President von der Leyen,
Prime Minister Rama,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Good afternoon and thank you – also from my side – for being here today.
Νo image, no words can fully describe what Albania and its people went through last year in the early morning hours of the 26th of November, and in the days that followed.
A very strong earthquake – the strongest that the country has seen in the last thirty years – hit the north-western part of the country, affecting mostly Durrës and Tirana.
It claimed fifty-one lives and left nine hundred thirteen people injured.
In just a few seconds, almost eleven thousand five hundred houses turned to rubble and about eighty-four thousand properties were damaged.
To this, we should add the extended damage to many schools, health facilities and public infrastructure, the severe impact of the earthquake on public services and the loss of income for people in the affected areas.
The intensity of the earthquake and the scale of the damage made it impossible for the local authorities to cope on their own. So on the 26th of November, the day of the earthquake, Albanian authorities requested European assistance through the Union's Civil Protection Mechanism.
The response from the Member States, and other States participating in the Mechanism, was immediate and it was generous. It fully met, and then exceeded, the needs of Albania in that moment.
Within only a few hours after the disaster, Greek, Italian and Romanian Medium Urban Search and Rescue Teams (MUSAR) were operating on the ground.
In Brussels, the Emergency Response Coordination Centre, played a central role in facilitating the arrival of in-kind assistance.
One day after the earthquake, an EU Civil Protection Team with Member State's experts, experts of the EU's Emergency Response and Coordination Centre (ERCC) and the experts of the United Nations (UN) Disaster Assessment and Coordination team were already in Durrës and Tirana, coordinating the assessment of humanitarian needs and the collection and distribution of in-kind assistance.
The EU Civil Protection Team also led, together with the Albanian authorities, the assessment of damage. The Damage Assessment Coordination Cell, set up for this purpose, was crucial for a quick, well-coordinated and reliable process of damage assessment. It coordinated hundreds of international structural engineers and provided valuable input to the Post Disaster Needs Assessment (PDNA) Report that colleagues from the EU, the United Nations (UN) and the World Bank will present to you shortly.
Yet, with our Albanian neighbours still in need, we were willing and ready to do more. And so we did.
The Albanian authorities' asked for assistance through the Union Civil Protection Mechanism again on the 28th November, requesting in-kind assistance and two structural engineering teams that could carry out a rapid assessment of buildings.
Our response was once again prompt and tailored to the needs; the Mechanism immediately mobilised teams of structural engineers from Italy and Greece who reinforced the Damage Assessment Coordination Cell. Croatian, Cypriot and French colleagues joined later on.
The European Civil Protection team also coordinated hundreds of structural engineers that were sent to Albania on a bilateral basis by many countries.
Austria, Belgium, Germany, Slovakia, Poland, Romania, Sweden and the United Kingdom helped with sending beds, blankets, hygiene packages, generators, tents, sleeping bags and other essential emergency items through the Mechanism.
Many other countries offered similar in-kind assistance bilaterally.
The experts' life-saving efforts; damage assessment operations; and coordination work on the ground were greatly assisted by Copernicus, which produced six satellite maps of the affected zones.
Overall, the Union Civil Protection Mechanism demonstrated its added value as a unique coordination hub for technical and in-kind support and as a reliable central point of contact able to:
- pool expertise and capacities quickly,
- make the delivery of assistance efficient, and
- ensure that assistance reaches those who needed it most, on time.
On the 5th of December, I visited the affected region in Albania.
I met with the Albanian authorities to express EU's solidarity in those challenging times.
I spoke with EU Ambassadors and the UN Resident Coordinator to make sure relief and assessment efforts were well-coordinated.
During my visit, I announced three hundred thousand euros of emergency aid relief for immediate food, shelter and psychosocial support to vulnerable people through the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent (IFRC).
I visited the worst affected areas to assess the situation and the needs. And I spoke to those who lost their loved ones and their homes overnight. This, I must say, was a difficult experience. But at the same time I saw first-hand the incredible commitment of the Albanian and EU's first responders to save lives and to alleviate suffering.
And I want to use this opportunity to thank each and every Member State that contributed for your generosity and for the support offered to our Albanian neighbours.
Once more, the EU stood in solidarity with the Albanian people in difficult times, leaving no one behind – no one alone – as we did during the earthquake that hit Albania a few months earlier, in September of 2019.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
We stood by Albania providing emergency assistance for as long and for as much it was needed. But European solidarity does not stop when emergency ends.
The devastating earthquake of the 26th of November showed that Albania should be more resilient and better prepared for crisis. The EU stands ready to support Albania also in improving its preparedness and resilience efforts.
The expertise, capacities and experience of the Union's Civil Protection Mechanism remain at the service of the Albanian authorities in their efforts to strengthen their national civil protection system.
A better-prepared Albanian civil protection is in the interest of the European Union, but above all, it is in the interest of the Albanian people.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Solidarity is the guiding principle of European Civil Protection. Solidarity guided EU's emergency relief support and it will also guide EU's recovery support to Albania.
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