By: Besmir Agalliu
Albania is a mountainous country with a coastline of about 450 km and plentiful water reserves, such as rivers, lakes, groundwater, springs and coastal water.
Semani River is the second longest river in Albania after Drin. Semani River begins at Berati Region and is formed from the merge of two rivers, Osumi and Devolli, in the vicinity of the village of Kozarë. It is 281 km long, a basin of 5649km 2 and an average height of 863 m above the sea level. After crossing the Plain of Myzeqe, it discharges at the Adriatic Sea, south of the Lagoon of Karavasta. Before reaching the sea it merges with the Gjanica River, which runs through the city of Fier. Taking into consideration the hydro-meteorological conditions, Semani River basin is the poorest in the country in terms of underground springs. In addition, rain falls are scarce, 1,084 mm/year on an average. The average perennial flow is 95,7m3/s. About 60% of the water is provided by the Devolli River basin. Semani River basin consists of agricultural areas with poor plant coverage is subject to high erosion. The amount of solid matter that is discharged in sea from Semani River is about 31,2 million ton/year. The water has a relatively high level of mineral content, 440 mg/l. The water temperature ranges from 6,8o C in January to 25,5oC in August. The river bed is rich in gravel and fine sand, with a width ranging from 100 m to 200 m. The river has always abundant water, but with a relatively slow flow. The shores are made of clay layer and are covered with woods.
In Albania, both erosion and high sedimentation is an obvious phenomenon that occurs due to improper usage of land (deforestation and use of inert materials) by industry, agriculture, urban pollution and flooding. Loss of soil due to erosion in Albania is thought to be from 20 to 70 tons / ha per year, and in exceptional cases up to 100 t / ha.The illegal and uncontrolled felling of trees has as a consequence led to the phenomenon of erosion; the forestation process in these areas with the tree varieties as plane, poplar, willow, etc. – perfect for the soil retention, has not been done for years now.
Most deplorable state is in rural areas, where people and the businesses have cut down the trees for their own activities. The same is the situation in Mbrostar, where many businesses have cut down all trees and, as a consequence, arable land has been flooded very often and that has been followed by high costs.
The high level of solid particles that dangles in the Albanian waters is a testimonial of the huge erosion and wrong usage of land in the respective basins of the rivers, caused by the impairment of plant cover and from the large scale of deforestation. Changes in plant cover and land usage affect the ecological functions of the basin, and cause changes in natural plant biocenosys.
Severe soil erosion brings qualitative changes in the chemical composition of waters. Generally, all the chemical components increase, but most obvious is increase in demand for oxygen, conductivity, the suspended solids, nitrogen and phosphorus, hydrocarbons (e.g. pesticides) and metals (ions of calcium, potassium, magnesium, heavy metals, etc.) that come as result of washing that is made to the basin, especially from washing of discharges coming from the inhabited areas within the basin.
Sources from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) confirm that Gjanica River waters contain many toxic elements, due to oil spills from oil refineries, but also due to discharge of waste water from cities and hospitals located in the area that the river crosses. Also, the toxic components of the urban waste of the Fier city, which are transported by rain to Gjanica River, make its waters even more polluted. At the location called ‘Vija e Ngjalës’, Gjanica River waters join those of Semani River and run together through over 10 miles until they end up in the Adriatic Sea. This makes this segment of Semani River more polluted and its waters contain toxic elements, decreasing its flora and fauna compared to the other parts of the river. According to sources from the Regional Directorate for Forest Exploitation in Fier (RDFE), values of elements such as BTEX, benzene, toluene, ethyl-benzene and xylene in the waters of the Gjanica River are quite high. Also, there are many other toxic elements, such as sulphuricgasand chlorine coming out of the water that flows with the oil running down to Gjanica from the sludge facilities and oil refineries. It is noticed that in Berat, there is high contamination of the Osumi River due to the Leather Plant that inappropriately discharge sits waste in the river and creates as a consequence a serious condition because of sulphur and its smell released in the air. The State Inspectorate for Environment, Forests and Water Administration (IEFWA) has noticed the phenomenon of waste being dumped into water by this plant. Pollution caused by this plant is very high as extinction of fauna is noticed.
