112 million euros for wastewater treatment plants, but the polluted waters are discharged into the sea untreated

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  • Over 112 million euros invested in wastewater treatment plants were not enough to clean the waters in our country. Although there are currently 16 wastewater treatment plants, only 10% of the population receives this service, while waste and industrial waters continue to be discharged into rivers and seas, creating incalculable damage to the environment and the health of the population.

    Author: Albana Agolli

    Lungomare in Vlora, one of the most expensive projects of the Urban Renaissance, becomes “dirty” from the open waterways of black and white wastewater that end up untreated in the sea.

    Investigative Network Albania identified at least two such points, which collect the waters of the surrounding area and pour them into the sea, turning into a dangerous source of infections.

    The canals of white and black water flowing untreated into the sea

    This is confirmed by the results of the annual report of the National Environment Agency, which measures the quality of coastal waters where Albanians bathe. According to this report, the waters near the Marina school are of category D, i.e. of very low quality, while those of the new beach are of category B, or slightly polluted.

    This situation occurs even though three years ago, the plant was inaugurated at a cost of 21 million euros, financed by the European Union and the Albanian Government. Located in the Soda Forest (pylli IiSodës), it envisioned significantly improving the quality of marine waters on the beaches of Vlora and has a treatment range up to the Uji i Ftohtë area.

    “The plant is in full operation this summer season and will make it possible for the filtration of polluted waters to go up to 70%, making the waters in the sea cleaner. This plant will make it possible that there will be no more spills of polluted water into the sea, while the houses that have been built in the hilly areas up to the tunnel in “Uji i Ftohtë” will be included in this project, which have not have ever been included in the sewerage network”, – guaranteed on the eve of the tourist season in 2020, the director of Vlorë Water and Sewerage, Dorian Xhelili.

    But three years after the promises with doses of optimization, this plant is currently partially at work, without being able to clean the waters. However, Vlora is not the only city, which, although having a water filtration plant, wastewaters still end up in the river and then in the open sea with no treatment.

    Millions in euros in investments, very little benefits

    The data researched by “Ina Media” shows that about 13 billion ALL, or 105 million euros, have been invested in our country to build the wastewater filtration system.

    Currently, one plant is located in Shirokë; one in Velipoja; one in Lezha (partial operational), one in Lalez; one in Durrës, one in Kavaje (not fully operational, as there is a defect), one in Vlora (partially operational), one in Sarande (partially operational), one in Pogradec and another in Korça. Plants have also been built in Orikum, Palasa and Dhërmi.

    In Albania, the construction of wastewater plants started relatively late. The first plant is that of Kavaja, built in the years 2003-2007 with financing from the German Development Bank, worth 4.9 million euros.

    This plant was expanded in a second phase (2012-2018), through IPA 2009 funds of the European Commission, worth 5.3 million euros. The plant anticipates providing service to 90,000 residents of the area.

    But despite the investment, which amounts to more than 10 million euros, this plant does not carry out the complete process of treating polluted waters. In 2021, the Supreme State Audit (SSA) found a number of problems in the operation of this plant, ascertained in the first 6 months of 2020.

    “This plant does not carry out a complete process of treating polluted waters. It performs the preliminary and primary process incompletely, so it does not provide the expected result of the investment, it does not meet the norms and the quality standard that the treated water must meet before it is poured into the receiving water bodies. The pollution of river waters is followed by a chain of negative effects with high environmental costs and extended over time,” says the SSA report.

    “The physico-chemical and bacteriological analysis laboratory near Kavajë Water-Sewage is not functioning”, – it is further quoted in this report for the Kavajë plant.

    The plant was not fully operational even in April 2022, when we addressed a request for information to the Municipality of Kavaja.

    “The plant is partially in operation as the repair project has not yet been completed, the implementation of which may take 1 month at most,” says the Municipality of Kavaja in its response.

    The repair project, referred to by the Municipality of Kavaja, was tendered a year ago and is worth 153 million ALL.

