Aoos/Vjosa: 3rd Bilateral Stakeholders Meeting, in Aspragelloi, Zagori, Greece

Aoos/Vjosa: 3rd Bilateral Stakeholders Meeting, in Aspragelloi, Zagori, Greece

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The 3rd Bilateral Meeting for the exchange of views on the Aoos/Vjosa River took place earlier this month in Aspragelloi, Municipality of Zagori, as part of the ESPID4Vjosa project. The meeting included regional and local authorities, water management bodies from both Greece and Albania, and civil society organizations. Representatives from the regional authorities of Epirus, Gjirokastër, Vlora, and Fier, as well as the ten municipalities along the transboundary river, attended the meeting. Greek civil society organizations were represented by the Mediterranean Institute for Nature and Anthropos (MedINA) and Pindos Perivallontiki, while Albanian organizations were represented by EcoAlbania.

During roundtable discussions, participants highlighted issues and challenges concerning the integrity of the river and directly related to the well-being of local communities. Dimitris Papageorgiou, Project Manager of the “Ri-Connect: Aoos River as a Transboundary Ecological Corridor” project for MedINA, addressed ongoing pressures and upcoming threats that hinder the free flow and ecological connectivity of the Aoos/Vjosa River. He mentioned in specific the planned installation of approximately 50 small hydropower plants within the river basin, stressing out the irreversible alteration of the area’s landscape and hydromorphology if these projects proceed. He stressed the importance of integrated river protection through a cohesive and robust institutional framework, warning against complacency as a result of the recent designation of part of the Aoos River basin as a Protected Natural Formation and Protected Landscape by the Ministry of Environment and Energy.

Stakeholders’ statements during the meeting were pivotal in building an effective and formal bridge for cooperation between the decision-making institutions of both countries. Municipalities and regional authorities expressed their desire for cross-border cooperation and the exchange of knowledge, data, experience, and methodologies. They agreed on the need for a common direction regarding sustainable river utilization in the primary, secondary, and tertiary sectors. The critical issue of river water management in the face of climate change also necessitated joint decision-making. All sides stressed the importance of maintaining the free flow of Aoos/Vjosa’s waters and implementing a universal regime for the protection and management of the river network. Representatives from the Municipalities of Zagori and Konitsa described the free-flowing waters of Aoos as essential and non-negotiable for regional prosperity, opposing the installation of small hydropower plants within its basin.

To address the identified challenges, a joint action plan was proposed, aiming for efficient water management, the establishment of a common data system, and the involvement of stakeholders in the decision-making process, in line with the Water Framework Directive. Additionally, cooperation agreements were discussed as an effective mechanism for involving Greek and Albanian stakeholders in the implementation of a joint action plan at three levels: between municipalities, between respective regions, and between Albanian water management authorities and the Decentralized Administration of Epirus. The involvement of civil society was also deemed important for decision-making processes concerning the river.

An evaluation of the cooperation proposals by all parties involved is expected in the near future, with the goal of creating a commonly agreed partnership framework for the benefit of the Aoos/Vjosa transboundary river and the neighboring communities.