human development, social justice and sustainable social systems

Earthquakes in Albania

Context

Between June and November 2019, Albania has experienced three powerful earthquakes in the south-east and central part of the country.

The south-east of Albania was hit by several earthquakes at the beginning of June 2019. The deepest tremor recorded a 5.3 Richter magnitude. Its epicentre was in the Korca municipality, where Caritas Albania delivers support to migrants coming from Greece who try to cross the border there.

The region is not new to this phenomenon, although the most recent episode to the same extent dates back to 1960. Overall, three districts were affected by the earthquakes: Korca, Pogradec and Kolonja. The population of the three rural villages of Floq, Mollas and Nikolic was the most severely affected. This episode was not reported in international media, probably due to the fact that, luckily, no lives were lost.

Hundreds of damaged houses were abandoned by their inhabitants. As a consequence, an emergency committee was set up by the civil protection and the head of district of Korca.

The second major earthquake hit Albania on 21 September and was followed by heavy rainfall and flooding. The third earthquake occurred on 26 November 2019. At 6.4-magnitude, it was the worst earthquake the country has experienced in decades, and it was felt all across the Balkans. 51 persons died, several thousand were injured and more than 2,000 buildings were seriously damaged. Read the updates below for more information.

Reaction

Caritas’ response

Caritas’ response to the June earthquake

After the first earthquake in June, Caritas Albania was on site since the third day of tremors. Once the situation started to calm down, and in coordination with the local authorities and the civil protection department, Caritas Albania undertook a comprehensive needs assessment. The affected population was consulted at all stages.

The Caritas Albania emergency board and the Diocese of South Albania planned for a two-phase intervention: rapid support and reconstruction phase.

Rapid response

Thanks to the support of an external foundation, Caritas Albania has been able to help from the onset of the crisis families and individuals hosted in the tent camps, in the public school and in the parish. This help has consisted of food distribution and the distribution of hygiene products for personal and family care, as well as of actions aimed to grant a dignified access to the accommodation facilities.

Neighbouring communities, who have been donating bedding materials, have also shown solidarity to the displaced families.

Reconstruction phase

The main goal of Caritas Albania’s response is to create the conditions for the most vulnerable families affected by the earthquakes to return to their normal lives in a dignified way.

This phase has three main components: rehabilitation of damaged houses, provision of household equipment and capacity building. Affected families are at the core of the response and they are encouraged to take part in its planning and implementation.

Caritas’ response to the November earthquake

Caritas Albania had started the reconstruction phase in response to the June earthquake when the country was struck by an even stronger earthquake on 26 November 2019. In the following days, the country was affected by a wave of aftershocks. Caritas Albania has been providing support since the first morning of the main earthquake, distributing food and other items (blankets, clothes, etc.) and providing emergency shelter to hundreds of displaced persons. The Caritas teams are currently implementing various activities to help the people who have had to leave their destroyed homes. More information can be found below, in the Update of 12 December 2019.

The immediate relief activities will continue throughout the months of December 2019 and January 2020. Starting in February 2020, Caritas will launch a longer term response addressing the need for rehabilitation and reconstruction.

Contacts & Donations

Contacts

Charel Krieps
Humanitarian Officer
Tel: +32 (0)2 204 03 82
ckrieps@caritas.eu

Donate

If you want to support Caritas Albania, send your donation to the following bank account:

Name of the bank: Intesa Sanpaolo Bank
Address of the bank: Rr. Dritan Hoxha, Laprake
SWIFT: USALALTR
IBAN: AL64208112040000030473131829
Account number: 30473131829
Account holder: CARITAS SHQIPTAR
Currency: EUR
Address of the account holder: Rr. Don Bosco Tirana Albania

Update 12 December 2019

Caritas Albania, supported by its partners, has been very active in the past two weeks. They conducted a rapid needs assessment in the affected regions to get an impression of the overall impact of the earthquakes and to determine the type of assistance that people need. They identified transitional shelters and adequate spaces in which people can clean themselves as the main urgent needs, as well mattresses and food. Other important needs identified were the provision of psychosocial support and counselling for the people traumatised by the earthquake.

Based on this needs assessment, Caritas Albania prepared a so-called ‘Rapid Response Appeal’: a project proposal for the short period of two months with a budget of €250,000 to provide immediate support. Caritas and other Catholic organisations across Europe proved their solidarity by providing 100% of this budget within a few days.