    The tender for the repair of ITUN Kavajë

    But quite unlike the Kavajë Water Supply, the National Agency of Water Supply, Sewerage and Waste Infrastructure (AKUM) does not know that this plant is temporarily out of order, but told INA MEDIA that the wastewater treatment plant in Kavajë is in operation.

    Although this plant should serve as a model for other plants, the investment has not fulfilled its goal. Delivered in 2007, investors are unhappy with the performance that such an investment should have.

    “I can say that it is not among the plants that have operated better. What we see when we do the assessment is how it has impacted the development of the area,” Bledar Dollaku, program coordinator at the KFW, told INA MEDIA.

    The Kavaja plant is one of 16 wastewater treatment plants built in Albania during the years 2005-2021 with a total investment value of over 13 billion ALL.

    The plants are mainly built on the coastline to reduce the pollution of the beaches and to serve the development of tourism.

    Golem, 2022

    However, only a small part of the population receives wastewater treatment services.

    The Monitoring Unit at AKUM in 2019 found that access to this service is 4 times smaller than the target.

    “Only 10.45% of the urban population is connected to a wastewater treatment plant, a figure which remains very low, while in rural areas the sewage system is often missing. These levels of coverage are far behind the objective defined in the National Strategy of FU&K, 2011-2017, which aimed to reach 40% coverage of the treatment of polluted water by the end of 2017”, – says the AKUM report.

    The same situation is also confirmed by a report of the Water Regulatory Entity throughout the year 2021, which states that despite a slight increase in the coverage of wastewater treatment plants, the country still remains far from the established objectives.

    “For the year 2021, they have reported data from 7 companies where the total number of the population served by ITUN is about 497,960 inhabitants with an increase of 33,563 inhabitants compared to 2020. This indicator still remains at unsatisfactory levels”, – the report quotes.

    Despite the river of money spent on the treatment of polluted waters, experts estimate that they have not been efficient.

    “What stands out during these years is the lack of investment efficiency. The projects do not follow a necessary cycle, which includes the feasibility study, there is no opposition, there is no expertise, all of these are necessary to have successful investments” – argues Avni Dervishi, expert on water supply and sewage issues.

    Aleko Miho, biologist, at the Faculty of Natural Sciences, says that these plants are not efficient and do fundction, since the level of pollution in the areas where they operate in continues to be high.

    “Urban pollution continues to be high in these areas. This means that either the plants do not work regularly, or many of the waste waters are not collected and processed, they are being poured directly through drainage channels on their way to the rivers, lakes or sea”, explains Professor Aleko Miho.

    “Water Treatment Plants were built mainly with soft loan grants. From the moment of the government agreement, a period of 4-5 years is needed for the construction of the plant, which includes the feasibility study that requires 10-12 months. Then it goes to the tendering procedures and then it takes about 18-20 months for the implementation”, said Bledar Dollaku from KFW to “INA Media”.

    Wastewater treatment plants in Albania

    The national strategy of the water supply and sewerage sector 2022-2030 predicts that in 2030 the coverage with wastewater treatment plants will reach 33%. The plan looks more than ambitious, when you consider that in 17 years, about 1/3 of the target forecast for the next 8 years has been covered by ITUN.

    Tirana, 40 million euros were spent, but there is still no plant

    Lanë river, Tirana

    Tirana is the only capital in Europe, where sewage flows into the river that runs through the city.

    “That’s how Lana has always been. Sewage has always been poured here”, says Violeta, a 56-year-old lady who lives in the Shallvareve area, very close to Lana. According to her, it is impossible that a day will come when sewage will not be poured into Lana.

    Promises to build a wastewater treatment plant for Tirana date back 20 years, but it took a decade to secure funding from JICA, the Japan International Cooperation Agency, through a soft loan worth about 100 million dollars. But the work started 5 years later.

    In 2014, the Minister of Infrastructure at that time, Edmond Haxhinasto, announced the start of works for the construction of the Water Treatment Plant in Kashar, which would cost 79 million dollars (from the loan received from JICA).

