| Press releases, Vjosa - Aoos

“This year’s River Day dedicated to Aoos”

The extension of the protected area status of the Aoos and its tributaries from Konitsa to the Greek-Albanian border is considered necessary for the international alliance of environmental organisations participating in the project “Saving the last free-flowing river in Europe: the Aoos/Vjosa”, aiming to create the first cross-border free-flowing river park “Aoos-Vjosa” in Europe.

In the context of today’s World River Day, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), Pindos Environmental, the Mediterranean Institute for Nature and Man (MedINA) and The Green Tank, dedicated the week of 19-25 September to the Aoos River and more specifically to its most vulnerable, unprotected section, between the North Pindos National Park and the Greek-Albanian border. The occasion was the completion of the four scientific studies (land use study, stakeholder analysis study, socio-economic study, synthesis study of results and proposals) for the protection of the Aoos River that IUCN carried out in Greece for the river!

A workshop was held on 20 September at the Ministry of Environment and Energy (MoEW), in the presence of the Secretary General of the Natural Environment and Water, Mr. Petros Varelidis and his colleagues, the Director General of Environmental Policy Mr. Konstantinos Dimopoylos , the Director of Natural Environment and Biodiversity Management Ms. Angeliki Psaila and their associates, associates of the office of the Deputy Minister of Environment Mr. George Amyras, the companies ENVECO S.A., ADENS S.A., Argyropoulos & Co. and YETOS S.A., which prepare the Special Environmental Studies (SEE) for the wider area of interest and OFYPEKA.

On 22 September in the morning the organizations had the opportunity to talk with the political leadership of the Region of Epirus, in the presence of the Vice-Regional Head of the Regional Unit of Ioannina Mr. Konstantinos Siaravas, the Head of the Department of Forest Protection and Public Forestry of the Forestry Department of Ioannina Mr. Stavros Vasileiou, the Head of the Water Directorate of the Decentralized Administration of Epirus-Western Macedonia Ms. Aurelia Moulia as well as the General Manager of the Development of Epirus S.A.  mr. G. Theocharis, Deputy Director General of Development Epirus S.A.  mr. A. Giga and the Coordinator of the Geopark Vikos-Aoos Development Epirus Development Company of Epirus S.A. Mr. Haritakis Papaioannou.

On 22 September in the afternoon, the Municipality of Konitsa and the Mayor Mr. Nicolas Exarchos hosted an open event for the public, where the institutions presented the results of the studies, which underline that strong institutional protection through the designation of the area as a National Park is necessary. The event was held in the presence of the Ambassador of Greece to Albania Mrs. Sofia Filippidou, the Consul General of Argyrokastro Mr. Dimitris Saharidis, the Consul General of Albania in Ioannina Mr. Eltion Verleni, the Mayor of Zagori Mr. G. Soukuvelos, the Mayor of Konitsa Mr. N. Exarchos, the Municipal Council of Konitsa and the local society of Konitsa.

In all these meetings, the will to protect the Aoos River along its entire length, for a river without dams and without other artificial interventions, was highlighted. The specific timing of the completion and communication of the IUCN conclusions is, of course, ideal, since the completion of the EIAs by the Ministry of Environment is expected in the next period, thus enabling a comprehensive and documented approach for the protection of the area.

It is particularly important to underline that at the moment, in the neighbouring country, Albania, the procedures for the creation of the Vjosa National Park are underway. The Albanian government is abandoning its plans to build large dams on the river and turning to a different model with sustainable development of the wider river area as its “core”. Three months ago, the Albanian Ministry of Tourism and Environment signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Patagonia. The expectation is that in early spring 2023, the Vjosa National Park in Albania will be a reality.

