According to climate experts, the risk of fire spreading increases enormously with low humidity and rising temperatures. Based on this forecast, an increase in “hotspots” is expected everywhere in the world. The risk continues to increase as the climate crisis progresses. Albania turns out not to have increased its capacity, except for the fact that it has activated several times the European Civil Protection, of which we have been a part since June of this year.

Klara Dervishi

Immediately after the earthquake of November 26, 2019, the Albanian government undertook an initiative to modernize its civil emergencies structure, which according to the government were caught completely by surprise with the natural disaster. But today, 3 years after this pledge and after the publication of the Prime Minister’s status noting: AFTER THE EARTHQUAKE OF NOVEMBER 26th, THE MODERNIZATION OF OUR CIVIL EMERGENCIES CONTINUES, ACCORDING TO THE BEST INTERNATIONAL STANDARDS, it turns out that the fleets that extinguish fires do so with circumstantial means.

In the video filmed these days during an operation to extinguish the fire, it is clearly seen that the response workers intervene using circumstantial means, in this case bushes. Click here for the video link

When Albania faced 25 fires, using tools complying with “international standards”, which seem to include only backpacks at best or shovels, picks and bushes as the situation results in many fires where firefighters find it difficult to enter because of the terrain.

The head of the union of fire protection workers, Bledar Bajrami, tells Faktoje.al that so far this year, 10 hectares of forest have been burned and that this damage is not the fault of the firefighters who are paid at least 200 euros less than their colleagues in the region and work with depreciated tools.

Forest fires are being fought with shovels and backpacks. But you cannot stop the fire in deep areas with these tools. The fire is put down by aerial means, as all countries do, even the neighboring ones. In cases of places fire brigades can reach, we don’t have a problem. The problem is that there are no skilled people in the Civil Emergencies Agency. For us, the National Civil Protection Agency is a director of an office that appears only in the media, while firefighters fight without the basic tools. We must be the only country in the world that fights fires with 50-years-old equipment,” says Bajrami.

Even the former head of emergencies, Shemsi Prençi, tells Faktoje.al: “ On the occasion of the earthquake of November 26, 2019, the Albanian state structures showed that they are disorganized, untrained and without the proper equipment for the type of disasters that hits specific regions of Albania. And ironically, Albanian firefighters and soldiers appear fighting forest fires using only pickaxes, shovels and tree branches. ..!”

The High State Audit found in 2021 that the Civil Emergencies under the Municipalities still have at their disposal tools dating back to the 60s.

Of the 4 ‘cougar’ helicopters that the Armed Forces have, only one is functional, while the firefighting forces have no clothing and equipment and the firefighting vehicles are from the 1960s-1970s . The central and local level do not have sufficient human and technical resources to respond to emergency situations/fires. From the 61 Municipalities at the Republic level, data have been received in 55 of them, in which 152 fire brigades are reported. Of these, 131 in working condition, 8 with minor defects, 3 with significant defects, 10 out of use and 36 without license plates (without documentation). Many of the available fire brigades are outdated (some dating back to the sixties), in bad condition, and not interoperable because they were donated from different countries.” – assesses the High State Audit.

Does Albania use helicopters and how does the chain work until the firefighting operation?

The involvement of helicopters in firefighting operations became possible in the middle of July even though Albania has activated the right to request help from neighboring countries or from the European Civil Protection. But according to the head of the air defense workers’ union, 5 phone calls must be made before the helicopter takes off, which is ultimately wasted time.

Helicopters must be subordinate to the fire brigade and know how to move in the area and the tactics of extinguishing fires. For a helicopter to go into action, first the fire service must call the prefect, who calls the Civil Emergencies, they call the Minister of Defense and he is the one who decides. A minimum of 5 calls are required. For example with the fire in Dukat on August 11, if the helicopter had arrived from the beginning, the fire would have been extinguished and would not have progressed.” – says Bledar Bajrami.

The former head of Civil Emergencies Shemsi Prençi says:

“Albania (Ministry of Defense and Agency for Civil Protection of the Republic), since 2019, has the air “fleet” for operations from the air to extinguish fires in zero readiness…!

 We are the only country in the region and in Europe and beyond, that does not have an air fleet for operations related to civil emergencies such as: For extinguishing fires in mountainous areas and protected areas where there is no road infrastructure for ground operations or for search and rescue operations in cases of floods, river flooding, avalanches, fires, earthquakes, etc. Now the work of helicopters for extinguishing fires in Albania has turned into a soap opera…! The Prime Minister and the Minister of Defense or the head of the Civil Defense Agency say we have the helicopters, but there is no need or it’s not the right time to use them…!”

The National Agency of Civil Protection, asked by Faktoje.al, said that it does not have operational structures, such as the fire department, as it is a coordinating authority that coordinates and directs the structures of Civil Protection.