The high level of pollution that is caused to this basin and its rivers is also posing high risk to humans. Due to discharge of waste by Leather Plant in Berat into Gjanica River, the value of BTEX, benzene, toluene, ethyl-benzene and xylene are quite high. Also, there are many other toxic elements, such as sulfuric gas and chlorine coming out of the water that flows with the oil running down to Gjanica from the sludge facilities and oil refineries. According to public health experts, along with harm caused to the natural aquatic flora and fauna, use of this water for irrigation and livestock is of great danger, because it affects the health of the persons that consume food products that contain quantities of toxic elements. Sources from the RDFE in Fier informed us that this institution has conducted tests for many years now and has informed and made aware of the danger all the farmers, not only in the area that is crossed by Gjanica River, but also in the segment that is crossed by Semani River from ‘Vija e Ngjalës’ to its delta at the Adriatic Sea.
Agricultural land crops planted on both sides of this segment of Semani River are destined to be irrigated with this water during the summer dry season. Sources from the RDFE in Fier affirm that surveys carried out in the field, both this year and the year before, found that the water of this segment of Semani River or the one pertaining to the canal of Vija e Ngjalës is still being used for irrigation of various crops, mainly vegetables and corn also.
Even the residents of villages located on both sides on the Semani River down stream say that they are aware of the pollution that causes the discharge of Gjanica into Semani River, but they add that they have to use the water for irrigation of their crops in order for them to survive. They add that they have been informed by specialists of RDFE in Fier for the threatening danger that results from use of these waters for irrigation. According to farmers, this contamination cannot be fought by them, but only by the appropriate government structures, which must take action. “We have to survive and our revenues are dependent on the summer season harvest. In this period, we can provide abundant products and sell them in different markets to ensure financial income for our families. We use irrigation water from the irrigation canal of ‘Vija e Ngjalës’, others have dug wells on their land, or take water directly by the Semani River by means of water pumps. We cannot check whether water is clean or not, but we need to irrigate our crops”, Ilmi S., a farmer of the area said.
Consequences of pollution
Specialists of RDFE in Fier affirm that the relevant government institutions, which have the authority to intervene and resolve the problem, are aware of the risk threatening consumers of agricultural and dairy products. But even this year, there are taken no measures to prevent irrigation of crops with the hydrocarbon contaminated water of Gjanica River. They say that vegetables and other crops that are irrigated with water from Gjanica and a segment of Semani River containing hydrocarbon, are systematically taking large doses of toxic substances. This enable the poisonous substances, which are very harmful to human body, get through consumption of agricultural & dairy products to humans. Though the effects of toxic substances are not immediate, according to sources from RDFE in Fier, they give rise to several diseases in human body. According to doctors, agricultural crops and animal products containing a toxic component cause problems to the human heart, depress the vital organs and marrow damage.
It is difficult to estimate the surface pollution because underground waters can cross great distances through unseen waterways. Underground water moving through the cracks and caves are not filtered; these waters can transporttoxic substances, as easy as surface waters do. Indeed, this may be furtherexacerbated by tendency of men to use natural holes as waste disposal sites, in areas of karst nature.
Very common in Albanian rivers is also visual macroscopic pollution caused from dumping of solid waste, represented by major visible polluting floaters – often known as objects floating in the running rain fallwater or coastal zone waters.
Solid waste (e.g. cardboard, plastic items or food waste) thrown to the ground, often are found at the shore edges and collected from rainfall water to the drainage system, they swim on the water surface. Waste at river banks.
Concern: Even the water of wells near the river is toxic
Public health experts ring the alarm bell for the wells opened by the people in the areas crossed by Gjanica River. This is because according to doctors, the water of those wells is also used as potable water by farmers themselves. But even use of water from those wells for irrigation, or livestock brings serious consequences as the poisonous substances are transmitted to everyday usage food products. Sources from RDFE in Fier confirm that wells opened near the bedside of Gjanica River can filter the water of the river, but together with the water,they bring along the toxic content as well. Specialists urge all the farmers or people who have dug water wells for consumption or irrigation, to have at least tests of these waters performed so that they are properly informed on the situation they are at.