Donors conference for reconstruction in Albania exceeds expectations
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Donors conference for reconstruction in Albania exceeds expectations

Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama at the Donors' Conference in Brussels, credit: EU 2020

EU, member states and other donors pledged €1.15 billion for reconstruction in Albania after the damaging earthquake on 26 November 2019. An international Donors’ Conference in Brussels on Monday (17 February) to mobilise support for Albania gathered about 100 delegations.

Almost €400 million was pledged by EU institutions and member states. The European Commission pledged €115 million from the EU budget, including a first €15 million grant to reconstruct and rehabilitate key public buildings such as schools.

The European Investment Bank pledged €102,5 million and member states about €180 million, thereof Italy alone €91 million.

The earthquake, with a magnitude of 6.3 on the Richter scale, has been described by the national authorities as the strongest to hit Albania in 30 years. It caused extensive damage in 11 municipalities, including the two most populous, urbanized and developed municipalities (Tirana and Durres).

A total of 202,000 people was affected in the country, 47,000 directly, and 155,000 indirectly, out of a population of 2,9 million. The earthquake caused 51 fatalities and injured at least 913 people. Up to 17,000 people were displaced due to the loss of their homes. Overall, first responders rescued 48 people from collapsed houses.

“Today the international community stood in solidarity with Albania,” said European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen at the conference. “The whole EU mobilised for a country that is at the heart of our continent – and that I hope and I am convinced one day will also be part of our Union. The people of Albania know that they belong in our European family – now more than ever.”

She paid also credit to other countries. “Solidarity has not come only from the EU. The whole world has mobilised in your support. From Montenegro to Canada, from Turkey to Israel, from Switzerland to the United States. We have seen Serbian and Kosovar rescue teams working together for their Albanian neighbours.”

A complete breakdown of pledges by donors was not available a day after the conference. A Commission spokesperson told the Brussels Times that the figures need to be verified and will be published in the coming days.

Damage assessment

The total pledges of €1.15 billion correspond to the total material damages and losses in the earthquake. A Post-Disaster Needs Assessment Report prepared by the Albanian government with partners from the EU, the UN and the World Bank calculated that around € 1 billion would be needed for the reconstruction across all sectors affected.

The pledged amount exceeded the expectations of Albanian prime-minister Edi Rama. At a press briefing before the start of the conference he described the assessment report as frightening and the recovery beyond the capacity of Albania to cope with alone.

“The whole sum may not be met at the donors’ conference and we’ll be grateful for whatever sum that will be pledged,” he said and guessed that a minimum of 40 % of the estimated costs would be pledged. “Some countries, like Turkey and the Gulf States, have already pledged funding. We are prepared to do our best ourselves without creating any unreasonable national debt.”

According to the report, the earthquake is estimated to have caused effects that are equivalent to ca 7.5 % of the 2018 Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Real GDP growth over 2019 and 2020 is estimated to decrease by about half a percentage point because of capacity loss constraining growth over the medium term.

Most of the damages are recorded in the housing sector (78.5%), which will be prioritized in the reconstruction work. The other sectors are the productive sector, such as business and tourism, agriculture, and cultural heritage (8.4%), education (7.5%) sector, infrastructure (3.6%) and others (2%).

A total of 11,490 housing units were categorised as fully destroyed or demolished and need to be rebuilt. An additional 83,745 of housing units were either partially or lightly damaged, needing repair and refitting. Overall 18% of total housing units have been affected.

36 health facilities (8% of total in the affected municipalities) were partially or fully damaged. Damages were also reported to 321 educational institutions in the municipalities, representing 24% of all educational establishments.

Two earthquakes

Edi Rama is a former mayor of Tirana and has been prime-minister since 2013. At both the press briefing and the donors conference, he said that his country had been hit by two earthquakes, the political one in October 2019, when the European Council decided not to start accession negotiations, and the earthquake on the ground the following month.

“The political earthquake in October was avoidable,” he said and described it as collateral damage to the internal disputes in the EU on enlargement. “In fact, we were more ready than any other country before the start of negotiations because the process has become more demanding.” As an example, he mentioned the judicial reform and the vetting of judges in Albania.

That said, he welcomed the new enlargement methodology and felt encouraged by the Commission’s approach. “We hope that the new methodology will speed up the process once the negotiations will start.”

In the past, the progress in the enlargement process was blocked by malfunctioning of the Albanian parliament, with the opposition party boycotting the sessions. Has the political culture changed?

“We have a long history of non-democracy,” Rama explained. “For decades we lived in a dictatorship and were isolated from the rest of Europe. But I’m not worried about it any longer – we have matured since then.”

He admitted that the biggest obstacle for EU membership is the lack of institutional development and the need to consolidate the political system. But he has no doubt about EU membership. ”There is an Albanian saying: There is no happy life without good neighbours. The Commission had defined itself as a geopolitical commission. We need EU as much as EU needs us.”

Prime minister Rama is the first Albanian minister to visit Serbia. The Brussels Times asked him about the standstill in EU facilitated Belgrade-Pristina dialogue. “We live in a difficult region,” he replied and referred to the Berlin Process, an initiative launched in 2014 to step up regional cooperation in the Western Balkans.

“I think that the dialogue has moved forward since then. It doesn’t mean that there are no obstacles to overcome, in particular the issue of non-recognition of Kosovo by Serbia and five EU member states. There is still a long way to go but today we have more reason to be optimistic.”

He might be right. There has been some new momentum in the dialogue with the signature of new agreements between Kosovo and Serbia. The European Parliament is also taken greater interest in the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue.

The Brussels Times