Lake forum achieves trust, transparency and results

March 21, 2009 | By Srna Sunar Vilotic

For the past six years the REC has supported transboundary cooperation and dialogue between Montenegro and Albania through the Skadar/Shkodra Lake component of REReP project 4.3.23: Transboundary Cooperation through the Management of Shared Natural Resources.

During this time, representatives from both countries have participated in building up formal and informal means of cooperation to address this unique transboundary zone. One of the most notable achievements of the project was the Skadar/Shkodra Lake Forum, which emerged as the main platform for transboundary dialogue between Montenegro and Albania on lake-related issues. Even as an informal body, the forum has managed to facilitate institutional transboundary dialogue.

The scope of the forum's work has expanded significantly, from initially providing a project planning and consulting mechanism to becoming a real actor in the planning and implementation of regional and cross-border policy. The forum is now initiating a discussion to determine its successor — i.e. a new, joint institution to take over the forum's current functions, in addition to being given greater responsibilities concerning joint management of the lake's natural resources. As a formal structure, the Skadar/Shkodra Lake Forum was established as an advisory body to support the planning of project activities.

Formerly representing a variety of actors and narrower interests of local communities, the forum evolved into a body developing strategic approaches for the entire transboundary region.

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Handcraft producers offer a variety of local wares in Shkodra, Albania. Photo: REC Albania

The forum ensured that meetings took place each year on a regular basis between key local stakeholders from both sides of the border (NGOs, local officials, schools, tourism boards, water management, nature conservation and national park authorities, environmental inspectorates, etc.). In addition, REC site coordinators, the main local-level facilitators of this process, maintained close cooperation with forum members. Because of this, local stakeholders have been given a significantly stronger mandate to act as real players in decisions and strategies concerning regional development. Forum meetings have also served as efficient cross-sectoral/cross-border coordination mechanisms.

From the very outset of the project, the forum helped to build trust and transparency during discussions of broader issues. Due to its key strategic role in transboundary management, the Skadar/Shkodra Lake Forum has succeeded in initiating discussion and activities toward establishing a new transboundary institution for the lake region that will be even more efficient than existing mechanisms. To this effect, REC Country Office Albania and Country Office Montenegro [had] organised a ceremony for the signing of a statement of cooperation between two newly established NGOs: the Montenegro Skadar Lake Forum and Albanian Shkodra Lake Forum. Also recognised at the signing ceremony was the Joint Fair of Albanian-Montenegrin Handcraft Producers, which took place on February 2 in Shkodra, Albania.

The fair offered participants a unique opportunity to see and purchase handcrafts from the lake region. It is activities such as this that represent the two forums' efforts to achieve sustainable management of lake resources for the benefit of people, communities and institutions on both sides of the border. Mutual prosperity is, indeed, closely linked to the health of this lake region's environment and resources.