Early in 2021, the PONT Supervisory Board decided to start the process of expanding the operations of PONT to the Wider Ohrid Area (WOA). The decision was based on the findings of the Feasibility Study conducted by the GOPA Worldwide Consultants in association with Stritih Sustainable Development, with financial support from the KfW Development Bank.
The WOA includes three Protected Areas that are currently eligible for applying for PONT grants: Vevchanski Springs Monument of Nature, managed by Vevchani Municipality in North Macedonia, as well as Pogradec Protected Landscape, managed by the Regional Administration of Protected Areas, Korce, and Shebenik-Jablanica National Park in Albania, managed by the Regional Administration of Protected Areas, Elbasan, in Albania.
Lake Ohrid Monument of Nature and Jablanica National Park (both in North Macedonia) may get access to PONT co-financing, contingent on their legal (re-)proclamation and after having a dedicated PA Management Authority as well as an officially approved Management Plan and pending a positive decision by the PONT Supervisory Board.
PONT implements its mission through two main grant programs: (1) co-financing operational cost of Protected Areas, and (2) co-financing the work of Environmental Actors (EAs), including non-governmental organizations (NGOs), municipalities, and scientific/research institutions. The PONT support to the Protected Area Management Authorities in the WOA will be in line with their Management Plans, whereas the co-financing to Environmental Actors will be guided by a dedicated Strategic Framework.
At the beginning of September, assisted by two national consultants, PONT launched a consultation process with all relevant stakeholders on the draft Strategic Framework of the WOA that has been drafted by the consultants working on the Feasibility Study.
The consultation process begun with a series of meetings with local-level stakeholders (Protected Area authorities; non-governmental organizations, municipalities; research institutes), followed up by on-line workshops with national-level stakeholders in Albania and North Macedonia, and concluded with a transboundary online workshop on 23 September 2021. More than 100 participants were involved in the process, representing the competent ministries, PA authorities, local governments, scientific institutions, donors, international and non-governmental organizations.
The stakeholder presented many valuable ideas and proposals that were in line with the 6 objectives of the Strategic Framework and the related priority activities to be supported by PONT. In the consultation process the stakeholders expressed their support for the geographical expansion and stressed the role of the EAs in protected area governance, as well as the assistance they can extend in many areas of Protected Area management.
Taking into account the input from the public consultation, PONT will finalize the Strategic Framework of the Wider Ohrid Area and submit it to the PONT Supervisory Board, at its meeting on 30 September 2021.