Albania faces tough choices on environment, development

Albania, a small country in SEE with Adriatic and Ionian coastlines,  is rich in water and has vast natural areas of high ecological value. However, challenges remain in order to address trade-offs across sectors that require water as well as to fully capture synergies among them.

Albania is almost completely dependent on hydropower for the domestic production of electricity and more hydropower plants are yet planned to be built. This makes its energy sector exceptionally vulnerable to droughts and to the expected impacts of climate change.

Improper siting of new hydropower facilities and incomplete environmental impact assessments could cause strong impacts on ecosystems and risk conflicts with agriculture, a sector that accounts for a whopping 40% of employment in the Balkan country and 19% of its gross domestic product.

Farmers, ecosystems and investors in hydropower all compete over land and water

Farmers and environmentalists are concerned about the effect of hydropower projects. Their arguments are valid as agriculture and biodiversity are also critical for overall prosperity and sustainability. Albania is a net importer of food, so increased irrigation and drainage have great potential to improve the situation.

Beyond conflicts and trade-offs, there exist significant opportunities for benefits from an integrated and coordinated approach across sectors. For example, adjusting the operational rules of hydropower plants to allow for increased available volume in reservoirs during the wet season can ease the impact of frequent flooding and still not jeopardize the security of electricity supply. It is one of the takeaways from the report Assessment of the Water-Energy-Food-Ecosystems Nexus in Albania.

Experts wrote the new Report within the framework of the SEE Nexus Project, financed by the Austrian Development Agency (ADA) and implemented by Global Water Partnership – Mediterranean (GWP-Med) in partnership with the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE).

Even with the said challenges, there are ways for stakeholders from all sides to find mutually acceptable solutions. With the energy sector in Albania being interlinked with water management and the preservation of biodiversity, and both being correlated to food production at the same time,  the Nexus methodology, being an integral part of the report and framework project, confirms that the coordination of different sectors and the integration of policy objectives is possible and much needed.

– Florian

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