What can be done to help Albania—a country of rich natural wealth but where many people struggle to make ends meet? One plan under way is to get the country’s national parks and other protected areas to support the needs of people as well as nature.
Despite its small size, Albania has a rich biological diversity and over a third of the country is covered in forests—home to wolves, bears, lynx, wild boar and many more species. Albania is making great progress in conservation, doubling its network of protected areas from 5.8% of the country’s total land area in 2005 to 12.57% in 2009.
In a two-year project, experts from IUCN and the Italian Development Cooperation (DGCS), in close collaboration with Albania’s Ministry of Environment, Forest and Water Administration (MoEFWA), are identifying priority needs in safeguarding ecosystem services (such as clean water supply) and biodiversity conservation.
“Italy is fully committed to supporting Albanians in protecting this part of the country, so diverse in its natural heritage and rich in water,” said Dr Roberto Andreotti, the Italian Consul in Shkodër, while opening the first project workshop held last week in Velipojë, one of the project’s pilot sites. “A better management of Velipojë and its reserve will create precious employment opportunities which are much needed in this area.”
The project is targeting sustainable economic activities for local populations living near or within Shebenik-Jabllanicë National Park and Buna River Protected Landscape, both selected for the vast ecosystem services they provide to people.
Key to the project is demonstrating the broad range of benefits that communities could enjoy from healthy, well-functioning ecosystems, such as better protection from floods.
“We have to show local administrations and stakeholders that protected areas do not imply lost opportunities, in terms of reduced land access and use of natural resources but actually can help generate income, such as with ecotourism,” explained IUCN Project Manager Andrea Ghiurghi to the group gathered in Velipojë.
The project, led by IUCN, aims to actively involving the local population in shaping the future of Velipojë and Shebenik-Jabllanicë, training officials on the management of protected areas and raising awareness that will help local and national governments to better exploit the natural potential of these areas.
“We welcome the support from Italy and IUCN; we feel strongly committed to be an active and collaborative recipient and will cooperate closely to ensure that concrete action will be taken,” said Mr Pashk Ujka, Mayor of Velipojë. “We want the reserve, now a summer destination for only locals, to attract international tourists and have first class facilities”.
Shebenik-Jabllanicë National Park and Buna River Protected Landscape border with Macedonia and Montenegro, respectively. The project will bring stakeholders together from Albania and these two countries to discuss their needs and views and, it is hoped, lead to a broader, systematic approach to conservation in the region.
The project (costing around €2 million) is financed by the Italian Development Cooperation (DGCS) and its implementation is supported by two IUCN Members in Albania: Institute for Nature Conservation of Albania (INCA) and Protection and Preservation of Natural Environment in Albania (PPNEA).
For more information contact: Tomasz Pezold, Ecosystems Project Officer at IUCN Programme Office for South Eastern Europe firstname.lastname@example.org