Photos: Vjosa, one of Europe’s last wild rivers, in danger of being tamed

The Vjosa river in Albania is one of the last wild rivers in Europe. The government has set in motion plans to dam the river and its tributaries to generate much-needed electricity for the country, with the intent to build eight dams along the main river. Those who live along the riverbank or rely on the waterway for their livelihood fear dams could kill the river as they know it. Its fragile ecosystem will be irreversibly altered, and many residents will lose their land and homes. Residents and nonprofits filed the country’s first environmental lawsuit against the construction of a dam along the river. They won it in 2017, but the government has appealed.

Updated On Oct 22, 2019 04:11 PM IST
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An abandoned bulldozer sits on the banks of the Vjosa River at the construction site of the Kalivac dam in Albania. With an aim to produce much-needed electricity for one of Europe’s poorest countries, the government has set in motion plans to dam the Vjosa and its tributaries. Vjosa, which is one of Europe’s last wild rivers, runs the risk of interruption in its flow and the life in and around it. (Felipe Dana / AP)
Updated on Oct 22, 2019 04:11 PM IST

An abandoned bulldozer sits on the banks of the Vjosa River at the construction site of the Kalivac dam in Albania. With an aim to produce much-needed electricity for one of Europe’s poorest countries, the government has set in motion plans to dam the Vjosa and its tributaries. Vjosa, which is one of Europe’s last wild rivers, runs the risk of interruption in its flow and the life in and around it. (Felipe Dana / AP)

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An old bridge spans the Vjosa River near the border with Greece, in Albania. Vjosa runs for more than 270 kilometers in its course through the forest-covered slopes of Greece’s Pindus mountains to Albania’s Adriatic coast, changing its hues along the way. The government intends to build eight dams along the main river, but residents are challenging the move. (Felipe Dana / AP)
Updated on Oct 22, 2019 04:11 PM IST

An old bridge spans the Vjosa River near the border with Greece, in Albania. Vjosa runs for more than 270 kilometers in its course through the forest-covered slopes of Greece’s Pindus mountains to Albania’s Adriatic coast, changing its hues along the way. The government intends to build eight dams along the main river, but residents are challenging the move. (Felipe Dana / AP)

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Shyqyri Seiti, pulls his fishing net from the Vjosa River near Ane Vjose, Albania. The 65-year-old boatman has been transporting locals, goods and livestock across the river for about a quarter century. The construction of the proposed Kalivac dam would spell disaster for him. Many of the fields and some of the houses in his nearby village of Ane Vjose would be lost. (Felipe Dana / AP)
Updated on Oct 22, 2019 04:11 PM IST

Shyqyri Seiti, pulls his fishing net from the Vjosa River near Ane Vjose, Albania. The 65-year-old boatman has been transporting locals, goods and livestock across the river for about a quarter century. The construction of the proposed Kalivac dam would spell disaster for him. Many of the fields and some of the houses in his nearby village of Ane Vjose would be lost. (Felipe Dana / AP)

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Jorgji Ilia, 71, a retired schoolteacher, sits with his wife, Vito, 64, inside their home in the village of Kanikol, Albania. “There is nothing else better than the river,” he said. “The Vjosa gives beauty to our village.” Those who live along the riverbank or rely on the waterway for their livelihood fear dams could kill the river. Its fragile ecosystem will be irreversibly altered, and many residents will lose their land and homes. (Felipe Dana / AP)
Updated on Oct 22, 2019 04:11 PM IST

Jorgji Ilia, 71, a retired schoolteacher, sits with his wife, Vito, 64, inside their home in the village of Kanikol, Albania. “There is nothing else better than the river,” he said. “The Vjosa gives beauty to our village.” Those who live along the riverbank or rely on the waterway for their livelihood fear dams could kill the river. Its fragile ecosystem will be irreversibly altered, and many residents will lose their land and homes. (Felipe Dana / AP)

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Residents sit on the shore of the Vjosa River next to a spring in the Kelcyre Gorge. The government’s move to dam the river is part of a world hydropower boom, mainly in Southeast Asia, South America, Africa and less developed parts of Europe. In the Balkans alone, about 2,800 projects to tame rivers are underway or planned — a “dam tsunami,” says Olsi Nika of EcoAlbania, a nonprofit that opposes the projects. (Felipe Dana / AP)
Updated on Oct 22, 2019 04:11 PM IST

Residents sit on the shore of the Vjosa River next to a spring in the Kelcyre Gorge. The government’s move to dam the river is part of a world hydropower boom, mainly in Southeast Asia, South America, Africa and less developed parts of Europe. In the Balkans alone, about 2,800 projects to tame rivers are underway or planned — a “dam tsunami,” says Olsi Nika of EcoAlbania, a nonprofit that opposes the projects. (Felipe Dana / AP)

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The Langarica hydropower plant, on a tributary to the Vjosa River. Dams block the natural flow of water and sediment, and can cause harmful temperatures swings. They also can change the chemistry of the water and cause toxic algae to grow. “Once dams go in, there’s almost no going back,” said Julian Olden, a University of Washington ecologist who has studied their impacts in Brazil, Australia and the US. (Felipe Dana / AP)
Updated on Oct 22, 2019 04:11 PM IST

