Bridging development and disaster risk management in Albania

Monday, November 13, 2023

In 2017, communities in Southern Albania were severely affected by floods due to late flood warnings and a limited evacuation process. Since 2019, the Albanian Red Cross and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies have worked with these communities as part of the Zurich Flood Resilience Alliance to strengthen flood resilience through increasing risk-awareness, capacity-building and collaborative work to improve infrastructure for evacuation. The construction of a bridge in the community of Darëzezë highlights that resilience building can provide co-benefits for disaster risk management and local development. 

Interrupted transportation and its cascading impacts 

The implementation of the Flood Resilience Measurement for Communities (FRMC) in Darëzezë identified the need to improve infrastructure to reduce the impact of flooding on transportation, to enhance connectivity within the community and more widely, and to facilitate evacuation aimed at saving lives and livelihoods. 

Most households in Darëzezë depend on agriculture for their livelihoods. During floods, the lower-lying farmland is at highest risk of flooding; exposing livestock sheds, equipment storage facilities and granaries. When flooding is imminent, the population works to relocate their livestock, foods stocks and farming equipment to the elevated evacuation areas in the Darëzezë across the river from the agricultural area. The only river crossing that can be used by cars and tractors is a significant distance from the farmlands and consequently, valuable time is lost during the evacuations and asset protection is limited. A pedestrian bridge located closer to the agricultural area was severely damaged in the 2017 floods, meaning that evacuation of larger livestock and crop loads, as well as smaller animals like chickens, was very challenging. 

If we had had the opportunity to evacuate our products, more than half of the community would have found it easier to recover, but huge losses greatly delayed the recovery time.

Community leader in Darëzezë
The pedestrian bridge connecting the agricultural area and the community of Darëzezë would easily flood and could not be used by vehicles. Credit: Jonathan Ulrich 

Working with partners to improve infrastructure 

The construction of a more durable bridge between the agricultural area and the Darëzezë township was identified as a key priority for the local community. As part of the Flood Resilience Alliance, the Albanian Red Cross undertook local advocacy efforts to promote greater spending on flood resilience and, more specifically, spending that would meet the local needs and priorities of the Darëzezë community, such as the need to improve infrastructure. The Albanian Red Cross, together with the Municipality of Fier and the Ministry of Defence, combined resources and technical expertise and collaborated on the construction of a new bridge that was inaugurated on the 27th of September 2023.

The new bridge is more elevated and much wider than the older bridge, furthermore, it is made of stronger and more durable materials to remain operational, particularly for evacuation, during floods. This improved infrastructure is key to facilitating a more efficient evacuation route that allows families to protect their assets and livelihoods by moving livestock and equipment to higher ground. However, this bridge also represents an important opportunity for local development as the time and costs of everyday agricultural activities can be reduced through the better connectivity of the farming lands to the town settlement.  

The new bridge open and in use with its official sign “Gifted by the Albanian Red Cross in support of communities facing floods”. Photo credit: Albanian Red Cross. 

I express gratitude for the bridge, acknowledging it as the only safe way to cross the river and maintain our daily activities for all the village. I want to thank the Albanian Red Cross and all of the partners involved in the construction of the bridge for transforming our words into an infrastructure intervention that is now reality.

A local farmer expressing his thoughts on the bridge and its importance in times of flooding as well as in everyday life.

While the true positive impact of the bridge will be fully felt in the event of future flooding, experts from the municipality and the Ministry of Defence expressed confidence in the benefits that the bridge would bring, particularly in facilitating flood evacuations and ensuring the safety of the community during times of emergency and disaster. The bridge stands as a sign of hope, sustainability and progress, showcasing the positive influence it will have on the community, even during normal times, and its essential role in enhancing the overall quality of life of the population of Darëzezë. The secretary of the local Albanian Red Cross branch put it into words: “we hope that this intervention will last and benefit as many generations as possible”.

All three project partners were present during the inauguration including the Mayor of Fieri Municipality, the President of Albanian Red Cross and representatives of Ministry of Defence. Credit: Albanian Red Cross

Understanding and showcasing the diverse benefits of resilience-building interventions across disaster risk management and local development can lead to greater buy-in from key stakeholders which, in turn, can lead to collaborative efforts that can scale-up impact. 

You can learn more about our flood resilience work in Albania here.

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