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It risks losing its National Park status, the battle for the water of the Shushica river continues

It risks losing its National Park status, the battle for the water of the

Residents of the Shushica Valley and environmental activists are protesting against the construction of the new Himara aqueduct, which diverts this river to supply water to the southern tourist coast.

"We are not against the development of Himara, but we are against it being done on our backs," says Shyqyri Hoxhaj, a resident of Kuç-Buronja village. "We drink water there, so do the cattle, we irrigate the agricultural lands with it," says the 67-year-old, who was born and raised near the Vlora River, as the locals call it Shushica. Together with Hoxhaj and dozens of residents of the Valley, they protested on Saturday (24.02) at the Lasko bridge, which is located right next to the waterworks.

About 30 villages of Himarë and Selenica municipalities in Albania are affected by the diversion of river water. The residents claim that no hearing was held with them by the Albanian government about this project, which directly affects their economic and social stability. "This project was never communicated to us. Its existence only came to light when construction machinery appeared. We will not stand idly by while they take away our water'' - told DW Albanian Astrit Balilaj, headman of Kuç village.

The battle for the Shushica river continues in court

About 50 residents of the Shushica Valley, together with the Albanian nature conservation organization "EcoAlbania", have filed a lawsuit in the Administrative Court of Tirana against the National Environment Agency and Himar Municipality. They demand the cancellation of the construction permit, the decision on the preliminary assessment of the impact on the environment, as well as the cancellation of the permit for the use of underground water. The first court session has not yet taken place. According to experts and scientists who have been dealing with the study of Vjosa for years, the Environmental Impact Assessment report for this project is not based on scientific evidence.

"The VMN argues that the amount of water that will be taken does not affect the ecology of the river. This is debatable. The studies done on the risk of rare species have not been taken into account," Aleko Miho, a professor at the University, told DW Shqip of Natural Sciences in Tirana. "The project claims that the intervention is not in a protected area, while Shushica is part of the Vjosa National Park," explains Olsi Nika, Executive Director of EcoAlbania. The status of the National Park is also at risk. of Vjosa, because Shushica is one of the three main branches of the Vjosa River, which was declared a National Park in March 2023, becoming the first wild river conservation area in Europe. This meant not only a protection of river ecosystem, but also development opportunities for the tourism of the entire area.

Shushica risks losing its National Park status

With the Himara aqueduct works, which must be completed in August of this year, Shushica risks losing its National Park status. "We had high hopes for the National Park and expected it to spur economic development. If our water is now taken away and Shushica loses its National Park status, our economic future will be at risk." - says Elidon Kamaj, headman of Brataj village.

According to environmental experts, the environmental damage will be along the entire length of the river. "The Wild River National Park is based on a mostly natural and undisturbed water balance in its river network. This is what makes this area so unique. This diversion project endangers the entire National Park," he told DW Albanian. Ulrich Eichelmann, Executive Director of Riverwatch. "The risk lies in the possibility that the diversion of water in Shušicë will create a precedent. The credibility of the entire Wild River National Park is at risk ," explains Olsi Nika of EcoAlbania./ DW

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