Valbone River vs. Hydropower

Latest Blog Posts and Info

  • Press Release

    Tropoja, 8 October 2021 We believe that the ongoing ‘deployment’ of hydropower on the Valbona River is not only an environmental issue, but is at base a key and crucial issue of Human Rights. Human Rights – Rule of Law – Access to Justice Access to justice is a central right according to EU law. … Continue readingPress Release


Library : Reports, Documentaries and Key Articles

Reports:

The Valbona River and its Communities: A Case Study on the Social Impact of Hydropower Activity on Local Communities Published by WWF Adria, Jordi Benning author.  2021

Time to reach for the moon : The EU needs to step up action and lead the transformation to sustainabilityCivil society SDG monitoring report published by SDG Watch Europe and Make Europe Sustainable for all.  On page 63, SDG #7 : Affordable and Clean Energy, the Valbona Valley situation is highlighted to show the failure to achieve this goal to date. 2020

The Economic and Social Impact of Small Hydropower in Albania : Justification of the Incentives System Investigation of the subsidies system supporting small hydropower in Albania by Eco Albania, published by WWF Adria. 2020

How do Small-Scale Hydropower Projects Impact the Mental Well-being of Communities in Tropoja, Albania?  Maastrict University Faculty of Health, Medicine and Life Sciences, Master’s Thesis submitted by Tess Hartland.  2019

Tropoja Community Development Plan : 2019-2021 Albania’s first community authored development plan, published by TOKA.  2019

Communities Under Pressure : Findings from Valbona, Albania  American Bar Association Center for Human Rights commissioned report on systematic harassment of anti-HPP activists in Valbona.  2019

Identification of water related conflicts linked to hydro power projects in Albania Assessment study by Elton Qendro, published by HELP-CSO.  2017

Review of Environmental Impact Assessment Report for Hydropower Plants on the Dragobia Cascade in Tropoja District  Integra Consulting.  WWF Adria commissioned evaluation based on international standard of data required to be included in an EIA to justify decision making based on said EIA.  2016

Transparency Report for Public InstitutionsPublished by Mjaft! A study documenting the failure of public institutions to respond to requests for information, despite the 2014 law on the Right to Information.  2016 https://www.mjaft.org/sites/default/files/Transparency%20report.pdf

Documentaries:

The Undamaged One hour documentary by the Leeway Collective / Balkan Rivers Defense.   2020. Valbona starts at 26:00.  Turn on English subtitles.  https://vimeo.com/416950802

“The Balkans cradle Europe’s last wild rivers and supports abundant wildlife and healthy, intact ecosystems. These rivers are The Undamaged – clean, pristine, and undammed. With over 2,700 small and large hydro power plants planned or under construction in the Balkans, corruption and greed are destroying the last free-flowing rivers of Europe. Follow the Balkan Rivers Tour, a rowdy crew of whitewater kayakers, filmers, photographers and friends who decided to stand up for the rivers, travelling from Slovenia down to Albania for 36 days, kayaking 23 rivers in 6 countries to protest the dams and show the world the secret, wild rivers of the Balkans. The film honours everyday people and local activists who are fighting to defend rivers and aims to spread the word of the plight of these rivers, showing a new style of nature conservation that fun, energetic and effective.”  

The Murder of Valbona An investigation by Albanian television programme “Top Story” about illegal construction of hydropower in Valbona Valley National Park.  Aired 2018 [English subtitles].

EU Awards for Investigative Journalism, Albania 2019 : “Endrit Habilaj was awarded second prize for the TV documentary “The Destruction of Valbona”, which used footage and documents to show the deterioration of the heart of the “Albanian Alps”, exposing evidence that hydropower developers are building plants illegally and in contravention of court orders, so destroying the environment and tourism.https://youtu.be/tNlisPP7c7A

“Free Flow – Pro Rrymes”  Balkan Investigative Reporting Network, Elton Baxhaku filmmaker.  2018.  The documentary ‘Free Flow’ follows Albania villagers, activists, scientists and artists as they try to draw attention to the threat posed to the environment and the local ecotourism industry by power plant projects.  Winner of the 2019 Fatos Baxhaku Prize for best documentary.

The Business That Sucks Rivers Dry The second episode of the Albanian investigative series “Fifth Element”, showing the impact of run-of-river hydropower plants on some of the major river branches in north Albania, as well as within Valbona Valley National Park. Aired 2017 [translated to English]. https://youtu.be/L0-xkERASZM

Essays & Articles:

Swimming by Catherine Bohne, published 2021 in Shota.al. https://shota.al/pandemic/swimming/

Force of Nature: Catherine Bohne pushes her boundaries, and pushes for changeby Jack Butcher, published 2020 in Kosova 2.0 “The Hope Issue” (print edition).

