The permits for the development of HPPs are becoming an environmental disaster in Albania. The latest 38 environmental permits approved from the NEA and Ministry of Environment(MoE) have not taken into consideration the biodiveristy impacts of these projects. The experts warn that many endagered biodiversity species are at threat to disepear forever from these licensed hydropower projects.
In order to shed light on the issue, investigimi.al assessed the environmental approvals for HPPs from January 2014 until July 2016. During this period, NEA and institution under the authority of the Environmental Minister Lefter Koka, received 43 HPPs project applications for environmental approval (permits).
The environmental approvals published from the National Licensing Centre (www.qkl.gov.al) and MoE (www.mjedisi.gov.al) demonstrate that 38 HPPs out of 43 applications were approved without assessing the negative environmental impacts at all, for none of these approvals.
The environmental approvals for these HPPs have been issued from NEA without knowing and even refusing to know the negative environmental impacts, especially the most crucial one, the biodiversity impacts. The construction of these HPPs will directly affect the natural habitats and especially the aquatic fauna species. To this threat, the freshwater fish species (59 fish species listed as threaten in Albania) are the most exposed from the negative impacts and loss of habitats. The fragmentation of the rivers from HPPs drastically reduces their habitats and especially halt forever the longitudinal movement of the fishes along the river stream (ponds, estuaries and reproduction zones). This phenomena will be detrimental to these species and all the related food chain such as otter, bears, birds of prey etc.
The environmental expert and chairman of the Albanian Society for Protection of Birds and Mammals (ASBPM) Klodian Aliu stated that “the biodiversity impacts of hydropower plants are detrimental to wildlife and irreversible” … “the fragmentation of rivers through dams or deviation in pipes or channels for HPP is the “condemnation to death” for many biodiversity species. Approving the HPPs without a rigorous biodiversity impacts assessment (BIA) is against the law and makes impossible to enforce the environmental protection legislation. A reliable BIA study requires site survey for at least one year period of time… to collect data for each species and ecological behaviors within a full year lifecycle” conlcluded the expert for investigimi.al.
The violation of the biodiversity protection legislation from NEA has occurred for at least 38 HPPs projects approvals within the investigation period. During the review of applications NEA has explicitly decided for every projects that “the project must NOT undergo a detailed environmental impact assessment procedure”.
As an example, investigimi.al ilustrates one of these decisions made from NEA, the decision no. 54 dated 28.12.2015, issued to the company “Favina” sh.p.k approving the construction of the hydropower plant in Osoja River(part of Devolli River watershed) with a river deviation segment of 4 km. Althought no biodiversity impact assessment was carried out and included in the application files, NEA has issued the environmental permit for its construction.
Albania is rich in biodiversity and this is dedicated to its climate and geographical location. In order to preserve the biodiversity since 2006 a specific law on biodiversity protection (no 9587/2006) requires protection of all species and their habitats.
In supporting the protection of the biodiversity in 2013 a revised Red List Order of threatened biological species was adopted from the Minister Lefter Koka (known as Red Book). Referring to this list, 402 plant species and 575 fauna species are proclaimed as “endangered” out of this 59 are fish species. To halt the loss of such species the legislation requires strict protection for all these species and related habitats. The Red List Order of the Minister Koka assigns and obliges NEA to ensure the protection of threatened species during the decision making procedure for HPPs and avoid their extinction.
As revealed from this investigation, NEA even in one single case has not implemented this legal obligation that aims to prevent such huge biodiversity loss. Furthermore, NEA has refused to know the scale of the biodiversity damages induced from the construction of these 38 HPPs approved from this institution.
In aligning the nature protection legislation with EU, the Government adopted the Decision no. 866 dated 10.12.2014 “The list of habitat types and biological species with European Community interest occuring in Albania”. Many of these habitats include riparian (riverbed and banks related) and species with specific ecological needs related with water, all these nature protected assets are expected to be heavily harmed from the approved HPP projects. Such approvals of NEA breach several international conventions for nature among, the Convention for Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats (Bern Convention) and Convention of Biological Diversity (Bon Convention), both singed from Albania.
Evaluated case by case, all 38 HPP projects do not limit the detrimental effects only in the river habitats but in all ecological system until the sea. Furthermore, considering the cumuluative impacts, all 38 approvals will induce a overspread negative impact all over ecological network of the country and beyond. Roghly calculated these 38 HPPs, will directly affect a total of circa 100km of natural river bed, damaging dozens of habitats, microhabitats and related flora and fauna.
Apart above, 33 approval decisions documents (85% of cases) lack of important control data. Such lacks include the allowed river deviation length of each HPP and none of 38 decisions include measures for protection of specific species or habitats affected from the project.
To address the lack of standards for nature protection in 2012 the law on integrated management of the water resources (IMWR) was adopted, the law was prepared with international expertise and financed from EU. The law includes the formula for calculating the ecological water needs to be released from every HPP to protect the affected biodiversity. Although a legal obligation none of 38 approvals does not specify, the amount and the program of ecological water release. The lack of such conditions in the environmental approvals will make impossible to monitor their impacts on biodiversity and enforce the legislation during the construction and operational phase for over 50 years or more. Based on lifespan of species almost all the affected species risk to disappear forever from the affected river tributaries within one to 15 years.
Facing these facts, reasonably some questions require answers. Why NEA decides to ignore the natural values inside and along the riverbeds when approving 38 environmental permits for these HPPs? How many species of fauna, plants and habitats will be affected from these approvals? Who gives the right to NEA to authorize such massive damages of the biodiversity for one or 38 investors?! The natural resources are a national public asset or are private propriety of few officials at the NEA or Ministry of Environment? Why the approval of these HPPs is made within a month instead when only the biodiversity impact assessment study period requires at least one year time? Who benefits from the violations of legislation and crimes against the biodiversity? What is the worth of spending over 20 million USD every year for the existence of the Ministry of Environment and its agencies including the NEA?
The failure of NEA during the approval of these 38 environmental permits is not limited only to lack of the biodiversity impact assessment. The decision of “Rama” Government no. 247 dated 30.04.2014 obliges NEA to consult during the decision making for the environmental approvals. Such mandatory consultation shall be made with specialized institutions such as; Faculty of Natural Sciences (and its Research Centre for Flora and Fauna) and environmental organizations. The ASPBM, a nature protection organization with over 20 years ago that has prepared many studies for the biodiversity including the first Red List Book 1997 confirms that “NEA has never invited them during any of its decision making procedure for HPPs”.
The decision of Government also requires NEA to publish the application information (at www.akm.gov.al) submitted for the environmental approval.
Instead, no information for any of 43 HPP applications part of this investigation is published from NEA. Meanwhile ironically, the NEA publishes such information for projects with minor or insignificant environmental impacts such as furniture assembling etc. Although the transparency and consultation is strongly being promoted every day from the Government, nothing has happened in practice from NEA, the most important agency for enforcement of environmental legislation.
These massive violations of public information and participation during the environmental decision making, breaches the national legislation and Aarhus Convention where Albania adheres.
*This project is financially supported by Democracy Commission Small Grants Program of US Embassy in Tirana. The opinions, findings, conclusions and recommendations expressed in the story are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the US Department of State.
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