Locals fear disaster as North Macedonia's lake recedes

STORY: This wooden platform at Lake Prespa in North Macedonia was once surrounded by water.

But water levels here have been dropping for decades… and it now stands on dry ground.

Locals say they’re afraid of what’s to come.

Lake Prespa is shared by Albania, Greece and North Macedonia.

It’s one of Europe’s oldest lakes and home to more than 2,000 species of fish, birds, mammals and plants.

Water levels are now about 26 feet lower than they were in the late 1970s.

Aleksandar Ilievski remembers higher water just a few years ago.

“I grew up in this village and we all came to jump from this platform in the water. In 2018 we jumped a lot from it. We played with balls and everything but now you can look the situation isn’t very good. The water went away.”

In 2022 NASA said that satellite images showed the lake had lost 7% of its surface area and half of its volume – between 1984 and 2020.

Fisherman Vancho Vasilevski says his boat frequently runs aground on the lake.

“In the last two, three months the water has dropped by 36 centimeters (14 inches) and in the last two, three days probably the water level has dropped another two to three centimeters. It will go down more. There is no rain, no winter, no snow, no rivers. Only one river is coming into the lake, there is no (other) supply of water to the lake. This is a disaster, a natural disaster.”

Environmentalists say lack of rain, evaporation and overuse of water for irrigation are the main reasons for the water loss.

Biologist Dragan Arsovski says people today are failing to adapt and take action.

“Lake Prespa has gone down and up many times in the geological history, and it has survived. A lot of animals, a lot of biodiversity has survived. What is unique now is that we are contributing to this effect of climate change and also that now the lake is going away, or it is decreasing its water level, but we, the people who are living around there, we do not know how to cope with this because we have gotten used to the lake as it was…”

The United Nations Development Programme has warned some wildlife species at the lake are at risk of extinction…

due to the destruction of their habitat through harmful farming practices, erosion, untreated waste and wastewater.

Fruit farm worker Mende Pandevski says pesticides are contributing to the problem.

“Everything goes in the underground waters, in the lake, they go everywhere and are very dangerous for Prespa. These modern pesticides are not like what we used to have. We don’t know what we are getting from manufacturers. It is a catastrophe, nothing is going right.”

The local government has been taking samples to check for the presence of pesticides and chemicals.

The results show that in some key areas, the water quality is getting much worse.

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