SEATTLE — To look at data from the European Environment Agency’s reports and compare the Albanian bathing water quality between 2015 and 2016, it would be easy to think they were two different countries.
In May 2016, the European Environment Agency revealed just how poor water quality in Albania was, especially at Albanian bathing sites. Data the EU agency collected during 2015 showed that more than a third of these sites’ water was insufficient in quality. Out of 78 bathing sites, 31 received the agency’s lowest grade of ‘poor.’
The May 2017 report, however, looks much different. Albania’s bathing sites, now numbering 92, have shown drastic improvements as water quality in Albania becomes a national priority.
Only 13 of these sites now have the EEA’s ‘poor’ grade, as Albanians eradicate E. coli and intestinal enterococci from their bathing waters. When found in water samples, these two bacteria can be indicative of pollution from sewage and agricultural waste.
Removing water pollutants from these sites –– predominantly large coastal beaches –– has positive implications regarding this former Eastern bloc nation’s economy.
Tirana Times reports that tourism has emerged as a “key sector” of the economy. Ethnic Albanians from surrounding countries visit Albania in a phenomenon labeled ‘patriotic tourism.’ Foreigners from abroad flock to Albania for its ancient Greco-Roman archaeological sites, many of which are underwater or near popular beaches.
Tourism is one of Albania’s fastest-growing industries, with tourism-related jobs accounting for 24 percent of the Albanian workforce. In fact, Albania’s tourism industry contributes 8.4 percent of the country’s GDP, making clean and safe tourist locations, like bathing sites, a high priority. Water quality in Albania must be top notch or reports like the 2015 EEA country profile on Albanian bathing sites will keep European tourists from traveling to the country.
In order to draw more people to its many famed Adriatic beaches, Albania must ensure these sites meet accepted European standards. To facilitate this, Albania has built several wastewater treatment plants.
These plants, according to the EEA, “provide wastewater treatment for almost half a million residents which results also in much cleaner bathing water.”
Take, for example, the Wastewater Treatment Plant in Durrës, Albania. This plant, along with plants in Saranda and Shengjin, was donated by the World Bank, the government of Luxembourg, the European Bank and the European Commission. It now provides clean water for more than 250,000 residents.
With legal obligations under the EU’s Bathing Water Directive and the influence of tourism on the country’s economy, Albania has had to buckle down. In addition to utilizing wastewater treatment plants, Albania has taken measures to prevent pollution in the first place and ensure high-quality water.
And clearly, it’s worked. The percentage of Albanian bathing waters with a ‘good’ or ‘excellent’ grade from the EEA has risen from 47 percent to 61 percent in just one year. Funding from foreign nations such as Germany and Luxembourg, as well as public and private investments, has allowed this to happen.
As water quality in Albania improves, so does Albanian tourism increase. Furthermore, the entire economy of Albania is improving. In 2016, the Albanian economy grew by 3.5 percent, according to the World Bank, which estimates that the Albanian economy will see further improvement ––growth of about 3.8 percent –– in 2019.
– David McLellan