One year on, Albania remembers its deadliest floodsMar 14, 2016
Ali is a shepherd from Suhe Village in Gjirokaster, in southern Albania. Each day he rises at dawn to care for his grass-fed sheep. He makes a living by selling the milk he gets from the sheep to a local processor.
In February 2015, Drinos river water overflow washed away the protective embankment of Suhe Village for a length of 200 meters, causing the flooding of around 300 hectares of agricultural land, pastures, homes and local business. Planted land was submerged, affecting crops at various stages of development.
Albania is among the most vulnerable places in the Balkans when it comes to climate change. This is in part because of changing weather patterns, but it’s also because of the country’s reliance on agriculture to fuel its economy.
“Around 220 millimeters of rain fell in two days. Hundreds of families and their livestock were moved from homes and farms. My farm, my house and my land were under water. Many people were evacuated from their homes but I refused to leave,” explains Ali.
Ali recalls the horror he had to go through while trying to rescue his sheep. He felt despair as he watched 13 sheep floating dead in the water.
One year on, a flood protection infrastructure completed in Ali’s village is saving the livestock, business and his community.
The river embankment damaged by the floods has been fixed with a new levee with gravel combined with groins and river stone, keeping the rains from flooding the land. This investment saved agricultural land and helped the locals regain their livelihoods.
A European Union-devised Floods Recovery Programme, amounting to 15.9 million Euros, has been working to strengthen the country's infrastructure for better flood protection and preparedness. The inititative has focused on delivering support to the most affected and vulnerable sectors of agriculture.
The programme has several components from infrastructure support to awareness raising activities related to climate related risks and disaster preparedness. UNDP's implementing one component of the program, amounting to 6 million Euros, which consists of the rehabilitation of priority infrastructure in 16 flood-affected areas. An additional 300,000 Euros is provided by UNDP.
“We have one single objective: to reduce the risk that natural disasters of this kind happen again in future to the minimum. We want to make sure your land is put in security, that the crops are protected, and lives are not in danger," says Michela Matuella, Head of Unit for Albania at the European Commission.
Schools are also participating in public awareness and advocacy campaigns on how to fight climate change.
Back in Suhe, Ali and other villagers are hopeful that a better future is in store for them. They are witnessing its signs.