Saving Europe’s last free flowing wild river Vjosa/Aoos  (Greece & Albania)

The Vjosa/Aoos River, in the transboundary area of Albania and Greece, is one of Europe’s last surviving free flowing rivers. Along its entire course of over 270 kilometres the Vjosa/Aoos is an untamed and free flowing water body. It is characterized by beautiful canyons, braided river sections and meanders, rich vegetation-covered islands and picturesque villages. Its valleys are farmed in a traditional way and buzz with life. Due to its geographical position, in the border region of two previously-hostile countries, and to the socio-political circumstances after WWII, the area has experienced economic marginalisation. However, the lack of heavy industry and uncontrolled development has inadvertently helped to safeguard the natural and cultural resources and values of this river region and its communities.

This rare river catchment, at least within Europe, is now subject to proposals for the construction of numerous Hydropower Plants and for the diversion of the river near its source. Little or no consideration has been given to the environmental and social impacts that such developments could have.

Hydropower has the potential to produce clean energy for various places in the Western Balkans and can contribute to their economic development. However, if not done sensitively and sustainably, it can jeopardise the qualities of the landscape and transform its character. Such development can change the water catchment into a chain of accumulation lakes, interrupting any natural river flow. It can destroy a range of important biodiversity functions. It can disrupt the livelihoods of communities who associate with the river and depend on it for various activities. Thus, balancing the two, development and sustainability, will be a challenging endeavour.

The overall project “Saving Europe’s last free flowing wild river – Vjosa/Aoos” will work towards the prevention of any devastating HPP development impacts in the area. It will also work with local communities with the aim of initiating a process for the catchment to be designated as a transboundary protected area, forming a transboundary River Park.

Inherit's contribution will focus mainly on Greece. The potential reversion of the impacts of the existing dam in the Pighes of Aoos near Metsovo, as well as the prevention of the diversion the Aoos River to Ioannina Lake, will be central to the work that will be conducted. We will examine the Aoos River both as a natural and a cultural resource. We believe that a threat to the river is a threat to its biodiversity, the cultural values associated with it and a threat to the communities that surround it. Like many rural areas of Europe, the region is need of development that will allow its communities to sustain themselves and thrive, but this development should be undertaken in a fully-informed and sustainable way. Thus, we will identify and collaborate with key stakeholders at local and international level encouraging the stewardship of the Greek catchment's landscapes and empowering its local communities.

The project is implemented by Euronatur, RiverWatch, EcoAlbania, Pindos Perivallontiki, Wetlands International, IUCN ECARO, Tour du Valat and MedINA. Inherit has been invited by MedINA to co-coordinate and implement the activities on the Greek part of the River.

For more information please contact A. Sorotou (

The Institute for Heritage and Sustainable Human Development

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