On behalf of the World Bank, they took a close look at the Mat River water catchment area in Albania. What was the goal?
Omuri: Soil erosion is high all over the Balkans. The Mattal is representative, with around 1.200 km2 The area was relatively small, so it was well suited for the study. Our question was how to possibly best counteract erosion through a program of payments for ecosystem services.
How does erosion show up?
Omuri: Its clearest trace is the deposits, in this case in the Ulza reservoir, which was built on Mat 1958. In 60 years, sediments to the extent of 63 million cubic meters have accumulated in the lake - that means a ten percent loss of performance for the hydropower plant. Further consequences are the irregular water flow of the mat and shrinking cultivation and pasture areas in higher elevations.
What caused the erosion?
Omuri: Until the 1990s, the population got their firewood from the forests that belonged to the state, and climbed up to the high regions. As a result, the forests lost density and the country was increasingly exposed to the rain. To this day, illegal logging has been carried out.
How important is it to plant new trees?
Omuri: On steep slopes, trees are the only choice for fixing floors. Meadows are equally effective on flat surfaces. It would also be important that the farmers begin to manage the forest sustainably and take care not to unwittingly promote erosion when using the soil for agriculture. To do this, they should also use technical construction measures.
How far has an ecosystem payments program been successfully implemented?
Omuri: We have collected serious data for this through our analyzes. The World Bank entered into talks with the Albanian government about such a program, which promised to plant thousands of trees. Since the earthquake at the end of 2019, there has been no talk of it. The power station on the Ulza reservoir, which is now in foreign hands, soon declined. So far we have not been able to find funding for the program.