representatives have demanded from the government to exert its legal authority on the investors in order to make them respect all the legal contractual obligations and to preserve the right regime in the ecological flow of the rivers which are and should be protected as an outstanding natural property. The Shebenik-Jabllanice National Park in the region of Librazhd, encompassing 33 thousands of hectares is at risk of being destroyed by the construction of HPPs. 45 HPP-s have been planned to be built there and according to environmentalists this is a true catastrophe. The projects for the construction of the HPPs have been sent to the government since many months ago. According to the projects, all water would go through pipes and a number of buildings would be built one after the other, and this in turn will lead to the destruction of the natural ecosystem, great microclimate changes in the area, a reduction in the air humidity, disappearance of fauna and flora, negative impacts on the vegetation, etc.
Numerous environmental organization and especially “Ekolevizja” have permanently called on the government not to destroy the Shebenik-Jabllanice Park. In order to prevent this environmental massacre, “Ekolevizja” group organized a few months ago, a meeting with the Prefect of the Region of Elbasan, Arben Kamami, to whom, as a representative of Rama government, the group presented the consequences and the damages that would result from the construction of these HPP-s. “Ekolevizja”, during 2014-2015 period, have asked for maximal support from environmental organizations, from the community of Librazhd and from all actors in the local and central power in order to save Shebenik-Jabllanice Park from destruction. Xhemal Mato, the leader of this group, declares that if the HPPs were allowed to be constructed in the protected areas, they would have a negative effect on all directions, even on mountainous tourism which is being populated by large groups of tourists from different countries, such as Switzerland, Austria, Germany, Russia, Poland, France, Canada, America etc.
Shebenik-Jabllanica lies over the territory of 6 former communes in the region of Librazhd. “Ekolevizja” has publicly denounced dozens of time, even on the media, the concession of these not well-studied concessionary permits for the construction of HPPs. The community of the region of Librazhd has joined in the worried reaction of the environmental associations. Many rivers have been destroyed in the region of Librazhd because of the construction of these HPPs. For the environmental expert Gavrosh Zela, from the Albanian Centre for Sustainable Development, in recent years, several river banks and beds have been destroyed such as the rivers of Shkumbin, Bushtrica, Gostima, Lunik, Rrapun, Qarrishta, Stebleva, Borova, Linganjca, Stravaj, Gurakuq, She of Librazhd, She of Dragostunja, the one of Hotolisht, Gurra of Berzeshta and Fushe Gurra of Zdrajshit, where rare species are rapidly disappearing. Hundreds of hectares of forests and pastures have been destroyed by the over exploitation of these river flows and banks. According to Zela, numerous and fabulous natural properties in Librazhd and elsewhere are in the direction of complete degradation.
The construction of HPPs in the Shebenik–Jabllanica National Park is putting at danger the status of the latter. According to engineer Fatmir Brazhda, director of protected areas in the Region of Elbasan, the constructed hydropower plants or under construction in the process of being built have put at serious danger the status of Shebenik Jabllanica National Park. DCM No. 640, dated 21.05.2002 “On the Designation of Shebenik-Jabllanice Natural Ecosystem as a National Park”, determined clearly that no economic activity which has a direct or indirect impact on the ecosystem of the park is allowed on this area. Great damages on the forests have occurred during the works for the construction of the HPP-s while specific habitats of the park’s fauna and flora have been put at danger. The director of protected areas in the Region of Elbasan mentions a shocking example. According to him, the river trout which was an endangered species has ultimately disappeared because the HPP concessionaries did not observe the rule for the amount of water that should have been let to flow freely on the river bed. He stated that in the area where HPP-s have been built there are great variations of the microclimate because the river flows through its bed into pipes that suck the entire water, putting in serious danger the vegetative habitats which have adapted to and reside along the river beds under a certain amount of humidity. In addition, different types of reptiles are at risk of disappearance because of lack of water.
Engineer Fatmi Brazhda states that all subjects do not observe at least the conditions of the contract or the environmental permits which are based on the environmental impact assessments. “The contracts specify that 1/3 or 30 % of the water should flow freely on the river bed for the normal development of the river fauna but that specific condition is not observed by the concessionaries. In addition, during summer period, some subjects should not work because there is little water and the water species survive on that little amount of water. During summer, most of water is used for irrigation. However, the opposite is taking place. HPPs are working with full capacity during summer and in many cases, conflicts have surfaced with the local inhabitants who demand their legal right of having water to irrigate their agricultural lands” – states Brazhda. According to him, the existing HPPs or under construction should be strictly controlled by the Environmental Inspectorate and the National Agency of Environment on the implementation of the terms of references in the respective contracts. In addition, the HPP concessionaries should rehabilitate all the areas damaged during the construction phase. To this purpose, the administration of the Protected Areas has set up a working group to collect all files of private entities which have an economic activity in the Shebenik-Jabllanica National Park and in the other protected areas in order to get more information as to their legal aspects. At the same time, the group is designing the first monitoring report on all these activities and will present the report to the National Agency of Protected Areas in order to monitor law enforcement step by step.
Climate changes and the concession of hundreds of permits for the construction of HPPs in Albania, without observing the legal criteria, are bringing about a huge damage, as well as the destruction of the natural river ecosystems. Environmental experts and experts from the World Bank have rung the alarm bells on the consequences of these abuses. According to their official reports, climate changes are followed by abnormal natural phenomena which have a high cost on the environment and the economy. These phenomena have started to emerge in Albania. They indicate that the water resources in Albania are foreseen to be drastically reduced in the years to come because of these reasons. According to reports designed by experts, in most of the constructed HPPs, the water flow has been diverted and the water has been directed into tunnels and pipes. A few dams have been set up which have fragmented considerable parts of the rivers.
List of 86 HPP-s which are expected to be built in the area of Librazhd
1- Shkumbin river flow, 14 HPPs; former Stravaj Commune, former Qukes Commune, former Hotolisht commune, former Polis commune.
2- Bushtrica river flow 7 HPPs; former Qukes Commune
3- Stravajt river flow 7 HPPs; former Stravaj Commune
4- Gostima (Gaferr) river flow 7 HPPs; former Polis Commune
5- Gurakuqi river flow 9 HPPs; former Orenja Commune
6 – She Dragostunja river flow 6 HPPs; former Qender Commune
7 – She Librazhd river flow 6 HPPs; former Qender Commune
8 – Luniku river flow 5 HPPs; former Lunik Commune
9 – Rrapun Qarrishte river flow 9 HPPs; former Qender Commune
10 – The Hotolisht river flow 5 HPPs; former Hotolisht Commune
11 – Gurreshpata river flow 2 HPPs; former Polis Commune
12 – Lingajca river flow 2 HPPs; former Rrajce Commune
13 – Stebleve river flow 2 HPPs; former Stebleve Commune
14 – Borova river flow 2 HPPs; former Stebleve Commune
15 – Gurrekuqe river flow 1 HPPs; former Qender Commune
16 – Gurrë-Berzeshta river flow 1 HPPs; former Qukes Commune
17 – Fushë-Gurra Zdrajsh river flow 1 HPPs; former Orenje Commune
List of HPP-s built in the National Shebenik-Jabllanica Park
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