On Friday, February 17, 2023, MedINA participated in the event «Criminal Law and Environmental Protection», which was co-organized by the Greek Ministries of Environment and Energy and Justice, at the event hall of Konitsa Town Hall.
Through her presentation «Aoos/Vjosa: Way forward for the first Transboundary Wild River Park in Europe», Alexandra Pappa, MedINA’s Freshwater Programme Manager, referred to the organization’s constant presence in the area of Northern Pindos, over the last 10 years, highlighting the efforts made by civil society to protect the Aoos River and its tributaries as well as to promote the region’s unique cultural heritage and to empower local communities.
Additionally, she demonstrated the need to institutionally protect the Aoos river basin in its entirety, in order to set the basis for the first Transboundary Wild River National Park in Europe. The Vjosa river, on the Albanian side of the borders is going to be declared a National Park in a few days and will continue to flow freely forever. The aim of the cross-border efforts of the civil society organizations is, she said, to «effectively preserve it as a living, wild, free river, for the benefit of people and nature, both in Greece and Albania and for the whole world». Finally, she referred to the value of empowering and activating local communities in the implementation of environmental legislation and the need to involve citizens and stakeholders in the efforts to protect and promote the Aoos river.
Interventions on the Aoos River topic and its importance were also made by Mr. George Tassos, representative of the Ioannina Hoteliers Association, via his presentation «The protection and promotion of the environment is a prerequisite for the development of entrepreneurship in the Aoos region of Greece-Albania», Ms. Tonia Galani, Project Manager of Pindos Perivallontiki with her presentation «Aoos without dams: Judicial and other interventions to save the river» and Ms. Ioli Christopoulou, Policy Director of the Green Tank with her presentation «Aoos: prospects for protection, sustainable development and transnational cooperation».
During the event, the Deputy Minister of Justice, George Kotsiras, extensively referred to the initiatives taken by the Ministry of Justice, through the changes in the Criminal Code, for offences against the environment, as well as the joint initiatives with the Ministry of Environment, in the framework of specific legislative provisions, while the Deputy Minister of Environment, George Amyras, presented the legislative work and environmental reforms of the government.
With regards to the Aoos River, Mr. Amyras said: «Aoos, a unique river 270 km long, is the last and only free-flowing, wild river in Europe and we are honored to host 70 km of its total length. I often travel abroad for business purposes and truly speaking, I am amazed by the fact that the vast majority of people abroad are aware of the Aoos river. In one of our international presentations in Montreal, Canada, we had meetings and consultations with the Albanian Minister of Environment and Tourism, Mrs. Mirela Kumbaro, and discussed about working together on the issue. We have one river that has drawn the whole of Europe’s attention to it, and we should use it for the benefit of local communities and for strengthening the relations between the two countries. Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis in the presence of Rama in Dervitsani, Albania, announced the intention of the two countries to proceed to a cross-border park. One of the intermediate steps is, of course, the protection of the last small part of the Aoos river, which has no institutional protection. We, therefore, decided, by order of the Prime Minister, to go ahead with it as a Protected Natural Formation. In March we are travelling to Albania to sign the Memorandum of Understanding and Cooperation, which will include common management and monitoring measures, and every other detail regarding the river will be provided in there».