    The works were expected to last two years and the plant should have been completed in 2016. But in 2016, the infrastructure minister at the time, Sokol Dervishaj, gave another deadline for the completion of the works. According to him, they would end in 2018.

    But in fact, the story got complicated in 2018, when after several postponements of the deadline for the completion of the works, AKUM terminated the contract with the Italian-Japanese company “Dondi & Kubota” that was performing the works due to delays. In the same year, the company referred the dispute to the Court of Arbitration in London, where it seeks compensation for illegal termination of the contract. This contract was also subject to an audit by SSA, which found “that the company’s payments have been delayed for a period of 3 years, while the necessary permits for works have also been delayed”, so it foresees and recommends finding a common language with the company.

    “For the termination of this contract, the Contractor has opened a case in the court of the International Chamber of Commerce, London, and it is very likely that he will win this case, and in case he wins, the state budget will pay an extremely large amount that can to go over 90 million euros” – puts his finger on the wound of SSA.

    And while the project has remained at the doors of the Court, AKUM admits that 43.9 million euros have been spent, while the works have been suspended for 4 years. Following a request from INA MEDIA, AKUM details the works that have been carried out until July 2018, mainly excavation works for the construction of the tubs. The fund has been spent for about 50% of the planned works.

    Apart from the public statements of several years ago by the Mayor of Tirana regarding the resumption of the works, there is still nothing concrete.

    “Such buildings that are not put into operation break down and go out of use faster than if they were in operation; such abuses are not wise for a country with a fragile economy like Albania” – says Aleko Miho for “INA Media”.

    AKUM itself admits that it does not have a concrete plan for the completion of the plant.

    “AKUM is in the process of efforts to reactivate the Supervision contract. The first objective of the Consultant/Supervisor will be to prepare an assessment of the current physical situation and then of the Economic side necessary for the completion and commissioning of this work” – says AKUM, this is an answer that proves that there is still no assessment of the physical situation and the economic needs for the construction of this plant.

    Lanë river, may 2022

    Tirana, where more than 1/3 of the country’s population is concentrated, does not know when it will have a wastewater treatment plant, but the country’s needs to build such plants are equally unclear.

    “Within the completion of the project “Planning the water sector for the negotiations with the EU”, the needs for ITUN at the country level will be determined” – says the Ministry of Infrastructure when asked by INA MEDIA.


    Polluted waters return the rivers to the collector

    Without filtration plants, polluted water is discharged untreated into the country’s basins, turning them into sewers. As a result, they have become among the main polluters of the environment. This evidence is found year after year in the environmental monitoring reports, which measures the water quality in all basins of the country.

    “The discharge of untreated urban waters into seas, rivers, and lakes constitutes one of the most serious problems both from the point of view of water pollution and from the point of view of public health,” this report states.

    Pollution records are headed by Tirana River, Lana, Ishmi which are categorized in class V or bad condition. The Ishëm-Erzen basin is classified in class V – Bad condition.

    “This is also due to the fact that close to the residential areas, the urban discharges which are poured directly untreated cause a high level of pollution”, specifies the report.

    The waters of the Drin basin are classified in Class IV – Poor condition, while those of Mat are moderate. While Semani is another very polluted river and its waters are classified as category V or bad condition. The Vjosa basin is in the best condition, which has been assessed in class II in the 2020 Environmental Monitoring Report, the last one published by the National Environment Agency.

    Professor Seit Shallari, who heads the department of environment and natural resources at the Faculty of Agriculture and Environment, at the Agricultural University of Tirana, says that the damages resulting from the discharge of polluted and urban water into basins have long-term negative effects.

    “The accumulation of pollutants in river sediments has created a warehouse, which turns into a source of contamination for underground water for a long time. Hard to find a basin out of the 6 that Albania has, where sewage or urban water is not discharged. We all know that in Tirana, where most of the population is concentrated, the polluted water is not treated,” Professor Seit Shallari told INA MEDIA.