Of CNN, Hydropower, and Albania’s Valbona Valley by Michael Schulson, published 2019 in UnDark. https://undark.org/2019/08/14/a2-cnn-valbona-valley-hydropower/

Can Albanians Protest? by Catherine Bohne, published 2017 in Peizazhe te Fjales.  https://peizazhe.com/2017/02/28/can-albanians-protest/

Albanian Institutions Fail a Transparency Test by Fatjona Mejdini, published 2016 in Balkan Insight. https://balkaninsight.com/2016/07/12/albanian-institutions-difficulties-in-doing-transparency-07-11-2016/

Projects to Support

Positive Projects and Actions!

In 2022, TOKA will be actively supporting the creation of ‘community monitoring’ – a citizen science initiative which allows locals to scientifically document the health of the river.  Data collected can be used to contribute actively to ongoing and legally required monitoring by the Water Basin Management and the National Inspectorate, and halt damages created by irresponsible development.  One anticipated partner is the Earthwatch Freshwater Watch Programme (https://earthwatch.org.uk/get-involved/freshwater-watch).  

If you have any experience to share, want to get involved, or have something to contribute please do get in touch!  

More positive actions coming soon . . . . 

Hydropower Details

There are 3 concession contracts for Valbona River:

#1 Was issued to Tplani, to “recontruct” the old hydropower plant from communism.  In fact the location has been moved, and extended without legal permission.  (1 HPP)

#2 Was issued to Gener2, and grants the right to build 4 hydropower plants on 4 different rivers: 

  • the Valbona River in Dragobi
  • the Cerem River
  • the Milloshit River
  • the Motina River

In 2016 the subsidiary company “Dragobia Energy ShPK” started construction of the first two plants. (+4 = 5 HPP)

#3 Was issued to the Valbona Project Company – a thinly disguised subsidiary of Gener2 – and gives permission for an additional 9 hydropower plants, 6 of which are outside of the national park and includes the damming the river in Bujan to create an artificial lake which would flood valuable agricultural land and registered archeological sites.  (+9 = 14 HPP total)

One of Europe’s most precious and least known Protected Areas meets small Hydropower Development

2014 – to present

This is the story of how rural inhabitants of a remote valley deep in the Accursed Mountains have been battling some of the most powerful businessmen in Albania and the Government against the construction of at least 14 (but possibly more) hydropower plants on the Valbona River since 2016.

Dragobia Cascades : 2016 vs. 2021

Despite the developers’ claim that they will fully restore all biodiversity and not change the flow of the river, in these before and after photos you can see the effect of the HPP on the flow of the river.  In September 2021, the Cerem River is 100% dry below the hydropower intake and appears to have been so for some time.  

From the Developer, Gener2’s, 2018 promotional video. They claim that 

“… Uji do te lejohet gjithmone te rrjedhe ne shtratin natyral edhe ajo do te sigurise nje mjedis i shtendetshem e te pa prekur.”

“Water will be always left to flow in the natural riverbed and this will ensure a healthy and untouched environment.”

SDGs not HPPs

Locals object to the planned development, ongoing construction and impending operation of multiple small HPPs for a range of reasons:  Environmental damage, lack of transparency, fears about poor water use management, lack of participation in decision making, negative impacts on sustainable economic development opportunities, lack of confidence in necessary impact monitoring, documented harassment of HPP opponents, forced relocation . . . and the list goes on.

(Somewhat bizarrely) Ancient highlander culture meets EU standards in Valbona.  Locals argue that the ongoing HPP developments grossly contravene EU acquis requirements as well as flying in the face of traditional culture and customary law which calls for 100% community involvement in decision making about allocation of shared resources, a fair and equitable distribution of access to common resources, and preservation of natural resources for the future.

“We must leave the treasures of nature as we found them for the generations to come.”

To date the battle has taken place chiefly in national media and the nation’s (famously corrupt) judicial courts.  Four administrative suits, 2 criminal actions and a SLAPP suit against TOKA by the developer have spawned dozens of related judicial actions and quite possibly hundreds of hearings.  Two stop work orders issued by high level courts are currently in effect, despite which construction and operation continue. Despite occasional public statements expressing dismay about what’s happening, there has been no action on the part of any government to address the situation.  

“The legal battle surrounding HPP on the Valbona River can only be described as Gogol meets Kafka”

What happens in Valbona is not only important to local inhabitants, tourists and biologists.  Unfortunately, the HPP projects on the Valbona River are representative of a national trend which sees numerous small HPP planned for virtually every river in Albania and indeed the Balkans as a whole.  These developments are almost universally opposed by locals, often without skills or resources to fight effectively.  The successful function of justice and rule of law on the Valbona River should be a crucial beacon for the tens of thousands of rural communities across the Balkan peninsula who face the exact same conflict.  

What happens on one river happens on all.

 Issues in Depth & Latest News : Read More!

Click on any of the following issues or topics to see a targeted list of articles we’ve published.  Just choose what is of most interest to you – articles can have more than one tag, so you don’t need to search each issue for fear of missing anything!

Latest News – Keep informed with updates and social media (style) posts.

