One of the most beautiful rivers in the Albanian Alps, the river Cem, very soon risks being “prey” of 9 hydropower plants, damaging not only tourism, but also the future of the inhabitants of these areas.
Author: Ardit Toca
Residents of Tamara, Selca and Lëpushë, the area where the river Cem passes, are concerned for the future of the river, but they seem to have given up.
“There is nothing we can do; we have protested. Nobody takes us into consideration here, they will do as they please. If they take away our water we are finished,” said one resident – the only one who agrees to speak, but off camera.
Projects for the construction of these HPPs, currently two of them in operation, have also angered the residents.
The Cem River is a typical alpine river and the fact that it is located in an area where nature is pristine, has led in recent years, with the improvement of infrastructure to increase the number of visitors.
This made the inhabitants of the area, mainly in Tamara and Lepushë, invest in the construction of hospitality inns.
However, the residents seem powerless to do something so that the flow of the Cem River is not disrupted by hydropower plants.
The only public protest are some signs placed along the Cem River.
Cemi is a river that flows through Albania and Montenegro. The river originates in Kelmend of Malësia e Madhe in Albania. It flows in a general southwesterly direction through Kuci and Gruda for about 64.7 kilometers before joining Moraca south of Podgorica, Montenegro.
Environmental experts are concerned not only about apathy, but also about the fact that the residents affected by these constructions have not been consulted.
For the expert Abdulla Diku, the fact that no consultation has been made for the construction of these HPPs, either with the residents or with the neighbors, is worrisome.
“You remember the construction of HPPs on the Radika River, how many protests the Albanians have held, while when it comes to Montenegro, we do not implement these contracts. Such a situation brings environmental chaos to this beautiful alpine river, but also brings about incorrect relations with Montenegro. It will take centuries to turn the Cem River as it has been. “
According to the Ministry of Infrastructure and Energy, six hydropower plants are planned to be built on this river (two of them are already under construction), but according to the National Agency for Human Resources, there are 9 hydropower plants to be built.
These projects have shocked even those who have used river tourism in Montenegro. One of the most visited destinations in Montenegro is “Kuce Rakica”, also known as Niagara Falls.
Various resorts have been built along this waterfall, where the Cem River flows. The owners of a restaurant say that “the construction of hydropower plants in Cem will damage this natural beauty, and consequently the number of tourists will decrease.”
Concerned have been raised by tourist agencies in Albania as well. There are dozens of travel agencies that plan visits to Montenegro almost every weekend, where their program also includes a stop at this waterfall.
CEM RIVER – PART OF MONTENEGRO
The stop in Montenegro was in Tuz, near Niagara Falls, where for some of the residents we interviewed, the construction of these hydropower plants was to the benefit of the citizens. For them, it means: more energy resources and lower energy prices.
“I think it is positive to build hydropower plants, because that way we have more energy sources, we also buy it cheaper,” says a resident.
But environmentalists do not share this point of view.
Environmentalists have protested against these projects, which they say are damaging nature and destroying rivers. For them, the case of the Cem River has highlighted the fact that governments do not negotiate with each other when it comes to natural resources.
The lack of consultation between the two governments is also confirmed by the Montenegrin environmentalist Alaksandar Perovi from “Eco-Ozon”.
“The Cijevna case has highlighted everything that was practiced in the past. The Montenegrin government is cooperating with its neighbors only when it comes to trade relations, but when it comes to nature, this communication is not at the right level at all. The ESPOO Convention on Transboundary Environmental Impacts obliges all states to respect it. This means that when building a structure on watercourses of international importance, such as the Cem River, consultation between neighbors is a requirement. It is clear that the Government of Albania, as well as that of Montenegro have realized
small hydropower projects without consulting neighbors.”
According to environmentalists, the damage is large and irreparable, not only to endangered species, but also to the quality of life of the settlements along the Cem River. Rerouting water in the pipes means less water for agricultural lands.
“The Cem River is partially protected as a natural monument,” said Perovic, which implies a proper management plan, as well as an assessment of the risk of further destruction. The fact that there is no plan to defend Cijevna shows how much our government is “concerned” with the destruction of rivers that are occurring within Montenegro, and that is currently taking place in the territory of Albania.
The Ministry of Infrastructure and the Water Resources Management Agency in Albania, confirms that “in the Cem River basin are planned to develop 9 hydropower plants with concession or in implementation of Council of Ministers Decision no. 822, of which 2 are under construction and 7 others are in the stages of obtaining the relevant permits.”
Regarding the consultations between the two governments, the Water Resources Management Agency in Albania refers to a framework agreement on mutual relations in the management of transboundary water resources, approved by CMD no. 745, dated 19.12.2018”.
Not all the permits issued for the construction of hydropower plants in Albania for almost a decade have been executed. According to Rodion Gjoka – environmental engineer, this has more to do with the economic impossibility of the operators or the pressure of the residents who have been denied access to water, rather than the concern for the impact on the environment.
“Today we are in a situation where the rivers of Valbona, Cem, Fan and many, many others are being conducted through pipes as if it were all private property. We are in the conditions where the Constitution is being violated, not just the laws that protect the environment or public health “, says Gjoka.
The strategy to build an “energy superpower” based on the construction of 350 small and medium-sized HPP concessions is in practice being opposed not only by environmentalists, but also by residents of areas affected by the displacement of water from the natural bed. Their future is irreversibly damaged.” He said.