Rape of growth: a reportage by Ole Elfenkämper

Photos by Ole Elfenkämper


Toni grew up in Ballsh and went to Greece for work. As the economy crisis started, he lost his job and therefore he had to leave Greece. Now he lives back at home with his family and helps out in his fathers motorcycle garage. Toni is 22 years old.

Ole Elfenkaemper was born 1982 in the north of Germany. Starting to film his friends during skatesessions, he developed an interest in photography in 2005.

He worked as assistant for a colorist at the ARRI Labs. 2010 he built up the Ipad edition as photoeditor at the Frankfurter Rundschau and the Ipad desk won the ‘Judges Special Recognition’ of the European Newspaper Award.
His work was published in the Frankfurter Rundschau, Spiegel Online, Welt Online, Berliner Morgenpost, N-TV and the Lob Magazine. Ole Elfenkaemper is currently based in Sweden.

I travelled in March and April to Albania to get to know and to gain a deeper understanding of the country; a country that seems to be in a state of waiting. Waiting for accession to the European Union, economic progress, political stability and for tourists yet to come. I went on a first trip, and started investigating various stories that captured my interest and attention. During my investigation it became clear, that I would need more time to pursue those stories in depth. In July 2011 i came back and started a long term project about environmental problems in Albania.

Dilapidated industrial plants, a lack of sewage plants and high air pollution burden the environment. Cities like Ballsh, Patos or Elbasan in central Albania reveal the extent of the lack of environmental awareness and the indifference of big company’s. Rivers, soil and lakes are so heavily polluted that it would take decades to eliminate the damage and the people have no other choice but to live in this pollution. The farmers use the contaminated water to irrigate their fields. Animals and human beings in these regions are in major health risk.
Furthermore, a lack of safety measures in factories pose a potential danger for the workers. Time after time workers in the oil or steel industry pay for their jobs with their lives.

Until 2010, the goverment had initiated an enviromental program to reduce the level of pollution to a european mediocrity. That program was only translated partly into action and terminated without real success. Currently, there are still plans to advance the protection of the environment. For the current government these plans take low priority, so that an improvement of the situation can not be expected anytime soon.

The carelessness with which the government is treating the society is mirrored in the environmental pollution. The damages caused by international companies are irretrievable and there is no support for the people. In my opinion, environmental protection must be ranked first among social and political issues.

At first we should take a look around us. We cannot change our individual behavior and our society as a whole, if we turn a blind eye to the problems that your continent, country, or even district faces. It is of prominent importance that we change our attitude towards enviromental issues. Therefore the change should occure within ourselves.


Many Oil tanks and pipelines are in a very bad condition. Heavy oil leaks out uncontrolled and causes serious damage to the nature and the people who are living in it. The lake in the background is badly polluted for more than ten years now. Back in the days, farmers used the clear water to watering their fields.


Skender used to work in the oil refinery before Sali Berisha became Prime Minister in 2005. One year later he and 600 other workers lost their jobs. The Company told them that there weren’t enough jobs. In fact, all the workers who were dumped, voted for the oppositional left wing party.


Some of the rotten tanks are still in use. People use to work without any protective clothing or gas masks.


A polluted stream which carries the water from a containminated lake.


From the oil refinery in Ballsh sewage flows into the river Gjanica. The river carries thousands and thousands of the seriously polluted water into the Sea nearby Fier, a popular bathing spot during summer.


An elderly woman standing in front of an oil polluted field. Oil leaked out of the tanks and destroyed her surrounding environment. “There were no environmental problems, poverty or something like that during Enver Hoxha’s regime”, she said.


Garbage collector as seen in the capital of Albania, Tirana. The garbage disposal is administrated by the government, but only in the most important Cities


Junk collectors seen at the garbage dump in Elbasan.


A donkey on an illegal garbage dump at the coastline south of Albania.


Illegal waste incineration in a village between Patos and Fier.


A man working at a smelting furnace nearby Fushe Kurja. Before 2011 he used old tires for heating the furnace. Nowadays it is prohibited by law to burn tires and the people are afraid of being fined


Garbage collectors seen at the beach of Durres, a city most popular to tourism.


During the Kosovo war, this site was used as a refugee camp. Nowadays, the government has turned this site into a vast garbage dump which stores garbage coming from Durres.


Most of the citizens, including children, used to work and still work at the garbage dump, due to the lack of work opportunities. In many cases, the Albanian government has let the people down.


Pigs rest in the garbage dump in Porto Romano, into a toxic and sewage polluted puddle.


The people have to pay an annual tax of 5000 LEK (35 euro) for enviromental protection. “As long as the money is adminstrated by the government, nothing will change here, and it doesn´t matter how much NGO´s will come. In the end the money will only reach the pockets of employees of the government“, they said.


In 2000, The United Nation’s Enviromental Program (UNEP), declared Porto Romano „an enviromental disaster area“ and “one of the worst enviromental hotspots on the Balkans.“ 500 meters away lays the abandoned chemical plant that produced a toxic insecticide called Lindane (gamma-HCH) and sodium chromate for use in the leather tanning industry. The whole area of Porto Romano is heavily contaminated. The dangerous concentrations of hazardous chemicals were dumped beside the former plant. It was impossible to enter this area which is locked with concrete walls and guarded by security forces. But you can smell the chemical pollution in the air, even today.


“What else can I do, besides digging my own grave“, she said. “I bet there are much more better places in Afghanistan than here“


A security guard at the Patos – Marinza oil field, the biggest on shore oil field in europe, dispels me in front of the oil storage entrance.


An abandoned and fallen over shaft tower lays in an oil polluted lake at the Patos – Marinza oil field, europe’s biggest on shore oil field. The current production is 13,500 bopd and the first-quarter average oil price was 68,06$ a barrel, according to Bankers Petroleum.


Another oil polluted lake at the Patos – Marinza oilfield. Once, these lakes were used for watering the fields. After the political change in the 90ies everything fell apart and the people and companies didnt care about the preservation and protection of the environment.


The inhabitants of the village Belina, which is located in the middle Patos-Marinza oil field, the biggest on shore oil field in Europe, looking at a run-of-the-mill view of a burning oil puddle.


A teenager from the village Belina, which is located in the middle of the Patos – Marinza oil field jumps into the river Seman, which is heavily polluted.


Teenagers from the village Belina, which is located in the middle of the Patos – Marinza oil field. The village and the environment is heavily polluted since more than 50 years.


A white foam is seen on the river in Porto Romano which carries toxic and sewage polluted water into the Adriatic Sea.


The stream Prior i Kushes flows through the city Elbasan and is heavily polluted from sewage and garbage. In the background appears the Elbasan steel factory. The factory is responsible for most of the environmental problems in the region of Elbasan. On 15th of May 2011 a worker dies due to serious burning, cost by the lack of safety measures at the factory. The Company doesn’t allow journalists to enter the factory that is run by a turkish company named Kurum Holding.


A family in the village Qficina pumps out water from the polluted river Gjanica. They use the water for growing tomatoes. “We pump out the water below the oil spill. Thus, it isn´t dangerous”, they said. Most of the people in Albania are hardly educated in environmental issues.


A young man fishes in the river Seman, the most spoiled stream in the region.Nobody cares about the pollution of the river, that also flows into the sea nearby Fier, a city most popular to tourism.


A young man runs into the Adriatic Sea in Durres. It is one of Albanias most popular beaches although most polluted by industrial pollution, sewage and garbage.

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