The vengeful sea devouring Albania’s coast

A fisherman fishes from a shore washed with tree trunks and roots, in Kune, Lezhe on November 8, 2017. (AFP)
Updated 13 December 2017
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The vengeful sea devouring Albania’s coast

QERRET, Albanie: Asim Krasniqi watches anxiously as the Adriatic Sea creeps ever closer to his beach bar in Albania, a country faced with an alarming pace of coastal erosion.
“I’m nostalgic for how this place used to be,” the septuagenarian told AFP wistfully, remembering when this beach in Qerret, to the west of the capital Tirana, was bigger and “many more” foreign tourists came.
“Today everything is degraded,” he said.
Environmentalists say a dangerous mix of climate change and rampant, unregulated urban development are behind the rapid disappearance of the shoreline in the impoverished Balkan country.
“The sea has swallowed the coast. She is taking revenge on man, who has destroyed nature,” said Sherif LusHajj, an environmental specialist at Polis University in Tirana.
The initially “inconspicuous” phenomenon has become far more serious in recent years, LusHajj told AFP.
Further north along the coast, near the concrete constructions in the beach resort town of Shengjin, dozens of tree trunks are decaying in water, a reminder that there used to be a forest between the sea and Kune lagoon.
The lagoon is now threatened, less and less protected by a thin strip of land that is fast disappearing.
Once perched on sand dunes, nuclear bunkers built during the communist era of dictator Enver Hoxha also now barely emerge above the water. Others have been engulfed by the sea.
Of the 427 kilometers (265 miles) of Albania’s coast, “154 are affected by erosion,” Environment Minister Blendi Klosi told AFP.
Sometimes barely perceptible, the advance of the sea in other areas has reached a frightening pace of 20 meters a year, he said.
Near Shengjin, it has engulfed “some 400 meters of ground in the course of the last 15 years,” said the minister.
“This place will disappear if the state does not take necessary measures,” said Osman Demi, a fisherman in his sixties who remembers the “terrible night” of December 31, 2009, when sudden floods submerged his village.
“We fish bass, crab, mullet here. The destruction of this lagoon would be a catastrophe,” said his colleague Albert Pati, adding that in certain corners, once full of fish, “the water is already dead.”
Pelicans have disappeared from the lagoon. A census conducted a year ago found just 7,000 birds, down from 50,000 in the 1970s.
Soon, if nothing is done, the people living here will also leave. There are 2,000 whose homes are threatened by the water, according to Jak Gjini, in charge of environmental issues in the Lezhe municipality, which covers Shengjin.
“The situation is dramatic,” he said.
Everything is working in favor of the sea’s conquest. There is climate change, with increasingly violent winter storms driving the water further and further in.
Then there is Albania’s massive deforestation, the extraction of sand from the rivers and rampant urbanization along the coast.
Almost deserted in winter, Shengjin is home to 15,000 people in the summer as holidaymakers and seasonal staff take up residence in blocks of multi-story concrete buildings, constructed on the sandy soil of the lagoon.
Those who have invested here are “the bosses,” said a fisherman with an enigmatic smile. These “bosses” build without permits, which they get after the building is erected using bribery during election campaigns, or hard cash.
“People are afraid to take on the interests of the powerful. It’s the law of the strongest,” said Gjini.
“These constructions are the result of pressure exerted by individuals to build without regard for urban planning.”
In his bar in Qerret, Krasniqi points out the rocky piers perpendicular to the coast that are sinking into the sea.
They were built without authorization by the owners of villas or hotels on the coast who hoped to protect their own property from erosion — but in doing so, they simply shifted the problem onto neighboring constructions.
“They have changed the currents, aggravating the problem,” he said.
Minister Klosi promises that “all the illegal construction in the sea will be destroyed and those responsible will be punished.”
But even this unprecedented action would not be enough, according to Eglantina Bruci, climate change specialist for the United Nations Development Programme in Tirana.
“The only solution... would be the construction of rock structures parallel to the coast and dune replenishment.”
Gjini said the cost of such measures would be “extraordinary” for one of the poorest countries in Europe — but by doing nothing, Albania anyway gets poorer by the day, he warned.
“Albania’s land is shrinking.”


