On November 26, 2019, Albania woke up to the most severe natural disaster in recent history. A 6.3 magnitude earthquake left 51 people dead, injured at least 913 others and affected 220,000 people — roughly 10 percent of the population.
The earthquake devastated the Albanian economy and exacerbated the existing poverty rate by 2.3 percent and GDP dropped by more than one percent.
One year on, destruction is still visible, offering a stark reminder that life has irrevocably changed for many.
Based on the findings of the Post Disaster Needs Assessment, undertaken by the European Union, World Bank, United Nations (with UNDP as the technical lead) and the Albanian Government, UNDP’s long-term support has focused on investing in rebuilding public infrastructure, including education facilities, strengthening the country’s disaster preparedness, and helping local economies.
Education — the best investment for the future
Moza Shehu, her husband Jetim, and their two sons, have been living in a rented apartment for almost a year, while the Durres Municipality reconstructs their house. The family still remembers how the house started shaking near dawn, and then having to run for their lives.
The earthquake turned Moza’s son Liku’s usual excitement to go to kindergarten into anxiety and distress.
Fortunately, their rental apartment is close to “1Qershori” kindergarten.
“Two months ago — about one or two weeks before the new school year started — Liku and I were passing by the ‘1 Qershori’ Kindergarten and the colorful EU4Schools logo surrounding the kindergarten grabbed his attention. We were told that children in this neighbourhood will get a completely new and modern kindergarten, built to the highest international standards. When I explained this to Liku, he immediately said he wants to go there. Hearing him speak excitedly again could not make me happier,” she said.
The kindergarten is one among the 58 education facilities in the EU4Schools Programme, being implemented by UNDP in Albania. Funded by the European Union to the amount of US$77 million, and complemented with a contribution of $905,000 from UNDP, the programme will repair or reconstruct 58 education facilities in 11 municipalities, home to around 20,000 students, children and teachers. Around 440,000 will benefit from the construction work.
UNDP has held rounds of consultations with community members to get their ideas about the #SchoolIWant. Over 7,000 people took active part in the consultations. The communities have asked for the schools to be equipped with labs, gyms, libraries, access for people with disabilities and communal environments.
To promote transparency, a public online platform showcasing results and updates on construction works is ongoing.
The first 22 of these educational facilities will be available to safely welcome students and serve the community within this academic year.
Helping small businesses recover
On November 2019, Anilda Kostreni, the manager of the ‘Xhulio & Bora’ Shop, in Durres, lost her husband and then their business.
If the earthquake made one thing certain, it was that Anilda needed to adopt a new approach to revive her business so that she could look after her family. She became one of the 15 beneficiaries of UNDP’s pilot ‘In-Motion’ which aimed to stabilize the economic conditions of small businesses, help them to recover business infrastructure, and re-establish their economic activities in the market.
In-Motion brought together Anilda and 14 other small business owners and helped them improve their entrepreneurial skills and commercial image and to purchase new equipment.
They were trained by UNDP in situation diagnosis, accounting, marketing, and administration. All improved their commercial image through brand development, advertising and updated their infrastructure and inventory.
Consultants guided Anilda and the other owners to underscore the sales of local products and then applied promotions on these products to increase sales and attract new customers. To get a better idea of her profit, she began recording sales based on product classification and by putting a pricing policy in place, something critical for every business, but which she had never done before.
One year later, the 15 businesses have re-conceptualized their enterprises and enjoy a 10 percent increase of profits.
Small businesses account for more than 94 percent of all companies in Albania, and they employ around 38 percent of all private sector workers, making ‘In Motion’ an important programme which assisted the country’s most vital workforce.
Preparing the country to cope with natural disasters and putting people at the forefront
Following the earthquake, the country’s emergency response capabilities were overwhelmed, making clear the need to strengthen preparedness, prevention and recovery.
The Municipality of Lezhe is the representation of such risks, with hydrological, meteorological, climatological, seismic and geophysical dangers threatening its inhabitants, its nature, and economic prospects.
“Most Lezhe residents have problems with floods — they make a living through their crops and they never tire of sowing them. Sadly, these crops are not reaped due to regular floods. This house was built over 500 years ago on this hilltop, so we have not experienced floods, but we have reconstructed the house four times due to earthquakes. The Nov. 26 earthquake was the last blow, it made the house non-habitable,” said Mark Palaj, who lives in Spiten village.
UNDP, in partnership with Lezha Municipality and a think-tank specializing in urban development, established three instruments for adequately facing natural hazards: an assessment of natural disaster risks, a document setting out strategic priorities for mainstreaming disaster risk reduction and a local civil emergency plan. The participatory Risk Assessment of the municipality has been completed, the Geographic Information System platform has been updated with relevant data to create the municipality’s multi-risk profile and a draft municipal Civil Emergency plan is already in motion. The Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) strategy for the municipality has been produced.
To ensure an all-inclusive approach and that the voices of all concerned were heard, UNDP held consultations with local government, businesses, civil society organizations, and citizens. The newly-established Commission for Civil Protection was a direct result of this process.
UNDP also initiated a national-level support programme. In the long-term, this will ensure Albania has in place a National DRR Platform for institutional dialogue, a National DRR Strategy and a National Emergency Plan, while at the same time providing a blueprint for local DRR instruments and organizational approaches which will be replicable to all 61 Albanian municipalities.
The same earthquake that caused destruction and hardship brought about strengthened partnerships, unwavering support for those in need and the opportunity to #BuildForwardBetter.