Stronger civil society can improve the environment

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    Protests against the construction of small hydropower plant in the protected area of Shebenik-Jabllanicë, organised by the network of information and Education. Photo: SENiOR-A

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    Secondary school students participating in clean-up campaign in the city of Bajram Curri, promoted by the local NGO Mbroni Mjedisin. Photo: SENiOR-A

Albania is facing environmental problems, especially regarding waste management, nature conservation and unclear environmental legislation. Sweden supports the civil society’s environmental work in Albania, to give them a stronger role in society and better assist communities in managing natural resources.

“We want to strengthen the role of the environmental civil society, both in addressing the community needs and in improving communication with central and local government actors” says Mihallaq Qirjo, Albania Director for The Regional Environmental Center for Central and Eastern Europe (REC).

There is little progress taking place in the fields of environment and climate change in Albania, which is also the finding concluded in the EU progress report for 2013. Substantial investments are needed but resources remain limited. Albanian environmental civil society organisations are quite weak and donor dependent. However, civil society can play an important role as a provider of knowledge and service to communities, concerning sustainable environment and natural resources management. This is why Sweden is funding the SENiOR-A Programme, which is implemented by REC, in mutual collaboration with most of the approximately 100 environmental CSOs in the country. Regular meetings are being held between the different actors, which is important for civil society to perceive REC not only as an implementing entity, but as a partner in achieving their own goals.

Training sessions have been held through Junior Fellowship Programs, Master Classes and Organization Viability Toolkits, to teach basic skills and increase the democracy in the organisations, as well as to improve knowledge about some of the main environmental problems such as waste, nature protection and unclear environmental legislation. The latter has been combined with site visits showing bad examples or best practices.

In addition to the training, some small operational grants have been awarded to CSOs throughout Albania, which has helped them achieve a stronger infrastructure, better internal organisation, web pages and social media visibility.

Network of education coordinating protests

The outcome of the programme has been positive so far: the environmental civil society movement in general has in the last two years significantly enhanced its cooperation with the government, which has led to e.g. banning the import of waste and issuing a two year moratorium on hunting. The flagship outcome of the programme is the establishment of four topic networks: Biodiversity and Nature Protection, Information and Education, Watchdogging & Advocacy and Environmental Services.

Xhemal Mato, who is lead partner of the Network on Information and Education, explains:

“There are several environmental problems affecting Albania right now and one of the main threats is the lack of information and community involvement on environmental concerns. Our network is trying to do just this on several locations at once. For example several small hydropower plants have been built in protected areas, which have affected the adjacent villages. The CSO network has been involved in raising the voice of the local community to protect their environmental rights or to stop the construction of these hydropower plants that are considered harmful to the environment.

“Another issue we dealt with was the management of chemicals and their risks, not only in informing the population but also in practical cases such as signaling to the authorities about an informal pesticide dumping site in Saranda, which was used illegally some twenty years ago and now needs to be properly rehabilitated,” he concludes.

Another topic network that was developed is the one for Watchdogging & Advocacy. The lead partner Ermelinda Mahmutaj describes how the network is actively monitoring some of the main industrial operators causing major pollution in soil, water and air:

“Industrial operators are not yet fully compliant with the requirement of their environmental permits and they don’t always monitor their pollutant discharge or make all the data transparent. Our activities do not only aim to push industries such as cement factories, fuel extraction industries or melting industries into being more responsible in monitoring and reporting the data, but to help the local communities nearby to better articulate their voices.”

About the programme:

Sweden is the sole donor of the Support for Environmental Civil Society Organizations in Albania (SENiOR-A) with a total of 16 150 000 SEK (approx. 1 654 600 Euro). The programme is implemented by The Regional Environmental Center for Central and Eastern Europe (REC) Albania between April 2012 and April 2015.

The overall goal of the programme is to strengthen and specialize environmental civil society in Albania, making it more able to articulate community needs, provide services and support, develop partnerships and networks, and more capable to address Albania’s environmental priorities and progress towards a sustainable development.

The programs aims to develop the environmental civil society organisations:

  • From weak organizations to strong and institutionalized CSOs with better democratic functioning (decision making, transparency, etc) and stronger environmental civil society (mission driven, clear focus, long term sustainability).
  • From donor driven and broad “shooting” project based organisations to programme based planning and support organisations (better strategic planning, stable no. of programs, long term sustainability) and specialized CSOs/Networks (with developed specific environmental expertise).
  • From individual organisations with no or limited level of cooperation to environmental networks and coalitions (concrete and effective cooperation and partnerships on specific environmental topics/themes).