The extension of the protected area of the Aoos and its tributaries from Konitsa to the Greek-Albanian border is considered necessary for the international coalition of environmental organizations participating in the “Saving the last free-flowing river in Europe: Aoos/Vjosa” project which aims at the creation of the first free-flowing cross-border river park “Aoos-Vjosa” in Europe.
As part of this year’s World Rivers Day (25 September), the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), Pindos Perivallontiki, the Mediterranean Institute for Nature and Anthropos (MedINA) and the Green Tank, dedicated the week 19-25 September in the Aoos River and more specifically in its most vulnerable, unprotected section, between the North Pindos National Park and the Greek-Albanian border. The occasion was the completion of scientific studies on the river prepared by the IUCN in Greece, which underline that strong institutional protection through the designation of the area as a National Park is necessary.
During the past week, meetings were held at Greece’s Ministry of Environment and Energy and the Region of Epirus, while an open event for the public was hosted by the Municipality of Konitsa. In all the meetings, the will to protect the Aoos River along its entire length, for a river without dams and without other artificial interventions, was highlighted.
It is of particular importance to underline that at this time, in the neighboring country, Albania, the procedures for the creation of the Vjosa National Park are underway. The Albanian government is abandoning its plans to build large dams on the river and is turning to a different model with sustainable development of the wider river area at its core. In fact three months ago, the Ministry of Tourism and Environment of Albania signed a memorandum of cooperation with the company Patagonia.
On September 20, a meeting was held at the Ministry of Environment and Energy, with the presence of the Secretary General of Natural Environment and Water, Mr. Petros Varelidis and his colleagues, the General Director of Environmental Policy, Mr. Konstantinos Dimopoulos, the Director of Natural Environment and Biodiversity Management,Ms. Angeliki Psaila and members of their teams, representatives of the office of the Deputy Minister of Environment Mr. Georgios Amyras, the companies ENVECO S.A., ADENS S.A., Argyropoulos & Associates and YETOS S.A., who prepare the Special Environmental Studies (EPM) for the wider area of interest and Natural Environment and Climate Change Agency (NECCA).
On the morning of September 22, the organizations had the opportunity to talk with the political leadership of the Region of Epirus, in the presence of the Deputy Governor of the Regional Unit of Ioannina, Mr. Konstantinos Siaravas, the Head of the Department of Forest Protection and Public Prosecutor of the Forest Service of Ioannina, Mr. Stavros Vassiliou, the Head of the Directorate of Waters of the Decentralized Administration of Epirus-Western Macedonia, Ms. Aurelia Moulia, as well as the General Director of Epirus Development S.A. Mr. G. Theoharis, Deputy General Manager of Development Continent S.A. Mr. A. Giga and the Coordinator of the Vikos-Aoos Geopark/Epirou Development SA. Mr. Charitakis Papaioannou.
On the afternoon of September 22, an open event was hosted by the Municipality of Konitsa and the Mayor Mr. Nikolas Exarchou, where the organizations presented the results of the studies, which underline that strong institutional protection through the designation of the area as a National Park is necessary. The event took place in the presence of the Ambassador of Greece in Albania, Ms. Sofias Filippidou, the Consul General of Argyrokastro, Mr. Dimitris Sakharidis, the Consul General of Albania in Ioannina, Mr. Eltion Verleni, the Mayor of Zagori, Mr. G. Soukovelos, the Mayor of Konitsa, Mr. N .Exarchou, the Municipal Council of the Municipality of Konitsa and the local community of Konitsa.
In addition, on September 23, the organizations carried out, under the coordination of the outdoor activities company, No Limits GR, a cross-border rafting activity with Greek and Albanian representatives as well as representatives of the Municipalities through which the river passes in Greece and Albania, sending a message of unity, friendship and cooperation for Aoos/Vjosa which unites the two countries and needs to be protected under a strong scheme, from its springs to its delta.
Finally, on Saturday, September 24, the “3rd The Home River BioBlitz – Exploring life in Aoos” took place, with a field trip to the river gorge and various presentations and screenings in Konitsa. In the evening of the same day, a concert of Greek and Albanian artists took place in the central square of Konitsa with the participation of Greek and Albanian artists.
The scientific studies prepared by the IUCN in Greece include (1) the land use and stakeholder analysis studies, (2) the socioeconomic study for the Aoos Basin, and (3) the synthesis study of results and recommendations.
- The land use and stakeholder analysis studies for the Aoos Basin were implemented by the companies ECOMED, ENTEGRA P.C. & the think tank The Green Tank and were presented by experts Thomas Kollias and Madeleine Theohari.
- The socio-economic study for the Aoos Basin was implemented and presented by the researcher of the Laboratory of Economic Policy and Strategic Planning (Erg.O.Poli.S.S.), of the Department of Economic Sciences of the University of Thessaly, Gaby Gavriilidis.
- The synthesis study of results and recommendations was implemented and presented by the principal investigator, IUCN partner and former member of the Steering Commitee of the World Commission on Protected Areas, Andrej Sovinc, who coordinated all the above studies.
Main results of the land use study:
- There is more intensive agriculture / agricultural exploitation in Konitsa than in the other regions.
- Sustainable resource management measures will be needed in this area.
- An additional challenge for the region, beyond abandonment, is the installation of renewables and mainly those related to hydroelectric dams and accompanying projects.
Main results of the stakeholder analysis:
- There is universal support of the community for the regulation of activities aimed at protecting the river.
- ‘Alternative’ tourism is perceived as the way forward, but with regulation and in combination with other activities that support the region’s economy.
- There is support for cross-border cooperation with Albania.
Main results of the socio-economic study:
- The social and economic landscape in the Aoos catchment as well as the natural beauty and uniqueness of the area suggest that the development of sustainable tourism activities combined with the cultivation of high-quality food products and small-scale livestock farming can be key drivers of economic development.
- This economic model places particular emphasis on the conservation of environmental resources for future generations, fostering a more human-centered philosophy of how societies and communities should develop.
- Unplanned tourism development that leads to unfair distribution of its economic benefits and negative impacts on the natural environment must be replaced by strategically planned alternative tourism policies that lead to local economic development, utilizing the endogenous strengths of each region.
Main results of the synthetic study and recommendations for the protection of the region:
- Rare and unique characteristics of Aoos: Cultural Value, Natura Value, Geological Value, Hydromorphological Value
- Development options: Ecotourism based on a protected natural area and a transboundary tourism destination
- Recommendation: Expansion the North Pindos National Park with various zones. The zooming will give solutions to current uses of natural resources.
The Aoos River flows for 70 km on. Its largest part is located within the North Pindos National Park. However, the section of the river after Konitsa, as well as its tributaries, are not subject to any protection regime. The Aoos (Vjosa in Albanian) on Albanian territory stretches for 200 km before flowing into the Adriatic Sea.
- For more information on the open event in Konitsa: https://www.facebook.com/events/411823304212284
- For more information on the Home River Bioblitz:
- https://www.rivercollective.org/, https://www.homeriverbioblitz.org/
- Professor of Botany, Mr. Stergios Papazis, accompanied the participants in the activity and shared with them his valuable knowledge about the flora of the area.
- Approximately 70 people participated in the activity (students of the Department of Biological Applications and Technologies of the University of Ioannina, beneficiaries of the HELIOS program from Ioannina and locals)
- For more information on the rock concert in Konitsa: https://www.facebook.com/events/1734343150274674?ref=newsfeed