Hydropower Projects Rise 300% Across Balkans Risking Wildlife

Vjosa River

Vjosa River. Credit: Creative Commons / Decius

The last remaining wild rivers of Europe flowing through the Balkans have been a habitat for a multitude of plants and animals. In the last two years, hydropower constructions have reportedly risen by 300% across the western Balkan region, threatening irreparable damage to the region’s exclusive biospheres.

In this context, a new data set highlights that about 2,800 new dams are being planned between Slovenia to Greece. And, over 37% are inside protected areas including national parks, Natura 2000 sites, and other high-level national categories. According to a research by Fluvius, a consultancy for UN and EU-backed projects, heavy machinery are already channeling new water flows at 187 construction sites, in comparison to only 61 in 2015.

Ulrich Eichelmann, awardee of the ‘Great Binding Prize for Nature Conservation’ and the director of the RiverWatch NGO, which commission the paper, reiterated that the small-scale nature of projects, nestled in mountainous terrain was facing disastrous impact on nature. He added that it was a disaster for local people and for the environment. The ‘dam tsunami’ has been posing a risk to species of fish, and insects like dragonflies and stoneflies. This includes Isoperla vjosae, a stonefly species, that was discovered on Albania’s Vjosa river. And, the Danube salmon and the Prespa trout are also at risk.

Meanwhile, Albania’s Minister of Energy and Industry, Damian Gjiknuri had stated earlier that the country had no other choice but to pursue hydroelectric power. He recently pointed that the two planned mega-dams on the Vjosa would permit the passage of fish through fish lanes. He also highlighted that the designs were based on the best environmental practices to minimise the effects of high dams on the circulation of aquatic faunas.

The minister disputed the findings of the new report and reiterated that the government was committed to declaring a national park on a section of the Vjosa upstream (from the 50-m high planned Kaliva├ži dam) preventing further hydro construction.

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