From: Alice Taylor
Albanian and Macedonian Culture Ministers Sign Agreement to Protect Lake Ohrid

Albanian and Macedonian Ministers of Culture have signed a joint agreement to preserve Lake Ohrid, straddling the border between the two countries.

The document was signed yesterday in Ohrid by Albanian Minister Elva Margariti and her Macedonian counterpart Irena Stefoska. It promises that the two countries will work together to preserve the area as a site of natural and cultural significance and a UNESCO site.

Stefoska said it marks the beginning of a new relationship between the two countries. She also called on civil society, local authorities, and members of the public to play their part and work together to protect the lake and its surroundings.

Margariti stated:

“Both countries agreed and are fully committed and responsible to implement a joint strategic plan for the recovery of this region, accompanied by a detailed action plan on the measures we will take to prevent any kind of risk which may threaten the wealth of this region, which is no longer just ours.”

She added that Albania had taken important steps to preserve the natural and cultural value of the region. She didn’t expand on what these steps were.

The agreement comes after UNESCO said it’s mulling adding Ohrid to its list of endangered sites. There are currently 53 sites on the list and if Ohrid is added, it will be the fourth in Europe.

UNESCO describes Lake Ohrid as a “superlative natural phenomenon” and a refuge for a large number of endemic species of flora and fauna. Some of these date from the Tertiary period, which was more than 66 million years ago.

It is also home to one of the oldest human settlements in Europe and it houses the oldest Slav monastery, more than 800 Byzantine icons from the 11th-14th century, and various prehistoric settlement remains. There is also a church on the Lin peninsula that dates from the middle of the 6th Century.

But the region has been under threat for quite some time. In January, UNESCO again threatened to reclassify Ohrid as endangered, following 18 months of prior warnings. The organization claimed that North Macedonia had done little to fix various issues and the emergence of new threats.

Issues such as unrestrained development, lack of response to illegal construction, and the destruction of nature and the ecosystem were named as some of the key problems. UNESCO added there was a lack of awareness from locals and authorities about the need to preserve their heritage and the natural values of the area.

UNESCO has also asked that both North Macedonia and Albania coordinate together to strengthen legal protection. This includes sorting the sewage issue, establishing a moratorium of coastal and urban development, creating an inventory of illegal constructions, and demolishing those that pose a threat to the area.

The World Heritage Committee will consider the proposals in China between 16-31 July 2021, during its 44th session.