Starting from this Saturday until July 16, protests against the damage done to the environment by hydro-power plants will be staged in several Balkan capitals, under the umbrella name Action Weeks for Balkan Rivers, a joint action of several environmental non-government organisations.
“Balkan rivers are not normal European rivers, they are the best in Europe. There is no other region with so many different kinds of rivers – crystal clear streams, wild rivers with islands, waterfalls, alluvial forests and so on – and they are full of life. There are also 113 endangered fish species that live here,” Ulrich Eichelmann, one of the organisers of the protests, told BIRN.
The capitals of Albania, Serbia, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Slovenia, Bosnia and Greece will host protests, starting on Saturday in Tirana, Albania, and closing on July 16 in Athens, Greece.
Eichelmann said the action week was the first of its kind. Similar actions had been organised before, with the same aim, but never all within one week.
Lack of communication between environmentalists and decision makers was a major part of the problem, Eichelmann explained.
“Our access to political leaders is not very intense, and that is not because of us. We are always happy to talk at any time and discuss the issues, but the situation is mostly that decision makers don´t want to talk with us. That should be improved,” he noted.
The need to exploit “unused hydro potential” is one of the most-heard arguments by supporters of hydro-power, although various expert reports have voiced caution about this approach and its consequences.
Hydro-power is already widely used across the region, and thousands of new projects are scheduled for the immediate future, an overview of Balkan hydro-power shows. Some 3,000 hydro-power plants are now planned in the region.
Those attracting most critical attention in Bosnia are at Kruscica, Doljanka, Buk Bijela on the Drina, and Medna on the Sana river. In Serbia, they are at Stara Planina, Rakita and the Kapaonik National Park. In Albania, disputed plants are are at Kalivac and Pocem on the River Vjosa. Others in the spotlight are the Shushica river project and Mavrovo in North Macedonia.
Bankwatch, a network of several NGOs in the Balkans, warned in a report from 2017 about the damage even small plants can do to nature and biodiversity.
It recommended increased monitoring and use of restoration measures on eight hydro-power river projects in Albania, Croatia and Macedonia, all of which were financed with European public money. A European Commission-backed study said 387 small hydro-power plants now operate across the Western Balkans.