Three Countries, Two Lakes, One Future
Pyli, Greece, December 2009-In support of the forthcoming Copenhagen Summit, the Prime Ministers of Albania, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Greece, met in Prespa to sign a joint statement expressing their readiness for further promotion of environmental issues in the region. They announced that the signing of a Tripartite Agreement for Sustainable Development of the Prespa Basin will take place on 2 February 2010 - the 10th Anniversary of the Transboundary Prespa Park.
For centuries, the mountains of the Prespa Lake basin, a border region shared between the three countries, have been known for their bountiful production of sweet apples and supple fruits. The basin has been a source of pride, providing a unique habitat of bio-diversity renowned for its natural beauty that includes a variety of species of flora and fauna while at the same time providing agriculture, fisheries, forestry and tourism. Sadly, it is also a region that has suffered painful environmental setbacks over the past 40 years as a result of pollution, pesticides, poor waste management, and ineffective planning for land and water use in the region. What was once a pristine ecological gem in the Balkans is now undergoing intense conservation programmes to preserve its diminishing diversity.
As one of Europe’s “ecological bricks,” the need to protect the region from decades of poor conservation practices prompted the Prime Ministers of the three countries to declare the basin a transboundary park, committing them to making the region a model for cooperative conservation, protecting the habitat and developing effective management practices. As the Prime Ministers stated in the first joint declaration they signed at Aghios Germanos, Greece, in 2000, “(T)he conservation and protection of an ecosystem of such importance not only renders a service to nature but it also creates opportunities for the economic development of the adjacent areas that belong to the three countries.”
The three countries have continued taking positive steps in recent years to attain the sustainable ecosystem needed for the basin to regain its former health. They adopted a Strategic Action Plan in 2004 for sustainable development as a first building block for tri-lateral cooperation, an important step for the three countries that was funded by Greece with collaboration of conservation NGOs from all three countries. And in 2006, they have joined forces with GEF and UNDP, launching a $4,3 million trilateral project to help reverse the trend for good. Building on the existing initiative, encouraged many donors to provide additional support throughout the past years, leading to successful implementation of a variety of projects in the areas of agriculture, infrastructure development, nature conservation, solid waste management, river restoration, and forest regeneration. Currently, UNDP and GEF are working in cooperation with all three countries on the development of a joint tourism strategy and action plan for the Prespa Lakes basin. The main objective is to lay a foundation for effective, nature-based tourism policies, optimize environmental, economic and social benefits, guide public and private investments, and further reinforce cooperation among all stakeholders.
Although there remains much to be done for the Prespa basin, the three partner nations continue to work hand-in-hand to protect and rejuvenate the rich biodiversity of the region. The assistance and participation of donor organizations remains an essential part of this process. Together, they are helping turn back the clock on decades of neglect so that the Prespa basin may retain its status as one of Europe's most important and pristine ecological gems.
-by Hugh Biggar