The relief activities are being implemented in Durrës, Tirana, Laç, Lezhë, Gramsh, Cerrik, Bizë, Rreshen, Shkodra, Thumanë, Mamurras, Vorë, Shengjin and Shenkoll. In December 2019 and January 2020, Caritas Albania is providing temporary shelter to 250 people who cannot return back to their destroyed homes. Caritas Albania also received a large offer of in-kind donations, both from within Albania and from abroad (Kosovo, Montenegro, Greece, Italy). They are distributing these donations and other needed items, such as food and hygiene products, beds, mattresses and blankets, and winter clothes to 5,000 persons.

Caritas Albania has extensive experience in providing psychosocial support for vulnerable groups. For this reason, three teams are going to work with 75 people per week, in particular with extremely vulnerable cases. This is necessary to help people overcome their highly stressful experiences and to cope with their new status of displacement. Thousands of people lost everything related to their ordinary life. They stay in new places (hotels, camps, relatives’ houses), and are realising that the rehabilitation process will take a long time since the reconstruction of houses, schools and economical activities requires months or even years. Caritas staff and volunteers also work with children and are providing supervision and animation activities for up to 200 children.

Finally, an important pillar of the ongoing work is to assess the medium and long-term needs of the affected population. As the rapid response only covers two months, Caritas Albania will launch a longer term rehabilitation project in the beginning of February 2020. This longer term response will be thoroughly planned to ensure its sustainability. It will require deep analysis in order to address the situation of persons living in transitional shelters, the reconstruction of damaged buildings and the displacement of people that sought shelter in Kosovo.

A special attention is being put on safeguarding, i.e. to protect the staff and volunteers from harm and to prevent them from harming the people they work for, as well as on protection mainstreaming. This means Caritas Albania receives support from CAFOD (Caritas England and Wales) to reduce the risks of discrimination, abuse, violence, neglect and exploitation, to make sure that people’s rights are respected and that they participate in the project design, and to give the people assisted by Caritas a way to give feedback and submit complaints.

Update 30 November 2019

The situation in Albania is worse than expected with high numbers of people rendered homeless. Damage and displacement are widespread. Many people have left the coastal city of Durrës because of the continuous aftershocks that endanger inhabitants staying in damaged buildings. Many people also prefer not to go to official camps but to stay in tents near their houses to protect them from looting. Others stay with relatives, in cars, in schools or other facilities, or in tents set up by municipalities. In the village of Mamurras, even the water supply is damaged and the drinking water is contaminated. The Roma population in some areas is severely affected as they were already living in poor conditions before the earthquake. Now, they are not receiving support from local authorities.

Caritas Albania is continuing its immediate response with the distribution of different needed materials. The Caritas teams have also started a first assessment of the needs (“rapid needs assessment”) in Durrës, Thumanë and eight villages. These needs were identified as being access to shelter, hygiene materials, mattresses and blankets, and psychosocial support especially for children. This needs assessment is continuing, in particular in remote affected areas that do not receive any support yet.

Caritas Albania is being supported on the field by a team from Caritas Kosovo and delegates from Caritas Italy, Caritas Austria and Caritas Switzerland and CRS (Caritas USA). Many organisations have started to raise funds for the emergency. Caritas organisations from Austria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Slovenia, Switzerland and the United States, as well as the Italian Bishops Conference through Caritas Italy, have pledged funds to support the relief activities. Other NGOs outside of the Caritas network are also establishing partnerships with Caritas Albania. Coordination with other NGOs in the country is picking up with a first informal meeting at the initiative of the EU delegation in Albania.

New developments: 26 November 2019

More than 23 dead after yet another quake in Albania.

The worst earthquake in Albania in decades shook the western coast of the Balkan state in the early morning of 26 November. At least 23 people were killed. More than 600 people were injured and numerous buildings have collapsed. These figures are still expected to increase over the coming days. The epicentre was located about 30 kilometres west of Tirana. The quake struck at an approximate depth of only 20 kilometres and had a rating of 6.4 magnitude. It was felt all throughout the region up to Sarajevo.

The situation in the town of Thumanë, located closest to the epicentre, is very worrisome. The port city of Durrës is also highly affected. The government has started preparing for the reception of people who have been rendered homeless. Caritas Albania staff and volunteers have been in the field since the morning, talking to people affected in both locations. Caritas Albania has also deployed two field teams composed of emergency workers. Urgent needs include the provision of food and blankets, in particular for families that have lost everything. Other urgent needs are shelter, food, water, hygiene articles and other non-food items; however, at this stage of the emergency further assessment is required to quantify these needs. Caritas Albania is working very closely with the authorities and has started distributing food in areas of need. Caritas Albania has received an official request from the Ministry of Interior to distribute food and non-food items to displaced people in the different accommodation camps established by the government.

