Drin River must flow – and Indigenous People must live on their land!

Drin River must flow – and Indigenous People must live on their land!

Friday, January 28th, 2022
Ferzileta Gjika

Environmental security, protecting our climate, our land, and our river is a human right. Altogether we must work to investigate, document, and expose environmental and human right abuses.

Skavica dam on the river Black Drin in Dibra, Albania, which is under feasibility study process, is considered to cause an ecological imbalance in the region of Dibra and the neighboring villages and places surrounding the area.

Following its construction, Skavica Dam is inundating 29652.646acres (12000 hectares) of agriculture land and wildlife habitat, including 35 villages under water and more than 60000 indigenous people to be dislocated, would be counter to federal and state goals preserving 30% of the land and ocean to protect biodiversity by 2030.

After decades of protests, the controversial Skavica dam once projected in 1960’s by the communist regime, is on its way out, and one of the Europe’s largest dams. On October 4th, 2021 Bechtel Co. reached a deal with Albania Power Corporation (KESH) to begin work on the Drin River under a fast-track delivery approach.

Recently, on January 20th, 2022, indigenous people of Dibra protested contracting company Mott McDonald, who is hired from Bechtel Co. to conduct feasibility study for Skavica Project. Until now there have been no consultation or communication with community of Dibra.

The leader of NGO Black Drin Association, Nazmi Drizi expressed concerns that “it is said differently, it is done differently” (January 20th, 2022). Mr. Drizi stated that “the work has been started secretly and is continuing secretly to be concretized”.

 Photo: Nazmi Drizi, Leader of Black Drin Association, Diber Albania

Mr. Drizi expressed concerns that “there are 12,000 hectares of productive land and 35 villages will be drowned under water, because Edi Rama (PM of Albania) has finally decided to kill Dibra and eliminate Dibra as part of his calculated affairs”. People of Dibra feel betrayed from the government of Albania. Mr. Drizi stated that “Edi Rama (PM of Albania) has not even tried to meet with people of Dibra or stop the undergoing work process but instead he has lied to us”

Photo: Nazmi Skepi, Secretary of Black Drin Association, Diber Albania

Secretary of Black Drin Association, Mr. Nazmi Skepi expressed also concerns that “As of today we don’t have any kind of debate or discussion; Skavica is built in Kukes (neighboring region with Dibra), but to be drown is the whole Dibra(meaning Dibra region)”, yet citing the government strategy to get permission from local people of Kukes but not even have discussion with people of Dibra largely affected by the Skavica Dam project. Other people in the protest expressed that the government operates secretly to build Skavica Dam, avoiding meeting with people of Dibra.

How can we have justice when the affected community of Dibra is shut out of decision-making while the billionaire companies such as Bechtel Co., and MacDonald and are welcomed in to destroy Dibra region completely?

The loopholes and the hedging language that emerged signing the contract between Bechtel Co., and Government of Albania are nothing short of a betrayal of the people of Albania and already enduring the worst impacts of climate breakdown due to existing hydropower plants in the country.

Once again, leaders of Government of Albania failed to commit to any Paris Agreement regulations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible through economic and social transformation based on available science research.  Paris Agreement specifies that “Parties should, when taking action to address climate change, respect, promote and consider their respective obligations on human rights, the right to health, the rights of indigenous peoples, local communities.,” (p.2) At the intersection between human rights, and people in power we see a huge gap between them, yet to be addressed.  Believing in the principle that people and communities are entitled to equal protection of our environment, health, housing, energy resources, environmental justice must bring it all together under one umbrella.

Despite the challenges that protests face at the local level, environmental NGO can make a difference in their communities. Many local activists in Dibra have raised concerns and have protested building Skavica Dam and destroying Dibra as a region, a project that contribute to collective failures at all levels. It is time that we stop building large Dams like Skavica and start using other ways of renewable energy sources such as wind and solar, thus developing tributes of hope and possibility.

Photo: Indigenous People of Dibra, Albania protesting at Skavica, Kukes where project has started. 

If indeed the indigenous peoples have the right to own, use, develop and control the lands, territories and resources that they possess by reason of traditional ownership or other traditional occupation or use, as well as those which they have otherwise acquired, then why is it that indigenous people of Dibra have not been part of the decision-making process regarding the loss of 12000 hectares of productive land and 35 villages under water, and more than 60000 people could be dislocated due Skavica Project? Article 10 of United Nation Declaration of Human Rights says this “Indigenous people shall not be forcibly removed from their lands or territories. No relocation shall take place without the free, prior and informed consent of the indigenous peoples concerned and after agreement on just and fair compensation and, where possible, with the option of return.” (p.11).

The rights of indigenous people of Dibra are both essential and of historic significance to the present and future of the Dibrans and Dibra as a region. Concerned that indigenous people of Dibra have not been involved in decision-making process regarding Skavica Dam, accompanied with lack of transparence in communication, we ask International lawmakers and EU human rights entity to recognize the urgent need to respect and promote the inherent rights of indigenous peoples, especially their rights to their lands, territories, and resources.

We need to consider the importance of eliminating all forms of discrimination that may affect indigenous people of Dibra and take into account the responsibility of Government of Albania to combat them. We also need to encourage lawmakers to respect and comply with and effectively implement all their obligations as they apply to indigenous people under international laws, in particular those related to human rights, in consultation and cooperation with peoples concerned.

We ask the Government of Albania and International Lawmakers to establish mechanisms and processes for comprehensive dialogue and consultations with indigenous people of Dibra to be part of decision-making process to any project that have impact on their territories and resources, so they can exercise their rights as cited with international human rights standards.

 

 

 

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