On Friday, 1 Dec 2017, a delegation of 8 local inhabitants of the Valbona Valley village Dragobia were welcomed to the US Embassy by Ambassador Donald Lu. They requested the meeting in order to ask for the diplomatic community’s intervention in the ongoing situation in Valbona Valley National Park, where for as long as 4 months, many houses have been without drinking water or irrigation water for fields.
“Without water, how can we live?” they asked. The potable spring water supplies used by over 30 houses (the majority of the village) have been deviated by the ongoing hydropower construction of the two Dragobia Energy plants owned by Gener-2. For as many as 4 months, villagers have had no choice but to carry water from the river in buckets for all their needs. “Normally no one would drink this water – it has passed through villages already and is not clean – but what choice do we have?” As the water is also downstream from the hydropower construction site, it is now potentially contaminated with concrete and other harmful substances released by construction. In summer there is the additional problem that there is no water to irrigate the fields. Most people in the village are still living from subsistence agriculture.
According the Albanian water use law, water must go first to people, second to agricultural irrigation, and thirdly any excess can be made available to industrial use. In Dragobi this principle is being inverted by developer Gener-2.
In addition to Ambassador Lu, the delegates from Tropoja were met by the Dutch, German and OSCE ambassadors, as well as the Austrian Charge d’Affaires, UN chief Resident Coordinator, the German Deputy Head of Mission and a representative of the UN Delegation.
When asked by the diplomats whether the people affected had informed the police, local or national inspectorates, or their elected officials, the locals explained that they did not dare. “The Police will not come. Even when we have gone to complain about the cement trucks driving recklessly at 80 or 90kmph on the road in front of the school, they just told us to go home. We have seen what happens when others have called the inspectorates to stop the hydropower from working without permits – the inspectors come, but they do not go to the construction site – they go to the houses of the people who complained, and fine them and threaten to destroy their houses. As for the elected officials, the are working with the construction company. Even our member of Parliament, Isuf Cela, works with Gener-2. Is he going to help us, against his boss?”
The diplomats expressed concern and support. A meeting was immediately set up for the delegation with the Ministry of Energy and Infrastructure, where at 17:00 the same day they were met by MoE Chief of Cabinet Mr. Ardit Kamberi. Stating that he was unaware of the situation, Mr. Kamberi invited the locals to prepare a list of “demands” which could be presented to Gener-2, and promised that the Ministry would work to negotiate solutions.
“Dragobi has been inhabited for 300 years,” said Idris Zhuja, the leader of the delegation. “But if we have no water, we will have no choice but to leave. But where will we go? They are killing us.”