Mon, Jan 30, 2017 - Page 4 News List

FEATURE: Development threatens the oldest lake in Europe

WORLD HERITAGE SITE:UNESCO has called on Macedonian authorities to assess potential cumulative damage from its plans on the 3 million-year-old lake

AFP, OHRID, Macedonia

Of the raft of controversial proposals, expected to involve both private and public investment, some fall under the remit of central government ministries while others are part of municipal plans.

The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, a potential investor in the expressway, says it is “assessing the feasibility” of the project.

Macedonia’s conservative VMRO-DPMNE party, in power nationally since 2006, has been accused by critics of authoritarianism and corruption, but narrowly won a general election last month.

Ohrid Mayor Nikola Bakraceski, from VMRO-DPMNE, insists environmental regulations have been followed and the public sufficiently consulted in city planning.

Bakraceski accuses activists of having “political agendas” and lacking expertise.

He said that one of his priorities is finding resources for a 54 million euro (US$57.6 million) upgrade of the Ohrid area’s antiquated and damaged waste collection system, in order to protect the lake.

On a national level, the government has prepared an “action plan” to implement the requests of the Istanbul meeting, said Lidija Topuzovska, the top Macedonian official for UNESCO matters, without giving specific details.

“The general intentions are that all standards for preserving the cultural and natural values of the Ohrid region are respected,” she said.

However, campaigners are not reassured.

Another citizens’ group, Ohrid SOS, is campaigning to protect Studenchishte Marsh, the last remaining wetland by the lake.

One of its members, Macedonian scientist Nadezda Apostolova, has written in depth about the importance of the marsh — both for its own biodiversity and its role in cleaning pollution flowing into the lake.

A professor at Spain’s University of Valencia, she said the wetland is already under “severe attack” from construction as trees are gradually replaced by concrete.

Activists said they are not against all types of development, but want to see transparent plans that protect the “jewel” of the landlocked nation and keep it attractive to visitors.

“Everything is at risk with these developments,” Apostolova said.

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