Support the protection of the internationally important Vjosa-Narta Protected Area in Albania from intensive infrastructure development plans

Support the protection of the internationally important Vjosa-Narta Protected Area in Albania from intensive infrastructure development plans
Subject: Support the protection of the internationally important Vjosa-Narta Protected Area in Albania from intensive infrastructure development plans   TO:      Commissioner Sinkevičius,                                                            Commissioner Várhelyi,  CC:      MEPs (Delegation to the EU-Albania Stabilisation and Association Parliamentary Committee) / EU Delegation in Albania   Dear Commissioners,   We have been following with great interest the release of the Albania 2020 Report, in particular the contents and recommendations of chapter 27, and are grateful for your shared concern about the case of the proposed airport within the Vjosa-Narta Protected Area in Albania. The report specifically mentions this case on Page 106, 2nd section: The legislation on strategic investment raises concerns for the protection of biodiversity, as it may allow large tourism and industrial investments in protected areas, e.g. the proposed airport in the Vjosa-Narta area. This conflicts with other national laws and with international biodiversity protection conventions that Albania has ratified.” However, it is with deep concern that we inform you that, in spite of the clearly articulated concern in the 2020 report and the joint efforts of many national and international institutions and academics to show that such plans would irreversibly damage the natural heritage of the site, the Albanian government is not backing away from the plans to develop this infrastructure within the protected area. On 5th of March 2021, the Albanian government announced the wining company publicly, with the promise of the construction works to start very soon. The announced plan is to build in this area the largest airport in Albania, including a cargo service, an aircraft maintenance sector and a mass tourism complex and marina on the seaside of the protected area. Based on the information available so far, neither a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) nor an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) have been carried out for the construction of Vlora International Airport in this area, as it was highlighted in your progress report, where it was clearly stated that immediate measures must be taken to review and improve environmental and strategic impact assessments on existing and planned projects, plans and programmes, especially in construction and tourism. We would like to bring once again to your attention the importance that this site has on the national and international level. Vjosa-Narta is a protected area in Albania with the status Protected Landscape/Seascape (IUCN Category V). Furthermore, it is recognized as important for nature and biodiversity on an international level being:  (i) an Important Bird and Biodiversity Area; (ii) a global Key Biodiversity Area, (iii) a Candidate Emerald site, and (iv) a candidate for a proposed Site of Community Importance. The area is home to more than 200 bird species. Out of these, 123 species are listed in the Appendix II of ‘Bern Convention’[1], which Albania has ratified. Further to that, 43 species are listed in the Appendix I of Emerald Network[2]. Meanwhile, with regard to bird populations within the EU, 23 species are of particular conservation interest[3]. Finally, 62 species are listed in Annex 1 of the Birds Directive[4]. The area regularly sustains important portions of over 1% of the European populations for several species, such as the case for Pied Avocet (Recurvirostra avosetta), Dalmatian Pelican (Pelecanus crispus) and Greater Flamingo (Phoenicopterus roseus). Vjosa-Narta is one of the most important sites in the whole Adriatic Flyway where thousands of birds that breed in European countries, stop-over twice a year in their way to the wintering grounds in Africa. Hence, the construction of the international airport and the huge touristic resort plans, besides irreversibly damaging the natural values of the site will also negatively affect the biodiversity of the entire European continent. The Albanian government has been consistently ignoring our calls for the reconsideration of these plans within the protected area. Lately, our coalition of national and international organizations working for nature conservation in Europe has sent an open letter to Prime Minister Edi Rama on February 1st, 2021, which was again ignored. No consultations or discussions with the main nature conservation actors and experts in Albania have taken place in the project planning phase and the selection of the location for the future airport. We ask for your support to urge the Albanian government to respect its national laws and the international conventions it has ratified, and to reconsider the construction plans of the airport and touristic resorts within the Vjosa-Narta Protected Landscape. The European Union and its member states have provided substantial financial support to the Albanian government to protect its natural and biodiversity values (with the NaturAL, SANE27, EPPA projects, to name a few). On one hand, the Albanian government is happy and willing to receive this support, but on the other hand, its decisions for infrastructure development within protected areas go against this support and completely disregard the international community’s efforts for protecting the country’s natural values. We consider your support in emphasizing once again your statement recommendation as in the Albania 2020 Report, that the airport within Vjosa-Narta Protected Area conflicts with national laws and international biodiversity agreements, and send a notification to the Albanian government to reconsider its constructions plans in this area. We are convinced that with your support the Albanian government will reconsider its decision and prioritize nature conservation over intensive development within the protected area. Please, honourable Commissioners, accept our distinguishing gratitude for your attention to this case. We kindly ask to be informed accordingly with regard to the actions from your side.   On behalf of the coalition of NGOs for the protection of Vjosa-Narta,   Albanian Ornithological Society Albanian Society for the Protection of Birds and Mammals Albanian Wildlife Rescue Team BIOM, Croatia Bird Protection and Study Society of Serbia BirdLife Europe and Central Asia Birds of Albania Bulgarian Society for the Protection of Birds Center for Environment, Bosnia and Herzegovina Centre for Study and Protection of Birds (CZIP), Montenegro EcoAlbania Ecomovement, Albania EDEN Centre, Albania EuroNatur, Germany ERA Group, Kosovo EcoKosWomen, Kosovo Finch NGO, Kosovo FOUR PAWS Green Home NGO, Montenegro Hellenic Ornithological Society ILIRIA – Protection and Social & Environmental Development Association, Albania Institute for Nature Conservation in Albania Institute for Environmental Policy, Albania Kosovo Ecologists Society Lets Do It Peja, Kosovo Macedonian Ecological Society Milieukontakt Albania Ornithological Society “Naše ptice”, Bosnia and Herzegovina Protection and Preservation of Natural Environment in Albania PISHTARËT, Kosovo Res Publica Center, Albania Resource Environmental Centre, Albania Society for the Protection of Prespa (SPP), Greece Society of Independent Intellectuals Deçan, Kosovo Sustainability Leadership Kosovo Vulture Conservation Foundation, Switzerland World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF Adria) Wildlife – Albanian Photographers Young Researchers of Serbia Youth Ecological and Security Zone- EcoZ, Kosovo   [1] Appendix II of the ‘Bern Convention’ lists all species which require special protection. [2] In this appendix are listed all the species which require specific habitat conservation measures. [3] as their populations have entered one of the threatened lines according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) [4] This obliges member states and those countries that have signed the Stabilization and Association Agreement with the European Union to proclaim Special Protection Areas (SPAs) for these species.
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