The State of Valbona

29 September 2020

I gather there has been some public debate lately between Edi Rama and Ilir Meta, regarding at whose door the Valbona Massacre should be laid.  Who is at fault.

I don’t know the details of the debate because I don’t have a television, and furthermore I haven’t had time to listen to national chatter.  I have been racing around, every day, trying to document what is happening to the river.  From where I sit, every meter of the formerly crystalline blue Valbona River is now running with thick grey blood.

What Valbona River looks like naturally
Valbona River, flowing naturally

The Tplani HEC has extended the position of the turbines 500m downstream with no environmental permission, as far as we can find.  Above the intake, the river is destroyed.  The natural boulder habitats have been replaced with gravel beds, and the dammed river – oh wait, it isn’t technically a dam, is it? – has been converted from a naturally fast flowing, proud and active river into a stagnant pool of virulent green algae.  The Otters – who Albania promised to protect by signing onto the Berne convention – have fled, and the fish are gone.  A thick stew of green mush is all that remains.

Valbona River now, after being dammed by the Tplani HPP

The Dragobia Energy HEC has been washing so much silt and god knows what other inert materials from its newly completed tunnels into the irrigation canals serving the 20 houses (perhaps 100 people) of the Metaliaj and Demiraj neighborhoods of Dragobia, that the water in the canal is now a thick grey sludge, and water samples reveal that only half the river now actually consists of water.  This sludge is being dumped on a 100 people’s fields, coating their food in something that looks like plaster, and is being drunk by their animals – cows, sheep, goats.  Once it returns to the river, god only knows what it’s doing to the trout.

Water from Valbona River

The Dragobia Energy Dragobi plant has likewise started to actively deviate the river into tunnels.  Once again, above the intake, the formerly flowing river is now a pond.  Below the intake, a bare trickle of water fills the bed.

“Minimum flow” – Water left in the river bed by Gener 2’s Dragobia Energy HPP

And outside the National Park, where the now much raped river flows through the gentle fields of Bujan, Avni Byberi has sent an army of massive machinery in to extract sand from the river bed.  Where people used to play and swim, now a continuous march of massive trucks pass each other coming and going, extracting some tons of sand from the river’s bed every half hour.  Because of this, the river runs grey, from Lagje e Paqes down to Gri.

Valbona River in Bujan now a grey river, no longer for swimming

We know that no one that will come and see.  Last week we filed a request for information with the regional office of the National Agency of Protected Areas.  “When are you going to demand the Inspectorate come and do something?” we asked.  “As we are informed,” they answered, “Valbona River is still blue.  We have received no complaints but yours.  Nevertheless, we sent environmental monitors, who confirmed the river is clean!”  It is lies and lies, and lies on top of lies.  The River is being massacred.  Valbona is being raped.

So if I’m honest, I don’t really care who is at fault.  I don’t care who caused this.  Whether it was Rama or Meta or Santa Claus.  I want to know who is going to do something to stop it.

In Albania, we wait, often hopelessly, for the government which will care.  The government which will come and do something – something to actually help, to be responsible.  But this is democracy now.  The rule of the demos – the people.  It is for us, to tell the government what we expect of them. To demand to be seen, even when they refuse to see.  To demand accountability.

If you would like to help – and you can – indeed nothing but you can help – Please contact us.  There are concrete, practical things you can do, which if many of us do, will work.  I think.

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