On September 28th, 2016, at 8 o’clock in the morning, bulldozers were put into position in Dragobi and the Maskollata region of Valbona National Park. By 11 o’clock in the morning, the mountains echoed with the sound of destruction. Today’s actions are the latest in a battle which began in January 2016, when plans were learned to construct 14 hydropower plants along just 30 km of the Valbona River, 8 of which are wholly with the National Park.

Following the formal legal process, local people filed numerous official complaints with various governmental agencies, regarding everything from the poor quality of Environmental procedures to the lack of public information to the economic risks resulting from the projects. At the same time, much energy was invested in public demonstrations, in order to draw national and media attention. The concerns of local people were heard and adopted by national and international organizations including WWF, EuroNatur and Riverwatch, who added their voices in appeals to various governmental bodies at the highest levels.

Unfortunately, there has been little or no response to date from the Albanian Government. A few complaints were formally acknowledged. One response was sent, carefully referencing someone else’s complaint (nothing to do with the complaint which was actually filed). In no case was any concrete action taken, and in no case was any requested information sent.

Therefore, having exhausted due legal procedure, and having found the results utterly unsatisfactory, local people represented by the NGO TOKA have moved to retain lawyers and file suit against the government. There is now a race against time in Valbona to see who will ultimately succeed. On one side we have the local people, who speak up for environmental protection, for the preservation of Albania’s resources of nature and culture, who express concern for sustainable, multi-faceted economic development, and who desire the exercise of due legal process and the implementation of Albanian law. On the other side we have the development firms and sadly seemingly the Albanian government, who while acknowledging that the concessions should not have been granted, seem to feel no concern for the ultimate outcome of their realization.

The simple fact is that these concessions should not have been granted, because their effect will be catastrophic – on economy, on nature, and on the civil society of Albania which cannot afford another example of corruption and short-term greed triumphing over simple good sense.

The long term results of these developments will be economic and environmental tragedies, and the enormous price will be paid by future generations. While one understands that the developers have little concern for this price, it is sad to note that the Albanian government seems to feel neither remorse nor responsibility for either the burden they place on the future, nor for the choices they would deny the generations to come.

Although it is late, it is not yet too late. The time is now. If the voice of reason and sanity is to be heard, it must be heard now. /AgroWeb.org