The Aoos/Vjosa River, spanning the transboundary area of Greece and Albania, is one of Europe’s last free-flowing wild rivers. With the exception of an upstream dam called Piges, the Aoos/Vjosa River flows freely for over 270 kilometres, rippling through beautiful canyons, swirling around vegetated islands and along river braids, and coursing through oxbows and meanders as it makes its way to the sea. What makes this river truly exceptional at the international level is the fact that nearly all its tributaries are free-flowing and intact, creating a unique network of rivers and streams that burst with life.
This unparalleled European resource, however, is threatened by the construction of hydropower plants. If these plants materialise, they will transform the water catchment zone into a chain of artificial lakes, interrupting any natural river flow and thereby impeding essential ecological processes, in turn negatively impacting on both biodiversity and the human communities living nearby.
‘Saving Europe’s last free flowing wild river – Vjosa/Aoos’ was launched in January 2018. The project’s goal is to prevent the construction of hydropower plants that will endanger the river’s entire ecosystem, affecting the rich natural and cultural heritage of the region. It also aims to promote the designation of the Aoos/Vjosa River as a transboundary protected area that would form Europe’s first Wild River Transnational Park. Activities are divided into five main strategies: raising awareness and increasing public pressure on decision makers; monitoring legal compliance and influencing policy makers to optimise legislative frameworks at the national as well as European and international level; involving local stakeholders and strengthening their position in the decision-making process; enhancing scientific research along the river’s length; and developing a comprehensive roadmap for the designation of Europe’s first Wild River Transnational Park.
MedINA and Pindos Perivallontiki are the primary Greek partners for the project. MedINA has been active in the Aoos River watershed since 2012 through the development of the Vjosa/Aoos River Ecomuseum. In this project, MedINA is focused on raising awareness about the river’s plight and mobilising the wider public in both Greece and beyond by organising screenings of the film Blue Heart: The Fight for Europe’s Last Wild Rivers, setting up roundtable discussions with experts, and promoting this critical issue in national and international media. In addition, it is carrying out the necessary research and conducting policy advocacy work at the national level for which it has created, together with Pindos Perivallontiki, a legal toolkit to help local communities engage with permissible actions to halt dam construction. One of the main activities – undertaken alongside the Inherit Institute – is the development of a Social Impact Study (SIS) that aims to help clarify the complexity of the issues and give voice to local communities and to promote the Aoos/Vjosa River as both a natural and cultural treasure.