“The National Agency of Civil Protection does not have means such as ground or air operational means specialized for intervention. In the event of a disaster, the capacities of the local self-government unit affected by the disaster must first be used, and if these are insufficient, additional capacities are required from the neighboring local self-government units. In the end, if even these capacities turn out to be insufficient, the engagement of other state capacities, including the State Police and the Armed Forces, is required, according to the provisions of this law and other legal and sublegal laws in force (The National Agency of Civil Protection’s response to Faktoje .al)

According to an annual world risk report ( Bündnis Entwicklung Hilft and RUB 2019 ), which calculates the Disaster Risk Index for 180 countries based on exposure, sensitivity, vulnerability, and coping and adaptive capacities, Albania ranks first in Europe and 61st in the world. Of the total territory of Albania, 86% is prone to disasters. Such a fact has also been reported by the World Bank in the 2021 report, where it is required to increase the capacities to react in case of disasters.

Even the National Civil Protection Agency for the year 2022 has made zero expenses in function of emergency situations. The link below shows that the National Agency of Civil Protection has spent only on printer ink, vehicle maintenance or vehicle insurance.

The fire service system in the country lacks 600 employees

The fire service is dependent on the municipalities, but it seems that this has not provided any solution to the problem. The head of the associations of municipalities, Agron Haxhimali, told Faktoje.al:

“For 2021, the number of employees in this service was nearly 1,300 in all municipal stations. Law 152/2015 ‘On fire protection and rescue service’ requires one employee for 1500-2000 inhabitants, so the system lacks almost 600 employees for a population of 2.8 million inhabitants.

Asked about this, the National Agency of Civil Protection said:

“The process of vacancies is closely related to the process of functionalization (creation of environments and provision of work equipment) which is still ongoing. Also, recruitment procedures take 30-45 days.”

How is the organizational capacity in the Municipality?

The head of the Association of Municipalities Agron Haxhimali says:

“Another problem is the organizational capacity in the municipalities, especially prioritizing defense and spending as a legal obligation of 4% in the function of civil defense. Even the lack of financial means to buy equipment, technological tools, fire-resistant clothing, and training for the servant, are a clearly evident problem during 2021. Not less of a problem are the ambiguities that have caused clashes between the municipality and the government, regarding the issue of compensation for damages and who declares a state of natural disaster at the local level, whether from fires or floods.”

This has been confirmed by the latest report of the High State Audit. From his audit in 7 Municipalities in 2021, it results that there is a lack of funds and structures dedicated to the drafting of environmental policies. According to the report published at the beginning of August, it appears that only a small percentage of the budget goes to the environment, while policies are drawn up by specialists in other fields.

The audit underlines that despite the fact that environmental protection is a national priority and is mandatory for all state bodies, it turns out that these 7 municipalities have not prioritized the issue of the environment.

“Almost all audited LGUs lack dedicated structures to produce environmental policies, as well as support with budget funds,” the report states.

Source High State Audit

Even the Municipality of Tirana, which is the largest municipality in the country, shows that there is an index of decreasing expenses for the environment from year to year.

Source High State Audit

Shemsi Prençi, former head of Civil Emergencies says:

The situation in the National Agency of Civil Protection is even worse, as since 2019, although they have increased in number more than 8 times, no specialist or professional is employed or recruited, but only by the organization of the Youth Forum of the Socialist Party and patronazhists, so the civil defense has been reduced to the lowest levels of planning, coordination and management…!”

Regarding climate impacts, the government and the Civil Emergencies Agency should prioritize policies that would help the situation.

“As a new institution, on the way to reform and rise according to European Civil Protection standards, in terms of emergency plans and strategic documents in the field of risk prevention, in addition to the National Civil Emergency Plan and harmonized plans at district and local level , strategic documents are currently in the process of being drafted, such as the National Plan for Civil Emergencies, Disaster Risk Assessment, National Strategy, for which three orders of the Prime Minister have been issued for the establishment of inter-institutional groups for the drafting of these documents – says the National Agency of Civil Protection in its response.

The climate and the environment have always been ranked among the conditions that Albania must fulfill in the EU integration process, but according to reports Albania has aligned its legislation while in practice the implementation of the priorities is still far away.

The 2019 EC report prioritized:

In the coming year, Albania must:

-take immediate measures to review and improve environmental and strategic impact assessments on existing and planned projects, plans and programs, especially in the hydropower, construction, tourism and mining sectors;

-start implementing the Paris Agreement by adopting a national climate change strategy and legislation and starting to develop integrated National Energy and Climate Plans in line with the Energy Community obligation.

EC report for Albania 2021

Albania is moderately prepared in most areas related to the Green Agenda and sustainable connectivity , namely trans-European networks, energy, environment and climate change.