We sat down with a 14-year-old from the banks of Albania’s Vjosa River to understand how the plans to dam it will impact her future and her village. We met Kiare after her parents invited us into drink raki, sing mountain songs and show us their collection of war materials that they’ve found in the mountains around their village. They are hoping to develop a museum dedicated to the articles they’ve found dating back to WW1 and WW2.
Hi Kiare, so what kind of memories do you have of the Vjosa River?
I have grown up in this area, and the river has always been a part of my life. Not just for me but every villager here and people that live in the communities all over the Vjosa.
How do you feel about the plans to build the hydropower?
This was bad news. Our lives are related to the river and these hydropower plants put all the wildlife at risk, maybe it can bring economical benefits but just for a short time. On the other side, tourism can bring economical benefits for a longer period of time and it also does not damage the environment. We are talking all the time about how to prevent global warming, how to clean the environment and how to keep it as it is. On the other side we are building hydropower plants which damage us and the species that live in Vjosa.
What can be done to stop these hydropower dams?
I believe that the economy of Albania does not need to rely on hydropower plants, we can have other alternative ways to product energy, for example with the sun or the wind. Because of climate change, we do not have very regular rain here anymore, so this being the case we cannot produce as much energy as we need from hydropower plants. So I believe we should not build these plants and not damage our environment but instead grow tourism. We need to come together to not let these people build these plants.
What are villagers doing to stop it?
Well we gather together when people come here to put their machines to build the plants, we go there and we try to stop them. But this is not a solution because it is part of the government and they say we are powerless in front of them.
How do you feel about the government going ahead with these plans and the impact it’ll have on your village?
I believe it is not a smart solution. This environment has great potential for tourism and if the government are smart enough we can instead use this environment to develop tourism and not build hydropower plants.
How is your village using the Vjosa river at the moment?
We use it for food, and we use it for the lands we use near the river. We use the water from the river to grow our plants and crops. And now we also use it for tourism.
Could your food access therefore be affected?
Yes, I understand that if they built a plant, the river would become intoxicated. Also there are species that live in the Vjosa that scientists have discovered in the river will disappear.
Do you have any favourite stories of the river?
We have a legend about the river, where people years ago came here to find treasure that Alipasha had hidden here. After many many years of trying to find this hidden treasure, they said ‘we have been digging trying to find the treasure but we see now that the treasure was in front of us’.
You realise that when you take a journey through the Vjosa, that this is the real treasure.
Let’s hope it stays it that way.
Find out more about the Vjosa and how you can get involved.
Watch our film about the fight for the Vjosa, featuring Kiare, at the top of the article