Helping rebuild lives in Albania with a long term sight

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In 2015, record-breaking rain caused flooding in Vlora and southern Albania. Photo: UNDP Albania
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Rivers flooded thousands of hectares, destroying crops, roads, and hundreds of homes. Photo: UNDP in Albania
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UNDP worked to rebuild flood protection infrastructure, like embankments. Photo: UNDP in Albania
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In this area, the rains flooded the river and destroyed the road. Photo: UNDP in Albania.
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UNDP built the embankment to protect the road from future flooding. Photo: UNDP in Albania
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Besides embankments, drainage and irrigation canals were repaired. Photo: UNDP in Albania
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The fortifications of the river banks will protect the community in the future. Photo: UNDP in Albania
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In Bishan Novoselë Vlorë, agricultural land is now protected from flooding. Photo: UNDP in Albania

In less than one hour, the water “stole” all that belonged to 75-year-old Qani Shehu. All that remained were the walls of his house standing 3 meters deep in water.

Qani still remembers that day as one of the worst in his life. He refused to leave his place, instead finding refuge on his roof where he felt safer. In terror, he witnessed the impact of floods, as water swept away everything from livestock to agricultural plains to cars. In less than 2 hours, his village was entirely flooded.

“These floods were devastating. The power of water is unimaginable. Here in Novosela, within the floodplain of the Vjosa River, much of the agricultural land was under water. The river rose by 20 cm an hour until it was one meter above normal levels. Roads and railways, and then houses were submerged by the rising waters,” says Qani.

Highlights

  • Around 15.800 people were affected by floods in Vlora.
  • 16 km of river embankments and irrigation and drainage channels were restored.
  • Over 160,000 people were indirectly and positively affected by the infrastructure project.

Record-breaking amounts of rain over 3 continuous days caused floods in Vlora and other parts of the southern Albania, forcing the evacuation of hundreds of villagers. Rivers flooded thousands of hectares, destroying crops, roads, and hundreds of homes, as well as damaging highways, forcing power cuts, and claiming the lives of at least two people.

The flooding affected the lives and businesses of around 15,800 people in Vlora. Many people’s livelihoods were destroyed and needed to be rebuilt. Drita, who owns land where she cultivates sage to make a living, says that her piece of land was submerged by the weater, which affected all her crops.

“It was a very difficult year for me. I could not grow any sage and that meant no food for my family. Thank God I could plant my land this year, and I just harvested the crops. It is excellent and with the flood protections works implemented, I do not fear this can happen again. My business is safer now,” she says.

Following the floods, the European Union, United Nations, and World Bank, in partnership with the Government of Albania, joined efforts to prepare a post-disaster needs assessment.

The assessment yielded a Floods Recovery Programme designed to strengthen the country's infrastructures for better flood protection and preparedness. Going beyond mere restoration of pre-flood conditions, it includes building resilience through better early warning systems and supporting the most affected and vulnerable sectors of agriculture.

UNDP implemented the part of the programme that restored urgent flood protection infrastructure. The main aim was to restore the damaged land, river embankments, and drainage and irrigation channels to pre-flood levels. Equally important, though, was to reinforce this infrastructure to prevent repeat damage.

River embankments prevent erosion and deflect the flow away from the bank. Floodplain restoration is the process of engineering of the river to restore its natural patterns of meander migration and flooding. This infrastructure protects agricultural land and livelihoods and enabled the resumption of economic activities and agricultural production.

Now, 18 months after the floods, 16 flood-affected infrastructure works have been implemented. This includes reparising damanged levees and fortifying river banks against erosion.

The residents of the affected areas have also been part of public awareness and information campaigns about risks related to climate change.

Student Anita, 16, and her peers were part of a UNDP-supported school contest to show the impacts of floods through drawing. She was the first prize winner and her drawing speaks loud.

“I had to show the terrible impact of the “angry waters”. My school was flooded and we could not go to school for one week. I know that this is due to climate change, but also the “human hand”. We ourselves have contributed to this,” she explains.

Qani, Drita, Anita and other community members are now rebuilding their lives and business after the floods. With the protections made, they think the village, the agricultural lands, and their small businesses will have a future.

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