On September 23rd, under the coordination of the outdoor activities company, No Limits GR, the organizations carried out a cross-border rafting action with Greek and Albanian Governmental & Diplomatic representatives as well as with representatives of the Municipalities through which the river passes in Greece and Albania. The Greek representatives started from the ‘Mesogefira’ location in Konitsa, crossed the Greek-Albanian border and met their Albanian counterparts, sending together a message of unity, friendship and cooperation for the Aoos/Vjosa river that unites the two countries and needs to be strongly protected in its entirety, from its sources to its mouth. This was followed by a lunch in Premeti, where the prospects for transnational protection were discussed. It is noted that from the Albanian side, the action was implemented with the contribution of the partner EcoAlbania.

On the morning of September 24th, the 3rd The Home River BioBlitz – Exploring life in Aoos, with a field trip to the river gorge and presentations – screenings at the Gefiri Hotel, in Konitsa, under the coordination of Agronomist Dimitris Papageorgiou, took place, while in the evening of the same day a rock concert with the participation of Greek and Albanian artists took place in the central square of Konitsa: Giorgos Gakis and Troublemakers and Urban Band, in co-organization with the Municipality of Konitsa.

Notes for editors:

The land use and stakeholder analysis studies for the Aoos River Basin were carried out by ECOMED, ENTEGRA P.C. & The Green Tank and presented by the consultants Thomas Kollias and Magdalene Theochari,

The socio-economic study for the Aoos River Basin was implemented and presented by the researcher of the Laboratory of Economic Policy and Strategic Planning (E.O.P.S.S.) of the Department of Economic Sciences of the University of Thessaly, Gaby Gavriilides,

The synthesis study of results and recommendations was implemented and presented by the main researcher, IUCN Associate and former member of the Bureau of the World Commission on Protected Areas, Andrej Sovinc, who coordinated all the above studies.

Main results of the land use study:

  • There is more intensive agriculture / farming in Konitsa than in other areas.
    • Sustainable resource management measures will be needed in this area.
    • An additional challenge for the region, apart from abandonment, is the installation of renewable energy sources, especially those related to hydroelectric dams and their accompanying projects.

Main results of a stakeholder analysis study:

  • Universal community support for regulating activities to protect the river.
  • ‘Alternative’ tourism as the way forward, but regulated and combined with other activities that support the economy of the region.
  • Support for cross-border cooperation with Albania

Main results of a socio-economic study:

  • The social and economic landscape of the Aoos river basin as well as the natural beauty and uniqueness of the area suggest that the development of sustainable tourism activities combined with the cultivation of high quality food products and small-scale livestock farming can be key drivers of economic development
  • This economic model places particular emphasis on preserving environmental resources for future generations, reinforcing a more human-centred philosophy of how societies and communities should develop.
  • Unplanned tourism development, which leads to the unfair distribution of its economic benefits and the deterioration of the natural environment, must be replaced by strategically planned alternative tourism policies that lead to local economic development, exploiting the endogenous forces of each region.

Main results of a synthetic study and proposals for the protection of the area:

  • Rare characteristics of Aoos: Cultural Value, Natural Value, Geological Heritage Value, Hydromorphological Value
  • Development opportunities: ecotourism based on a protected natural area and a cross-border tourist destination
  • Proposal: extension of the North Pindos National Park with different zones. Zoning will provide solutions for existing uses of natural resources

On Greek territory, the river Aoos “measures” 70 km. Most of it is located within the North Pindos National Park. However, the part of the river after Konitsa, as well as its tributaries, are not subject to any protection regime. The Aoos (Vjosa in Albanian) on Albanian territory extends for 200 km. before it flows into the Adriatic Sea.

Information about the open event in Konitsa: Click here

Information about the Home River Bioblitz, at the following link: Click here

  • Professor Stergios Papazis, Botanist, accompanied the participants in the activity and shared with them his valuable knowledge about the flora of the region.
  • About 70 people participated in the action (students of the Department of Biological Applications and Technologies of the University of Ioannina, beneficiaries of the HELIOS program from Ioannina and locals)

Information about the rock concert in Konitsa, here: Click here