As a sign of solidarity, European Caritas organisations have agreed that Caritas Albania use funds made available for other projects to pre-finance immediate relief activities. This allows Caritas Albania to react swiftly without needing to wait until funds arrive from abroad. The representatives of Caritas Italy in Albania are actively collaborating with Caritas Albania and Caritas Kosovo also deployed a team to support their Albanian counterparts.

New developments: September 2019

Second major earthquake in four months hits Albania on 21 September  followed by heavy rainfall and flooding.

On 21 September, shortly before 4pm, the Western seaboard of Albania experienced an earthquake measuring 5.8 on the Richter scale. The epicenter of the shock was a few kilometres off the coast near the town of Durres. Shortly after, there was an aftershock of 5.3 LM. Since the main earthquake, several tremors have been felt with seismologists warning aftershocks could continue for several days. There has been extensive damage to houses, and infrastructure in the districts of Durres, Tirana, Elbasan, Berat, Diber, Fier, Lezha, and Vlora.

Panic among citizens is a cause for concern among first responders and the government is trying to ensure people receive correct information to avoid excessive alarm. Thankfully, no loss of life has been reported but the trauma of the earthquakes has had a negative impact on many people, especially children.

Heavy rainfall on the 23 September caused flooding in the cities of Tirana, Lezha and Elbasan. This has, of course, aggravated the situation which was already difficult following the earthquakes.

Caritas Albania is in continued contact with central and local authorities regarding the situation and is assisting local parishes to help families get access to essential items and materials.

Update 6 July 2019

Thanks to the immediate support by external stakeholders and to the solidarity shown by the neighbouring villages, a sufficient amount of food and non-food items (NFI) has been distributed to the affected population in the three villages.

However, the political situation in the country is rather instable. Local authorities and the government Commission for the evaluation of damages completed their assessment for reconstruction. Their decision is to invest in the reconstruction of fully damaged houses only. This does not satisfy the people affected, who do not feel listened to nor involved in decision-making. They consider the criteria for selecting people to support and interventions to prioritise unclear. The government does not foresee any support for repairing partially damaged houses.

Hence, people continue to be accommodated in public schools as well as in tents in gardens.

Caritas Albania considers the rehabilitation phase very important for supporting the people affected and for showcasing to the public institutions Caritas’ approach in case of emergencies: assessment, involvement of communities in all phases of the project, and networking and coordination with all stakeholders in the territory.

Caritas Albania intends to profile itself as an efficient and reliable partner for local institutions, showing that a participatory methodology would lead to a win-win and more sustainable result. In addition, Caritas Albania would like to provide financial and technical support to those families whose houses have been partially damaged.

Caritas Albania has been fully investing in institutional advocacy in order to establish a structured relationship with government and strengthen the organisation’s own sustainability.

Update 13 June 2019

Between 6-12 June, Caritas Albania conducted an assessment divided into three main moments:

  • Data gathering from the official reports received by the national coordinator and issued by the civil protection office. Caritas Albania also undertook efforts to explore media coverage;
  • Data gathering led by the local Caritas operator in the village of Vidohov;
  • Data gathering by an ad hoc team and led by the national coordinator in the Korca district.

Three accommodation facilities were added to the three camps already set up:

  • Dormitory in Korca high school;
  • Public school in Floq;
  • Public school in Qafezeze.

Small tents were distributed to those families who decided to stay next to their damaged houses.

Three families with specific vulnerabilities have been hosted in Vidohova parish.

Cooking facilities and daily food supply have been provided for people accommodated in camps and schools.

Finally, the civil protection commission has finalised its assessment of damages and confirmed that there is a total of 121 houses completely destroyed and 196 severely damaged.

The national team and local operators have been observing the situation. They have carried out different interviews with the head of district and the person in charge of accommodation in the public school. Focus group discussions were also organised both in Vidohov with people living in the camp and in the public school in Floq.

Two categories of needs were identified after the needs assessment was completed:

  1. Shelter
  • Repairing of damaged houses;
  • Reconstruction of destroyed houses;
  • Provision of household equipment and furniture.
  1. Others
  • Food and cooking facilities;
  • Cleaning and hygiene materials;
  • Bedding.

Update 5 June 2019

The team of Caritas Albania went on site and received detailed information from the authorities. Also, they managed to meet and speak with the families affected.

Today, the estimate is that around 3,000 people have been directly affected by the earthquakes.

Overall, 184 families have been evacuated: 230 persons are now accommodated in tents, 50 persons are hosted by relatives and 20 people are staying in the parish facilities.

In coordination with public structures, it is agreed that the most urgent needs are on:

  • Food and hygiene items for families in the camps and in the parish;
  • Food and hygiene items for babies;
  • Bedding materials for families in tents;
  • Clothing for babies and children;
  • First aid materials and medicines.

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