    “These discharges are a source of infection and disease for aquatic life, and directly or indirectly for humans. They are the cause of the phenomenon of eutrophication, the bloom of algae, often poisonous ones, also with serious consequences for the living aquatic world and man himself; without talking about the visual, relaxing, and ugly aspects of the landscape”, Professor Aleko Miho further explains.

    Erzen river

    From the 2020 Environmental Monitoring Report (most to least polluted rivers in Albania)


    The environment, EU conditions unmet

    The wastewater treatment plant in Pogradec, which has been in operation since 2009, is considered positive, also because it is the only plant in the country, which treats phosphorus and nitrates, according to European standards.

    This plant, which is expected to have a lifespan of 40 years, has been financed by KfW, the German Development Bank, with a fund of about 3.5 million dollars and provides service to about 50 thousand residents of the city of Pogradec and the administrative unit of Buçimas.

    Wastewater treatment plant, Pogradec

    “The Pogradec plant can be taken as an example in terms of operation. Of course, there are additional costs, which must be met through the fee. Since it is close to the lake, this plant also filters phosphorus and nitrates. While the plants of Saranda and Vlora, for example, are deficient in treatment, since they do not treat phosphorus and nitrates,” said Bledar Dollaku, program coordinator at KfW.

    Wastewater treatment plant, Pogradec

    But even in this case there are doubts regarding the way of management. The environmental expert, Arian Meroli, says that the Pogradec Water and Sewer company is facing a series of challenges and problems. According to him, although the plant is expected to remove phosphorus and nitrates, in fact this process is not always carried out.

    “Mismanagement is reflected in the high losses in the network, despite the fact that it is a completely new investment, as well as the problems that the waters have after treatment and that are poured into the lake, which in many cases contain nitrates, phosphorus or other elements above the allowed rate” – says Meroli for INA MEDIA.

    Even the wastewater treatment plant in Korçë does not filter phosphorus and nitrogen, but in the evaluation report of KfW, it is predicted that its technology will improve over the years.

    “The plant can be gradually completed with the appropriate technology, to be able to fulfill the requirements of the EU if Albania becomes a member of the EU” – it is stated in the assessment report of KfW.

    In the resolution of the European Parliament for Albania, in May 2022, the Albanian authorities were asked to increase measures for the protection of biodiversity, water, air, climate and regional waste management, including environmental and strategic impact assessments, appropriate public consultations, procedures transparent and rigorous prosecution of environmental crime.

    “It is important to respect the law, which was aligned with that of the EU in 2011. Even the plants that are in operation today must be aligned with EU standards” – says Professor Seit Shallari for “INA Media”.

    According to Professor Aleko Mihos, sound finances are needed to implement the legislation.

    It is not enough to just build a treatment plant, but you have to try for the right financial means for the system to work; but also for the improvement of technology and staff qualification; but also for increasing the responsibility of the local government” – said Professor Miho.

    “In order to create a complete network of sewers and ensure the treatment of polluted water throughout the country, investments would have to be increased, there should be more transparency in project management, as well as continuous audits” – says Avni Dervishi .

    Currently, 3 other wastewater treatment plants in Shkodër, Berat and Himare are in the tendering phase. In addition to limited investments, the country also lacks human resources.

    “The difficulty lies in the capacity to properly manage the plants. For example, in the case of the Himara plant, we will support the operation for another 2 years. In Albania, technical expertise is limited”. – concluded the coordinator of KfW, Bledar Dollaku, predicting a bleak future in terms of the capacities that will manage the plants after construction.

    Ky shkrim është pjesë e projektit që mbështetet financiarisht nga Zyra e Mardhënieve me Publikun e Ambasadës së SH.B.A. në Tiranë. Opinionet, gjetjet, konkluzionet dhe rekomandimet e shprehura janë te autor-it/ve dhe nuk përfaqesojnë domosdoshmërisht ato të Departamentit të Shtetit. / This article is part of a project that is financially supported by the Public Relations Office of the US Embassy in Tirana. The opinions, findings, conclusions, and recommendations expressed are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent those of the Department of State.