Positive developments for Aoos

Organizations, state bodies and local communities have been taking active action to protect Aoos/Vjosa along its entire length, from its source northeast of Metsovo to the other side of the border in Albania. Recently, the Albanian side designated Vjosa as a Natural Park and in June 2022 a Memorandum of Cooperation was signed between the Albanian Ministry of Tourism and Environment and Patagonia, to designate entire Vjosa and its free-flowing tributaries as a National Park. In Greece, a large part of the Aoos river basin lies within the Northen Pindos National Park and overlaps with 13 Natura 2000 sites. However, there is also a part of the river from the boundary of the National Park to the border with Albania, and its tributaries, in the area of Gramos – Konitsa – Pogoni, which remains unprotected.

In the news story by Machi Tratsa published on 11 December 2022 in the Greek newspaper To Vima Sunday Edition, the Deputy Minister of Environment and Energy, Giorgos Amyras, committed that the Greek side will designate the unprotected river stretches as a “protected natural formation”. According to his exact statement: “we plan to designate as a ‘protected natural formation’ an important and sensitive part of the Aoos river basin, which includes both the unprotected part of the river itself and its tributaries, Sarantaporos and Voidomatis, with the establishment of conditions and restrictions for the protection and conservation of the nature of the area”.

 In the same news story, statements by Ioli Christopoulou, The Green Tank, Liz Drury, IUCN, Alexandra Pappa MedINA and Tonia Galani, Pindos Perivallontiki, highlight the decisive intervention and proposals of organizations involved in the initiative Saving the last free-flowing river in Europe: Aoos/Vjosa to protect Aoos/Vjosa and lay the foundations for the first transboundary wild river park in Europe, with significant benefits for nature and local communities. To this direction, during the previous period, the cooperating bodies of the international alliance in Greece have submitted their proposals to the Ministry of Environment and Energy and the Natural Environment & Climate Change Agency, as well as to the regional and local authorities.

“If the commitments of the Albanian side become reality and the Greek side moves on with the protection of the unprotected river stretches, Aoos will become the perfect example of a free-flowing river, with many benefits for nature, local communities and the European path towards nature restoration”, said Ioli Christopoulou, The Green Tank.

“We are finalizing our proposals for the parts of the Aoos in Greece that remain unprotected. Our studies so far consistently support that this is a rare river system with invaluable characteristics that needs protection”, said Liz Drury, IUCN.

“Today, Aoos is a healthy river, despite the pressures it is under, and local communities live with it in harmony. If its protection becomes institutionally established in both countries, the first step will have been taken for its preservation, and for future generations”, said Alexandra Pappa, MedINA.

“We have completed studies that document the need for protection for the entire Aoos river and conclude that the Northern Pindos National Park needs to be extended to the entire Aoos river basin. Such a perspective also meets the local demand for protection of the area as a prerequisite for sustainable development”, said Tonia Galani, Pindos Perivallontiki.

Following the publication of the news story, and commenting on the Ministry’s commitment, they flag that the protection measures expected to be announced should necessarily ensure the free flow of the river without hydropower or other projects as well as the prospects for the sustainable development of the area.