Political cooperation across borders protects water resources in Drin Basin

Ministers and High-level representatives of the five Riparians endorse the Strategic Action Programme (SAP) for the Drin River Basin in South East Europe.

High level representatives from the five Riparians virtually signed a joint statement today, thus endorsing the Strategic Action Programme (SAP) for the sustainable management of the Extended Drin Basin, directly benefiting its 1.6 million inhabitants. Shared among Albania, Greece, Kosovo*, Montenegro and North Macedonia (the five ‘Riparians’), the Drin River Basin provides water resources for drinking, energy, fishing and agriculture, biodiversity, tourism and industry.

This endorsement confirms the political will among the five Riparians to work across borders and sends a strong message that improved water resources management, which also yields benefits for public health and livelihoods, remains a priority and will continue to be pursued at the transboundary level, in spite of current difficulties associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. The current crisis underscores the vital importance of water for hygiene in the region and globally.

Watch the endorsement ceremony:

The development of the SAP, which comprises over 100 agreed policy and technical actions, has been supported by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) Drin Project, which was designed to realize the Memorandum of Understanding for the sustainable management of the Drin Basin (Drin MoU), signed in Tirana on 25 November 2011 by the responsible Ministries of the Drin Riparians. The Drin Core Group (DCG), a joint body established through the Drin MoU to coordinate its implementation, and its Expert Working Groups, are fully operational, with women representing 30% and 60% of the members respectively. The Drin Project is implemented by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and executed by the Global Water Partnership – Mediterranean (GWP-Med). United Nations Economic Commission (UNECE) is a partner in this process.

Today’s signing is a step forward in implementing the Shared Vision of the sustainable management of the Drin Basin, set through the Drin MoU. 

The SAP was developed during the last year through an extensive consultation with over 200 stakeholders, including relevant Ministry representatives and technical experts. It sets out actions to address four transboundary issues that cause a number of negative effects to nature, society and the economy i.e. water pollution, biodiversity degradation, water and sediment flow disturbance, marking the first strategic document for shared water resources in the region. These transboundary issues were identified through an extensive scientific assessment of the Drin Basin, known as a Transboundary Diagnostic Analysis (TDA). The actions included in the SAP will also assist the Riparians in implementing water and environment related European Union (EU) Directives, such as the EU Water Framework Directive.  

The SAP will provide the main reference point to inform the coordinated management of the Drin Basin for years to come. The priority for the Riparians now is to identify sources of funding to implement the SAP, to ensure the sustainable management of the Drin Basin can be realized. 

Statements from the signatories:

H.E. Mr Jani Makraduli, Deputy Minister of Environment and Physical Planning, North Macedonia: (watch his statement here)

One of the lessons learned from COVID-19 pandemic is that it is important to have good cross-border and regional cooperation. The SAP plays two different roles: environmental, as an important step towards future joint management of the Drin Basin, and an important political message for regional cooperation. I would like to greet the support of the implementing agencies of the Drin Process and donor partners (GEF, UNDP, UNECE, GWP-Med). I strongly believe the SAP can contribute towards supporting the planned donor conference and it will further continue with the follow up of the implementation of the projects from the SAP.

Professor Konstantinos Aravossis, General Secretary, Natural Environment and Water, Ministry of Environment and Energy, Greece:  (watch his statement here)

With this Joint Declaration, the competent authorities of the Drin Riparians, appreciating the positive results of the actions undertaken so far, reaffirm the political will to continue cooperating towards the sustainable management of the Extended Drin River basin, in line with the principles and legal framework of the European Union and other bilateral and multilateral agreements concerning the region's sub-basins.

At the same time, they reaffirm their willingness to step up efforts to incorporate international conventions and protocols adopted by the parties and recognize environmental protection and conservation, as well as the sustainable management of water resources, as an integral part of the overall development of the region, through coordinated actions to address the problems identified.

Mr Izedin Bytyqi, Secretary General, Ministry of Infrastructure and Environment, Kosovo: (watch his statement here)

The adoption of SAP, for us represents a very important step forward, towards strengthening the joint management of shared water resources. The work done so far serves as a strong foundation to determine the common goals and objectives to further strengthen our cooperation, and to implement concrete activities to improve the water quality, reducing water stress, and reducing human impact in line with Integrated Water Resources Management and Water Framework Directive Principles. I also thank my colleagues from Albania, Greece, North Macedonia, and Montenegro for their cooperation. Looking forward to the next step, that is SAP implementation!

Ms Gerta Lubonja, General Director, Agency for Water Resources Management, Albania: (Watch her statement here)

At a time the world is locked down to defeat the coronavirus pandemic, it has never been more important to protect our water resources. In these unprecedented times, water is an indispensable weapon in fighting the disease, acting as a barrier to the virus and maintaining a decent standard of living for the millions of people who are confined to their homes. Because we have been working for more than 10 years now, with the conviction that we are managing an extraordinary shared resource, we will manage to remain focused in the implementation of Drini SAP and, despite everything, optimistic in these particularly difficult times.