Al-Ahsa named 2019 Arab Tourism Capital

Al-Ahsa has a long history and a rich heritage dating back to the 5th millennium BC. It tells great stories as one of the most important places inhabited by human civilizations. (Photos/SPA)
Updated 15 December 2018
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Al-Ahsa named 2019 Arab Tourism Capital

  • Al-Ahsa has a long history and a rich heritage dating back to the 5th millennium BC
  • Experts believe the move will help turn the area into a region of unique beauty

JEDDAH: Officials in Al-Ahsa congratulated King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman after the city was named Arab Tourism Capital for 2019 by the Arab Ministerial Council for Tourism on Wednesday.
The decision confirms that Al-Ahsa fulfilled all the terms of reference set by the Arab League’s Arab Tourism Organization. Al-Ahsa officials said the decision is recognition of the city’s success in tourism, its historical and cultural value, and its archaeological sites. Al-Ahsa Mayor Adel Al-Mulhim thanked the king and crown prince for supporting efforts to promote tourism in Saudi Arabia. Al-Mulhim also thanked Prince Sultan bin Salman bin Abdul Aziz, president of the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage (SCTH), for his attention to tourism and heritage in the Kingdom.  Al-Mulhim hailed the support given by Prince Saud bin Nayef, governor of the Eastern Province, and by Prince Badr bin Mohammed bin Jalawi, governor of Al-Ahsa, to the city’s heritage. The council’s decision will contribute to preserving and investing in tourism in Al-Ahsa, Al-Mulhim said. The city is considered a world leader in handicrafts and folk art.

Partnership
Its secretariat continues to do its utmost to develop tourism through a strong partnership with the SCTH and cooperation with relevant government agencies, Al-Mulhim added. “Al-Ahsa has a long history and a rich heritage dating back to the 5th millennium BC. It tells great stories as one of the most important places inhabited by human civilizations, and it will remain a constantly evolving cultural and civilizational painting that shares with the world a history full of authentic heritage,” he said.
Khalid bin Ahmed Al-Fereidah, general manager of the SCTH branch in Al-Ahsa, said the city would not have been named Arab Tourism Capital if not for the great support and care of King Salman’s government. “Al-Ahsa has received great care and attention from the leadership, allowing it to become a UNESCO World Heritage Site,” Al-Fereidah added.
Its designation as the Arab Tourism Capital “will boost the tourism industry in the Kingdom,” he said.

Support
Tourism to Al-Ahsa Oasis is progressing at a fast pace due to the support of the country’s leaders, he added.
Al-Fereidah congratulated the people of Al-Ahsa and Saudi Arabia on this happy occasion, saying the city houses natural, archaeological and cultural treasures that attract tourists and heritage enthusiasts. Dr. Fuad bin Ahmad Al-Asheikh Mubarak, head of the General Establishment for Irrigation in Al-Ahsa, said: “The cultural heritage and great tourism components in Al-Ahsa stretch to thousands of years.”
The city “will see the implementation of major projects and services that meet everyone’s aspirations,” he added.
The director general of the Al-Ahsa branch of the Ministry of Environment, Water and Agriculture, Khalid bin Saad Al-Husseini, said naming the city as the Arab Tourism Capital reflects its competitiveness in Arab tourism. “Al-Ahsa is a continuously evolving oasis with beautiful nature, deep history, human culture and source of sustainability,” he added. “Al-Ahsa looks forward to further development, which we should achieve with our ideas… and by preserving it and enhancing its beauty to meet the aspirations of our leadership.”
Having Al-Ahsa chosen as the Arab Tourism Capital is a national achievement that bears many responsibilities and requires increased efforts to turn it into a city of unique beauty, Al-Husseini said.