Preserving Prespa Basin in the Balkans
by Hugh Biggar from UNDP Regional Center for Europe and CIS in Bratislava
The Prespa Lakes Basin, shared between three countries, Albania, FYR Macedonia and Greece is endowed with exceptional biodiversity. It is home to indigenous fish, rare and endemic animals and plants and is critical habitat for the largest breeding colony of Dalmatian pelicans in the world.
This region has suffered 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. 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 trans-boundary park on 2 February 2000, committing them to making the region a model for cooperative conservation, protecting the habitat and developing effective management practices. 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.
With the help of the United Nations Development Programme and the Global Environment Facility, the nations’ launched conservation programmes to preserve the Basin’s unique biodiversity. Projects have included reducing pesticide use, raising public awareness, and adopting strategies for cooperative fish and water management.
The efforts not only help conserve the Prespa Lakes Basin, home to rare wolves, bears, otters, pelicans, pygmy cormorants and other species, but also help the region’s people with long-term economic and social development. Farmers, fishermen and foresters, for instance, have been trained on selective water and land management techniques. Local municipalities and non-governmental organizations have also been involved in creating policy documents and actions plans. An environmentally friendly project to increase tourism in the region (while also providing individuals with an alternative livelihood) is also in development.
In 2006, the UNDP and the Global Environment Fund also contributed to (US) $4.3 million to Prespa projects.
In addition, UNDP also recently launched photo competition on the topic of Prespa to help raise public awareness. Authors from all three countries were invited to participate and a total of 413 contributions were received. The Feb. 2 Ministers of Environment signing ceremony was used as an opportunity to present awards to the winners. Children, students and NGOs from all three countries have also joined forces with UNDP to observe this year’s World Wetlands Day, through a series of events, including art, poetry, essay contests and public workshops, with the aim to continue increasing public awareness on the importance of Prespa.