Mr. Momcilo Blagojevic, General Director of Directorate for Water Management, Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, Montenegro: (watch his statement here)

This is a very significant event for strengthening regional cooperation within the Drin Basin and it is our extreme pleasure to promote joint action for the coordinated management of the shared water resources in the Drin Basin. This joint statement will definitely frame future co-operation in years to come and we will continue to work with strong devotion in order to ensure the protection of the environment and better management of our water resources. 


Statements from the Drin Project Partners:

Mr Gustavo Fonseca, Director of Programs, Global Environment Facility:

The signing of the Strategic Action Programme for the extended Drin River basin marks an important step towards greater cooperation across borders and within the shared environmental resources that is embodied in a healthy, resilient Drin river ecosystem. It is heartening to witness the strong cooperation between economic sectors, political leaders, and those living in the basin across multiple countries, captured in the Strategic Action Programme. Shared river basins across the world stand to learn a lot from the spirit of cooperation and collaboration that the Drin River Basin is showcasing today.

(Watch the statement by Mr Christian Severin, International Waters Coordinator, Global Environment Facility)

Mr Vladimir Mamaev Regional Technical Advisor, Water & Ocean Governance Programme,  Global Environmental Finance Unit: (watch the statement here)

The SAP is a strategic planning concept and methodology developed through multiple GEF financed projects that promotes integrated management of transboundary and shared resources – such as the Drin Basin – and has been used all over the globe for the past two decades. Through joint implementation of the SAP, the Drin River Basin countries can improve water governance, preserve livelihoods, ensure food security, and alleviate poverty within the region. 

Ms Limya Eltayeb, UNDP Resident Representative in Albania: (watch the statement here)

The endorsement of the Strategic Action Program - following a decade of work after the signing of the transboundary Memorandum of Understanding in Tirana in 2011, is an important step forward in setting out priority issues in the Drin Basin and how they can be addressed. This strategic document represents a shared vision at the benefit of 1, 6 million inhabitants and for sustainable development.

Ms Maria Suokko, UNDP Resident Representative in Kosovo: (watch the statement here)

We all know that COVID-19 is not just a health crisis. It will have a profound impact on people’s lives. A lot of joint and well-coordinated effort will be needed to help the families, communities and businesses to recover – and to build back better. Kosovo is already struggling with insufficient water resources, and we see that in the future, it will be limiting its opportunities for economic and social development. This, combined with the fact that the climate is getting warmer, and the water resources increasingly scarce, certainly calls for a joint action.

Mr Marco Keiner, Director of Environment Division, UNECE: (watch the statement here)

Transboundary cooperation in the Extended Drin River Basin has reached major milestones and brought important benefits, contributing to the implementation of the UNECE Water Convention by the Riparians.  This cooperation importantly also supports the achievement of SDGs notably SDG target 6.5 on integrated water resources management at all levels, including through transboundary cooperation.

Dr. Monika Weber-Fahr, Executive Secretary, Global Water Partnership: (watch the statement here)

In the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, the 5 Drin riparians are sending a strong message that improved and integrated water resources management will continue to be vigorously pursued, yielding benefits for livelihoods, economic growth and jobs, environment, health, and more. Servicing the Drin collaboration process for nearly a decade, GWP and GWP-Med can only feel proud of this achievement; we are thankful to our partners, the GEF, UNDP and UNECE, for their continuous support and joint action that has produced tangible results to the benefit of the Drin riparians. 

Prof. Michael Scoullos, Chair, GWP-Med: (watch the statement here)

Internationally, the Drin case constitutes a shining example of positive results amid difficult conditions, thanks to strong commitment by the countries and perseverance by the project partners, leading to the important milestone we are jointly celebrating today. GWP-Med is honoured by being entrusted with running the Secretariat of the Drin Core Group, and we are committed to continue our support in close cooperation with our partners, for the benefit the riparian countries and their societies.

Mr Dimitris Faloutsos, Drin Project Coordinator / Deputy Regional Coordinator, GWP-Med: (watch the statement here)

The signing of the Drin Memorandum of Understanding in 2011 signaled a period of structured cooperation among the Riparians. The signing of the SAP marks the initiation of a new period. The SAP implementation will assist in solidifying results and upscaling practices that have been proven to be successful. It provides for action from the Source to the Sea assisting in the protection of the marine environment and the coastal zone. It will be the vehicle for a closer cooperation among the Drin Riparians.


*All references to Kosovo are made in the context of UN Security Council Resolution 1244 (1999)