Last years’ decentralization process in Albania has made an impact on the local administration, including the protected areas. Development and management plans implementation require a strong institutional collaboration platform. Mr. Astrit Xhafa, Mayor of Lunik Commune in Shebenik-Jabllanicë National Park shares his thoughts on challenges and benefits that the life in a protected area brings.
- What changes for the Commune of Lunik, now that it is part of the Shebenik-Jabllanicë National Park?
There has been no significant change in everyday functioning of the commune since it was proclaimed part of the protected area. As institution we do feel more responsible for the National Park protection and we engage more working on the community awareness raising. Prior to giving a green light to any investment or activity in the commune, we consult the Environmental Impact Assessment. Our collaboration with institutions and stakeholders in the area of the National Park is gradually increasing. Aware of the benefits and opportunities that life in the national park brings, we are very optimistic about the future.
- Which are the socio-economic and environmental challenges of the Lunik Commune?
Only three villages administered by the Lunik Commune are part of the Shebenik-Jabllanicë National Park. The challenges they face are illegal cutting, fire management, habitat fragmentation and ecosystem degradation. All these have direct impact on wild fauna and biodiversity in general. Mentioned problems often arise from a lack of clear managerial and monitoring responsibility that is shared by central and local governmental institutions. The commune is facing serious challenge with waste and waste water management that is directly linked with the lack of community awareness on environmental protection. The Lunik Commune population relies on traditional agriculture, livestock and forest products. The road and drinking water infrastructures need to be improved, together with health care and education services which are very modest.
- How do you see the future of the Lunik Commune within the National Park?
I am very optimistic that the Shebenik-Jabllanicë National Park will become one of the most visited protected areas in the Balkans and wider. Connecting with nearby Mavrovo in FYR of Macedonia, I believe that this space would become one of the most functional ecological paths in the region. This task is not easy achievable, and requires collaboration and joint efforts of local actors and neighboring countries. I believe in the tourism development of the area that would address many socio-economic challenges, eg. improved infrastructure through investments, increased income generation and many other, considering the chain effect.
- How do you plan to support the sustainable tourism development in the area?
The Commune will put efforts in community awareness raising, and invite the interested stakeholders to invest and implement projects in line with the management plan guidelines. Other possible steps we could take are the creation of units against illegal forest cutting, fire management improvement or opening of an environmental office in the commune.
Prepared by Mirjan TOPI, PPNEA