The Langarica hydropower plant, on a tributary to the Vjosa River. Dams block the natural flow of water and sediment, and can cause harmful temperatures swings. They also can change the chemistry of the water and cause toxic algae to grow. “Once dams go in, there’s almost no going back,” said Julian Olden, a University of Washington ecologist who has studied their impacts in Brazil, Australia and the US. (Felipe Dana / AP)

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A river rafting guide paddles at dusk. “It’s like humans,” said Elton Pashollari, a river rafting guide whose clients are increasingly attracted by the Vjosa’s wildness. “What happens if one of your arteries, it stops, blood doesn’t circulate anymore? It’s the same thing with the Vjosa.” (Felipe Dana / AP)
Updated on Oct 22, 2019 04:11 PM IST

A river rafting guide paddles at dusk. “It’s like humans,” said Elton Pashollari, a river rafting guide whose clients are increasingly attracted by the Vjosa’s wildness. “What happens if one of your arteries, it stops, blood doesn’t circulate anymore? It’s the same thing with the Vjosa.” (Felipe Dana / AP)

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Benedikt Baeumler, 43, a German advertising executive kayaking the length of the Vjosa River, checks his map after setting up camp. Earlier, he had been ambivalent about hydropower projects. But what he saw at one of the dam sites changed his mind. “It was really unbelievable what they did to nature, removing entire parts of the mountain,” he said. “I hope this dam is never built.” (Felipe Dana / AP)
Updated on Oct 22, 2019 04:11 PM IST

Benedikt Baeumler, 43, a German advertising executive kayaking the length of the Vjosa River, checks his map after setting up camp. Earlier, he had been ambivalent about hydropower projects. But what he saw at one of the dam sites changed his mind. “It was really unbelievable what they did to nature, removing entire parts of the mountain,” he said. “I hope this dam is never built.” (Felipe Dana / AP)

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Sheep are pastured near the shore in Ane Vjosa. A 2018 study led by University of Vienna found the Vjosa inhabited more than 90 types of aquatic invertebrates in places where dams are planned, plus hundreds of fish, amphibian and reptile species, some endangered and others endemic to the Balkans. But “the majority of the specific biodiversity will disappear in the case of the planned dam constructions,” they warned. (Felipe Dana / AP)
Updated on Oct 22, 2019 04:11 PM IST

Sheep are pastured near the shore in Ane Vjosa. A 2018 study led by University of Vienna found the Vjosa inhabited more than 90 types of aquatic invertebrates in places where dams are planned, plus hundreds of fish, amphibian and reptile species, some endangered and others endemic to the Balkans. But “the majority of the specific biodiversity will disappear in the case of the planned dam constructions,” they warned. (Felipe Dana / AP)

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Residents play dominoes in a small bar in the village of Kute, Albania. Dozens of residents from the village joined nonprofit organizations to file what was Albania's first environmental lawsuit against the construction of a dam in the Pocem gorge. They won in 2017, but the government has appealed. Relieved by their victory, they now wait anxiously for the outcome of the government’s appeal. (Felipe Dana / AP)
Updated on Oct 22, 2019 04:11 PM IST

Residents play dominoes in a small bar in the village of Kute, Albania. Dozens of residents from the village joined nonprofit organizations to file what was Albania's first environmental lawsuit against the construction of a dam in the Pocem gorge. They won in 2017, but the government has appealed. Relieved by their victory, they now wait anxiously for the outcome of the government’s appeal. (Felipe Dana / AP)

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13-year-old Eriko sits in the driver's seat of a car in Kute. There are some signs in the favour of the residents. In August, the government announced it was cancelling a project in central Albania’s Holta Canyon, and would tear down part of a dam that’s already built. The Infrastructure and Energy Ministry said in a statement the decision came after discussions with residents and an environmental review. (Felipe Dana / AP)
Updated on Oct 22, 2019 04:11 PM IST

13-year-old Eriko sits in the driver's seat of a car in Kute. There are some signs in the favour of the residents. In August, the government announced it was cancelling a project in central Albania’s Holta Canyon, and would tear down part of a dam that’s already built. The Infrastructure and Energy Ministry said in a statement the decision came after discussions with residents and an environmental review. (Felipe Dana / AP)

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Farmer Jonuz Jonuzi, 70, rides his horse on the banks of the Vjosa in the Kelcyre Gorge. He raised his children here and now watches his grandchildren play in the Vjosa’s waters. “Everything I have, I have because of the river,” he said. “Albania needs electrical energy. But not by creating one thing and destroying another. Why do such damage that will be irreparable for life, that future generations will blame us for what we’ve done?” (Felipe Dana / AP)
Updated on Oct 22, 2019 04:11 PM IST

Farmer Jonuz Jonuzi, 70, rides his horse on the banks of the Vjosa in the Kelcyre Gorge. He raised his children here and now watches his grandchildren play in the Vjosa’s waters. “Everything I have, I have because of the river,” he said. “Albania needs electrical energy. But not by creating one thing and destroying another. Why do such damage that will be irreparable for life, that future generations will blame us for what we’ve done?” (Felipe Dana / AP)

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