Interview with Emanuel Salinas, World Bank Country Manager for Albania, broadcasted on Klan TV on March 3, 2023.
Klan TV: How exposed is Albania towards natural catastrophes?
Emanuel Salinas: Thank you for this interview. As we all know, Albania is exposed to many natural risks, including earthquakes, floods, droughts, wildfires, landslides and so on. However, we need to take into account that climate change will increase the frequency and impact of many of these risks. In fact, we estimate that Albania is one of the most exposed countries in Europe to climate change.
For example, our team estimates that in Tirana around 10% of the population lives in buildings that would be at high risk in case of earthquakes.
The National agency for civil protection has prepared a plan for disaster risk management in Albania. How is this risk being managed in general and especially by the municipalities?
E.S. The Government of Albania has taken important steps to enhance preparedness. This includes adoption of a Law on Civil Protection, a Natural Disaster Risk Reduction Strategy (recently adopted) and a new law on earthquake insurance for homeowners is under discussion. All these are important steps and we are actively supporting them, but we need to move rapidly to implementation of these laws and strategies.
Municipalities too, have a very important role on this. Central government defines the overall directions but municipalities have implement them. And that requires technical capacities, financial resources, and coordination between municipalities and central government. All of these are identified, but now we need to go from strategy to action and we will be happy to support the implementation
What should be the focus of Albanian authorities in dealing with such risks?
E.S. There are different types of risks and they require different actions:
First, there are the recurrent risks: these are events that happen almost every year and they should not take us by surprise. These include floods, droughts, wildfires, landslides. For that we need to invest in infrastructure that mitigates these risks. For example, building flood dikes in high-risk areas, improve irrigation dams, improve roads and bridges that are at risk of collapse in case of a large flood. For these we need to invest in infrastructure.
Second, there are the risks that don’t happen frequently, but when they happen, they can have a major impact. Earthquakes is a very good example of that. We cannot predict when earthquakes will happen, but we can enhance our preparedness and mitigate their impact. For that we can a) proactively verify the structural integrity of existing buildings in risk zones and upgrade, refurbish those buildings that are at risk before anything happens; b) ensure that new buildings that are being built are made according to rigorous standards and with high quality materials; and c) rapidly develop insurance mechanisms that protect Albanian population against financial and material losses in these events. For example right now there is a discussion about a new mandatory earthquake insurance that is intended to be implemented in Albania.
Besides this we need to invest systems to have rapid response, all aspects that have been identified in the strategy. For these two types of risks, we must also enhance emergency preparedness and response, including monitoring, forecasting, warning, search and rescue, fire services and upgrading of response equipment. Municipalities also have a major role on that.
But sadly, when we look at the couple of years, there are also other risks that Albania is exposed to and that we may not even know about. The COVID-19 pandemic and the Russian invasion of Ukraine are examples of that. Both of these are shocks that came from abroad but impacted the population and economy by increasing food prices, energy prices. All of these are risks that have a significant impact everywhere and in Albania, and there is no way we can foresee what risks like these may be in the future. The only thing we can do is strengthen financial resilience. For the government, this means ‘saving for a rainy day’, that is, ensuring that there are financial buffers that can absorb shocks. But we also need to develop mechanisms to protect the population from shocks, such as earthquake insurance for households and agriculture insurance for farmers. So, there are many things that needs to be put in place, there are many good ideas, and we just need to roll up our sleeves and get things done.