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BIRN: Unheard and excluded / Public consultations for the Himara water supply

BIRN: Unheard and excluded / Public consultations for the Himara water supply

On September 23, 2020, Razip Denaj traveled from the village of Kuç to the Municipality of Himara to participate in a consultation meeting with local officials, where he opposed the water supply project on the Shushicë River - the main branch of the Vjosa River. Today, 77 years old, Denaj is worried about the impact this project will have on their lives.

"I have been to the meetings conducted both by the Himarë Municipality and others. I have never accepted and I have never spoken in favor of this project that affects our water," Denaj told BIRN.

Residents of the villages along the Shushica River are protesting against the government's project to divert the river's water to the Ionian coast, after their concerns fell on deaf ears for more than three years. Public consultation documents obtained by BIRN through a right to information request show that residents of the village of Kuç, from where the initial water diversion is planned, have opposed these plans since their inception. Meanwhile, environmental protection organizations have not become part of the meetings and consultations.

The Shushica River is one of the main tributaries of the Vjosa River, the latter declared a National Park in March 2023. A year after the decision that was trumpeted by the government, Shushica faces the possibility of being removed from its protected status. The Himara aqueduct project, funded by the German Development Bank, Kreditanstalt für Wiederaufbau (KfW) and the Western Balkans Investment Framework (WBIF), plans to divert 140 liters of water per second from the river and risks completely drying up part of the his upper during the summer.

The public consultation documents provided by the Albanian Development Fund show that a limited number of 23 residents from the affected villages of Kudhës, Pilur, Kuç and Buronjë were part of the discussions in three meetings held from July to September 2020. Some meetings of others were held in the municipality of Himara, where the residents expressed doubts despite the insistence of the investors and the acting mayor, Jorgo Goro, regarding the positive impact of this project.

"The villagers listened attentively to Mayor Goro and ADF representatives, but it was obvious how many of them remained disobedient. Their questions showed that they had persistent doubts, especially about the long-term impact of the project on their water supply and agricultural practices," cites the document that Himarë Municipality made available to BIRN.

Residents have also expressed doubts about the capacity of the pipelines and the fear that the volume of water that will be taken will be greater than that officially predicted, 139 liters per second.

"A part of the residents expressed their concern that this project is being done to favor the resorts in the Himarë Municipality, and not for the water supply of the residents of the villages", the report cites.

Residents also fear the impact that the diversion of water from the Lëpusha source could have on the irrigation canal flows, which are vital to their agriculture as the only economic source. Another issue that has constantly worried the villagers has been whether the affected parties have been taken into consideration in the decision-making process. In a public hearing held on December 4, 2023, representatives of the Albanian Development Fund expressed their concern about the absence of environmental organizations at the meeting. But representatives of environmental organizations told BIRN that they had not been notified or informed about the project. The environmental organization EcoAlbania, which for years deals with the cause of the protection of the wild river Vjosa and its tributaries, as well as other rivers in Albania, does not appear in the list of parties affected by civil society organizations interested in was consulted on the impact of this project.

"We were not notified nor was anyone involved in these meetings," Olsi Nika, executive director of EcoAlbania, told BIRN.

The Center for the Conservation and Protection of the Natural Environment in Albania, PPNEA, and the Environmental Center for Development, Education and Networking, EDEN, are listed in the documents as interested groups, but have not subsequently been included in public consultations.

"We have never been contacted about this project. We were not asked to be present at the consultations and we had no knowledge of any consultations related to it," Aleksandër Trajçe, executive director of PPNEA, told BIRN.

Similarly, Ermelinda Mahmutaj from the EDEN center said that they were never contacted by the Albanian Development Fund or the Municipality of Himara.

"We have not had any communication from them", said Mahmutaj, executive director of the EDEN environmental center./ BIRN

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