“The Albanian Center for Environmental Governance (ACEG) in close cooperation with the Administration of Protected Areas of Korça region, under the care of director Ilijon Thanas, organized the webinar on the topic “Healthy Park, Healthy People” in order to present this pan-European initiative. Its main goal is to return the humans to nature and to improve the health of the citizens. The initiative “Healthy Park, Healthy People” is a pan-European program, which is developed and implemented in Europe by the EUROPARC Federation to encourage citizens to see nature as an environment, which directly affects their health well-being and brings the administration closer to protected areas with the community and local structures in a cooperation for the sustainable development of National Parks.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, humans turned their attention to nature and the health benefits we derive from it. In these terms, this initiative took off and was embraced throughout Europe and beyond. Therefore, the aim is to raise awareness of the community and create conditions for increasing the human capacity of the administration of the Protected Areas and the infrastructural capacity of the National Park to welcome visitors of all age groups and different physical abilities, which will bring about a reawakening of health and family tourism in national parks.
On the other hand, it is necessary to create partnerships between local, academic and health institutions to offer the people with special needs, children, families and other target groups the possibility to access National Parks. This partnership which will contribute to the health well-being of the citizens and at the same time to the protection of the National Park. This will be accomplished by bringing a new approach of education for the protection of nature by using it responsibly.
Our goal is to promote and realize collaborations between local government, businesses, NGOs and citizens to increase their health and economic well-being through the sustainable development of parks and protected areas. In this way we can improve public health, promoting a positive approach to protected areas. This will be an useful way to attract new visitors to parks and protected areas and it will help to reduce health inequalities. We want to maximize the contribution of protected areas to improving public health and well-being for all and reducing health inequalities, protecting, restoring and investing in biodiversity.
Mrs. Margarita Buxhaku, executive director of the ACEG center welcomed the guests by expressing high consideration for those present. In the discussion, we had the pleasure of having among us the director of the Nature Fund for Prespa and Ohrid, PONT, Mrs. Mirjam de Koning. “We have to take care of nature as it takes care of us,” said Mrs. de Koning. She further added that the “HPHP” initiative is essential for the well-being of physical and mental health as people are healthy when they are in contact with nature.
We had also Dr. Carles Castell Puig as a speaker, ecologist and nature expert in Spain, also member of the commission of the EUROPARC Federation, (Federation of Nature and National Parks in Europe). During the presentation, dr. Puig said that initiatives such as HPHP should be strengthened and this can only be achieved by building bridges of cooperation between organizations, businesses, experts and governing structures at the local and central level of education, health and local government. His presentation was also enriched with international examples showing places where the HPHP initiative is being implemented such as Scotland and Spain. The introductory session of dr. Puig concluded with a variety of questions and discussions from the audience.
In the second session, we had the pleasure of discussing with the director of the National Association of Tourist Guides NATGA, also a tourism expert, Ardiola Alikaj. “Nature, in addition of being a medicine for physical health, also offers us mental peace”, said Mrs. Alikaj. “Valuable initiatives like HPHP enable the growth of tourism and serve to improve the local economy”, she further stated. The guests were interactive and discussed about “Healthy parks, healthy people” during the session of Mrs. Alikaj. Representatives of the municipality of Devoll and Pustec, representatives of businesses, tourist operators, national and local organizations, academics from the “University of Sports”, attended the webinar and discussed about the session. In addition, they congratulated the center for the development of the “HPHP” initiative in Albania.
In the framework of the promotion and development of sustainable tourism, through the project “Promotion of sustainable tourism through increasing the capacities of local authorities and entrepreneurship in the wider area of Prespa – Phase II” supported by the Nature Fund for Prespa and Ohrid (PONT), the ACEG Center intends to implement the “Healthy Parks Healthy People” initiative by piloting it first in Prespa National Park and then to support parks and protected areas at national, regional and local levels to give better results for the health of people and nature.