EU Standards – Why what happens in Valbona (and rivers across the Balkans) should be key factors in determining Albania’s readiness to enter the EU.

Human Rights – How river protection in Albania has become a crucial human rights issue.

SDGs – Is small hydropower in Albania really sustainable?

Rule of Law – How and why the struggles between communities and hydropower development indicate the success of Rule of Law.

HPP Details – The nitty-gritty details in depth.  What exactly ARE these hydropower?

Water Management – Articles related to hydropower development and water management concerns.

Protected Areas – Many HPP in Albania are actually within national parks and other protected areas, despite the 2017 law on protected areas which specifically forbids this.  How do hydropower and nature protection interact?

Empowered Communities – How are local communities being empowered to have a stronger voice in public participation and decision making?

Rivers United – There are over 700 small hydropowers planned for almost every river in Albania, and as far as we know every single one is opposed by the local community.  Why is every community fighting in isolation, and why are river campaigns ‘competing’ with each other for media attention and support?  United we stand!

Harassment – It is extremely common for those who speak out against hydropower to experience threats and/or harassment.  Although individual cases can be hard to document, this is a crucial problem for those wishing to have a voice.

Court News and Legal Details – The legal battle to save Valbona River is one of the most complex (and convoluted) of all the river protection fights in Albania.  It is also in many cases precedent-setting, being the first time the government has been pushed to actually respect environmental laws.  Here you find articles explaining the process in detail.

Democracy and HPP – Is democracy functioning in Albania?  What does the Valbona campaign tell us?

HPP in Media – Round up of media coverage, starting in 2021.  English or Albanian.

Legal Timeline

Administrative Court Suit #1  TOKA & 27 locals vs. MEI et al

TOKA and 27 inhabitants vs. Ministry of Energy and Industry, National Environmental Agency, Ministry of Environment, National Territorial Council, Drin-Bune Water Basin Management Council (“TOKA vs MEI”).  Filed May 2017.  

Suit claims the absolute invalidity of the Concession Contract for “Dragobia Cascades” hydropower project granted in July 2009, as well as the invalidity of all permissions given as a result of such contract (environmental, water use, development and construction permits) and requests an interim measure to stop all work pending final resolution of the case.

Request to declare the Plaintiffs Ineligible to Sue.  Filed by Gener2 May 2017.

Request of Gener2 denied.  June 2017.  APPEALED.

Interim stop work request of TOKA denied.  June 2017.  APPEALED.

Court of 3 judges denies TOKA’s suit, 2:1. After 14 hearings, court rules Aarhus does not apply in this case, stating that government makes decisions that are ipso facto in the public interest and therefore for citizens to object to any government decision is objecting to their own best interest and inherently illogical. November 2017.  APPEALED.


Request to Speed the process on the Injunction filed by TOKA.  May 2018.  No response.

Request to Speed the process on TOKA vs. MEI filed.  May 2018.  No response.


Appeal court of 3 judges denies TOKA’s Interim stop work request. 2:1.  March 2021.  During the appeal, Gener2 claimed that construction was now complete, and as proof of the community’s happiness with the HPP also submitted a letter requesting the company Gener2 to install internet in Valbona, and thanking the company for ‘all the good things’ they have done for the village.  The letter lists 54 names and id numbers and is signed and stamped by the village head.  On being shown the letter, several of those listed stated that the letter was falsified, that they had given their id numbers to the municipality of Tropoja to support internet installation, that had no idea that Gener2 or the hydropower were involved, and that they would not of accepted internet from Gener2.  Several names were those of plaintiffs in the suit of TOKA vs. MEI.  APPEALED.

High court of 3 judges approves TOKA’s Interim stop work request.  3:0.  July 2021

Support the fight

Communities Together

There are something like 700 small hydropower projects proposed on almost every river in Albania.  As far as we know, every single one is opposed by local communities.  The result?  There are potentially 700 separate campaigns to save rivers which – insanity! – actually end up competing against each other for media attention and support.  

At TOKA, we believe that saving “our” river – but letting the rest go to hell – is not a good policy or goal.  After all, the root of the problem on every river remains the same:  Government dysfunction and a failure to respect basic democratic rights.  If we fix that, then . . . all the rivers can be saved!  Right?

Please read our “storymap” presentation of the situation, here.

For this reason, in July 2021, we hosted a 3 day conference in Tropoja, bringing together community members from as many rivers as we could.  The group “Bashke per Lumenjnt” was born (“Together for Rivers”), with the goal of uniting to form a stronger common cause.  Six communities have now signed a Memo of Understanding to work together for the common cause of obtaining access to justice for rural Albania. (Translation in English available here.)

Here are some of the river communities involved.  Please note that in every case, some portion if not all of the river in question falls within a protected area.

If you have a home river and want to join, just contact us!  

  • Seta River (Dibra)
  • Curraj River (Tropoja)
  • Cemi River (Kelmend)
  • Flim River in Zall-Gjocaj (Mat)
  • Bicaj River (Kukes)
  • Gashi River (Tropoja)