Around 70 participants from local government, civil society and education bodies from Albania and Montenegro gathered to launch the Buna Delta Protection Project during an opening in Shkodra (Albania) on 25 January, followed by a field visit to the Buna River-Velipoja Protected Landscape attended by the Deputy Prime Minister and the Ministers of Foreign Affairs and Tourism and Environment, at the Velipoja Visitor Centre on 27 January 2018.
The Buna Delta Protection Project, supported by the MAVA Foundation, will be coordinated by IUCN ECARO in partnership with PAP/RAC, GWP, Tour du Valat, and INCA. The project will run for five years focusing on the Buna River-Velipoja Protected Landscape, and will look to significantly reduce development threats currently affecting high value wetlands in order to stop further degradation of habitats. Furthermore, the project anticipates restoration activities on damaged wetlands and coastal habitats. In order to address socio-economic issues and human well-being, sustainable tourism and land use practices will be promoted. The site, designated as Wetlands of International Importance (Ramsar Site) is one of the four Mediterranean coastal wetlands highlighted by the MAVA Foundation to develop best practices that will serve as references for the Mediterranean region.
During her opening speech at the project launch in Shkodra, the Mayor of Shkodra Municipality, Mrs. Voltana Ademi expressed support for the project and explained its local importance: “The Buna-Velipoja area is host to 30000 residents who need protection from pollution of the agricultural land and water sources. While protecting the area we must also consider the upstream processes that influence the delta”. It is estimated that the site is progressively losing its natural capital, facing various pressures arising from past and present practices of drainage for agriculture, uncontrolled development, changes in water regime, deforestation, pollution and inappropriate waste management, illegal hunting and fishing, and invasive species.
Protected areas offer multiple opportunities for developing sustainable tourism activities and local business offer, as was underlined by Albania’s Minister of Tourism and Environment, Mr. Blendi Klosi during the field visit to the project site: “Habitat restoration and protection of the Buna river through this project will create the possibility for the Buna to be usable as a touristic destination for both Albania and Montenegro, not only as a border between our two countries, but a passage to navigate to Shkodra through the Buna, while enjoying additional touristic attractions in a natural surrounding” said Mr. Klosi.
Local key stakeholders, such as the Municipality of Shkodra, Regional Agency for Protected Areas, the Coastal Agency, Fisheries Management Organization, farmers and tourism associations, local civil society organizations, as well as local education bodies and schools will be involved in project activities in order to ensure participation, local ownership and sustainability of project outcomes. International expertise from project partners will specifically contribute towards applying integrated coastal zone and sustainable water management, and participative governance.
Mr. Boris Erg, Director of the IUCN Regional Office for Eastern Europe and Central Asia, stressed the importance of long-term project involvement in the Buna river basin as essential intervention, with view to adopting the Management Plan for Buna River Protected Landscape 2016-2025, developed jointly by IUCN, the Italian Development Cooperation, the Ministry of Environment of Albania and INCA, to be implemented by the Shkodra Regional Administration of Protected Areas (RAPA) with support from the Shkodra Municipality. “IUCN has worked with partners in the Shkodra region and Buna River for more than five years on promoting good governance and enhancing community participation in natural resource management. Working with stakeholders in a transparent and participatory manner is the approach that will maximize our efforts and ensure that benefits from the project are reaped by the local community” explained Mr. Erg in his keynote address at the project launch in Shkodra.
In the course of five years, the project will work with the local business, fishermen associations and farmers to prepare branding and marketing schemes that will help in land use practices and business promotion. In addition applying innovation in land use and resource management can be replicated in other parts of Albania with the view to following requirements posed by the European Union accession process. This ‘environmentally friendly’ model of business is a way to connect environmental protection and sustainable economic activities involving local communities.