1 year Vjosa National Park - A reason to celebrate?

It was a great success for nature conservation: on 15 March 2023, the Vjosa National Park was declared in Albania, and became Europe's first wild river conservation area. We have been fighting for this with our partners for over ten years. Now we have to ensure that the Vjosa National Park does not become a paper tiger.

Mass tourism instead of nature conservation

Excavator during construction work on the Himara Water Extraction Project on the Shushica River

The excavators have already moved in: construction work on the Himara Water Extraction Project on the Shushica River

© Ulrich Eichelmann

It is a rollercoaster of emotions that we are going through at the moment. A year ago, we were delighted to announce that Albania's wild Vjosa River had been declared a national park. Unfortunately, there are now worrying developments. The Albanian government is not only planning to build an international airport on the Vjosa estuary, which, with your support, we have been campaigning against for months. In the meantime, there are also plans to divert an ecologically valuable tributary of the Vjosa, which is already part of the national park

"If you add two and two together, you can see the direct connection between the two projects. The situation is highly explosive. The Albanian government obviously wants to further expand mass tourism on the coast. The airport brings the tourists, who are then supplied with the water that is diverted from the Shushica. The vision for the Vjosa National Park is in grave danger! It is all the more shameful that the diversion of the Shushica is to be financed by German taxpayers' money," says Annette Spangenberg, Head of Nature Conservation at EuroNatur.

  • Shushica: protected only on paper

    Wissenschaftler sammeln Daten am Nebenfluss der Vjosa

    Scientists explore the nearly untouched Shushica (June 2021).

    © Nick St. Oegger

    The Albanian government wants to tap the Shushica River at its source in order to channel the water to the Adriatic coast and promote tourism there. As a result of this intervention, the Shushica is likely to dry up completely in summer. This not only has serious consequences for biodiversity, but also for the local population. The Shushica is also threatened with losing its national park status. Nevertheless, the project was approved and without a proper environmental impact assessment. The people affected were not informed, let alone involved. They only found about the project when the first excavators arrived. The destruction of the Shushica is being financed with funds from the Kreditanstalt für Wiederaufbau, a German development bank. There is not much time left to prevent the worst from happening: Construction work is in full swing so that water can be diverted as early as next summer. The work is due to be completed in August 2024.

We are incorruptible!

Once again, we are facing a major challenge after many years of campaigning to protect the Vjosa, the last wild river in Europe. To allow this to be done to the national park would be a travesty and we cannot sit by and watch it happen! "The Albanian government has probably assumed that we will turn a blind eye to these environmentally destructive projects in return for the designation of the Vjosa National Park, but we will not. We will not give up until the Vjosa and its tributaries are genuinely safe from destruction!" says Annette Spangenberg, Head of Nature Conservation at EuroNatur.

There is a risk that the water diversion on the Shushica will set a precedent. This intervention harms the vision of the Vjosa Wild River National Park and will have irreparable effects on its conservation values.

CEO EcoAlbania Olsi Nika, EcoAlbania
People with Albanian flags and megaphones stand on a bridge during a protest by mayors and residents of the Shushica Valley.

Protest by mayors and residents of the Shushica Valley on 24 February 2023

© Joshua David Lim
A man speaks into a megaphone during a protest against the construction works on the Shushica.

Many of those affected are angry and fear for their future on the banks of the Shushica.

© Adrian Guri

Like a tree without roots

Like the Vjosa, the Shushica is also home to many rare animal and plant species, some of which were previously unknown to science. Its conservation is of global importance for the protection of biodiversity. "If you destroy the tributaries, you will inevitably destroy the Vjosa as well - just like a tree will eventually die if you cut off all its roots," Professor Fritz Schiemer from the University of Vienna emphasised to the media. Together with many other scientists, he has been campaigning for years for a Vjosa National Park worthy of the name.

The diversion of the Shushica also jeopardises the livelihoods of 30 villages that depend on agriculture and livestock farming. The local population has been protesting for months and, together with our partner organisation EcoAlbania, has already filed a complaint with the administrative court that has jurisdiction in this matter. However, the voices of these people have not yet been heard. The construction work simply continues and should be finished until August 2024.

Protest for Shushica river

Menschen demonstrieren gegen Himara-Projekt
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© Adrian Guri
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