According to the promise made by the Minister of Infrastructure Balluku, in August 2021 Gjirokastra should have a new water supply network and water supply 24/7. 6 months after this deadline expired the city is facing the irreparable damages to the city’s historic center caused by the works on the new water supply networks which are yet to be completed. Only the Regional Directorate on Cultural Heritage and the residents acknowledge the massacre taking place in the cobblestone roads of Gjirokastra. Whereas, for the National Institute of Cultural Heritage the situation in the Historic Center protected by UNESCO is under control.

The project of the Water Supply Network in Gjirokastra will be submitted according to the contract in August 2021, but our goal is to complete it before the tourist season. By the beginning of May, Gjirokastra will be supplied with water of good quality 24/7!”- the Minister of Infrastructure and Energy Belinda Balluku stated on July 13, 2020in presence of Prime Minister Rama during an inspection in Gjirokastra.

Based on the vow made by minister Balluku the new water supply network in Gjirokastra should have been completed on August 17, 2021. However, the works which started in November 2019 with a funding of 7 million and 550 thousand euro (without VAT), provided by the German bank KFW, after contracting the company “Starbag AG ALBANIA”, are yet to be completed even though it has been 5 months since the deadline provided by the government expired.

We decided on conducting an investigation by first addressing a request for information to the Ministry of Infrastructure and Energy, which as of this article is yet to respond.

Screenshot of the request for information addressed to the MIE, November 19, 2021

The Strabag AG ALBANIA company which was contracted to carry out the works for the water supply network also did not respond to Faktoje’s interest.

Screenshot of the request for information addressed to Strabag company which carries out the works of the Gjirokastra Water Supply Network

The Municipality of Gjirokastra, which responded to the request of information sent by Faktoje confirms:

“In the works contract of the Gjirokastra water supply network there has been made an extension of the deadline of the works until 25.02.2022 due to the works and unforeseen delays in the approval of the German Bank. The construction permit was also extended to this date”.

Screenshot of the reply of the Municipality of Gjirokastra, November 24, 2021

Despite the confirmation on the ground, this reply officially confirms that the water supply network project is yet to be completed, differently from what the Minister of Infrastructure and Energy claimed. Despite the lack of water supply in the city the delay of this project is causing another major damage.

The project: great damage in the cobblestone roads of the historic center which is protected by UNESCO

The project of the water supply network has opened almost all segments of the historic center which is protected by UNESCO in order to lay the pipelines. The heavy vehicles of the implementing company have opened deep canals which have affected the historic foundations of the cobblestone roads which were built almost 40 years ago.

The canals opened alongside the cobblestone roads of the historic center of Gjirokastra to make place for laying the pipelines, January 2022

The heavy vehicles in the historic center of Gjirokastra paving the way for placing the pipelines.

The damage is even greater due to the continuous rain during the winter season, which in many areas has damaged the bed of the cobblestone roads.

Master Spiro Bezhani states:

“The damage is irreversible and the cobblestone will not be paved the same as it was before. Cobblestone requires mastery and once it is moved it can hardly go back to what it was.”

Cobblestone master Spiro Bezhani, Gjirokastra, January 2022

Even the residents of the upper neighborhoods of the city have stated forthe local and national media their concern regarding the works in the water supply network. Despite the fact that the vehicles have been blocking the entrance to their homes for weeks due to the works, the residents fear that the company won’t be able to pave the cobblestone roads back as they used to be. Other works of the sort which were carried out by phone companies or electricity companies have caused discontent among the residents since their works have not been of good quality and they have not been capable of reinstating the cobblestone roads to their previous state.

The intervention in the historic center to lay the pipelines, Gjirokastra, January 2022

In its reply to Faktoje, the Municipality of Gjirokastra has taken into consideration all the grievances and dissent coming from the citizens regarding the works in the museum area.

“The works have been extended due to the pandemic, natural conditions and the difficulties which have been encountered in repaving the cobblestone, since it requires mastery and the assistance of experts of the field. UNESCO has played a major role in the progress of the works by assisting and supervising the works, whereas we have tried to follow the regulation and the conditions defined by it” – states the Municipality.

The Regional Directorate of Monuments is very concerned with the situation, since it is main institution responsible for the protection of the values of the Historic Center of Gjirokastra. This institution confirms that the firm “STRABAG ALBANIA”, has entered into contract with the licensed subject “LIDA MIRAJ ZEQO”, but the contract with the signature which has the expertise in the restauration field ended in June 2021.

Screenshot of the official response of the Regional Directorate of National Heritage Gjirokastra, 24 November 2021

“The project the Rehabilitation of the Water Supply Network in the Historic Centre and Protected Area of the city of Gjirokastra, has been approved by the KKR, with Decision No. 335 dated 10/10/2019. The decision included a condition, that during the works the subject should employ a licensed company in the field of restauration and archeology. The firm “STRABAG AG ALBANIA” which is responsible for the works, has entered into contract with the licensed subject “LIDA MIRAJ ZEQO”, regarding these works in December 2020. The implementation period for the works of this project is 12/08/2020 – 18/06/2021.”- as stated in the official response of DRTKGJ for Faktoje.

Further on, this reply rises concerns on the violation of the schedule regarding the works in the historic center, in which it is required monitoring of the firm which has the expertise in the protection and heritage field.

“Our directorate has been present during the entire time the works were being implemented. We have insisted there be a licensed firm during the works and archeological monitoring. These works were foreseen for the historic center and in the permit awarded by the Municipality of Gjirokastra the schedule was also approved. The schedule of the works has not been implemented thoroughly and thus they have requested a deadline extension, which was granted by the Gjirokastra Municipality. We would like to emphasize that the implementing firm is yet to fulfill part of its obligation to rehabilitate the damaged cobblestone and thus has requested a deadline extension. When faced with the limitation of the contract fulfilment deadlines, the subject started working on various fronts at the same time, thus disturbing the community” – stresses the Regional Directorate of Monuments, Gjirokastra.

But differently from the Regional Directorate, the Institute of Cultural Heritage in an official reply for Faktoje confirms that the situation is under control, without providing any further explanation if the tripartite agreement between the investor, expert firm in archeology and the water supply has been respected in regard to the works in the historic center of Gjirokastra.

Screenshot of the official reply of the National Institute of Cultural Heritage, 9.12.2021

This institution also confirms, among other things, that the residents of Gjirokastra have not deposited any grievance, even though the Regional Heritance Directorate stated the opposite.

Screenshot of the official reply of the National Institute of Cultural Heritage, 9.12.2021

In mid January of this year the works for the water supply network in the historic center of Gjirokastra continued with the same pace and it seems unlikely for the water supply network project to be completed in February, when the deadline extension for the implementing firm expires.

In some of the roads which were opened the works for closing the canals or repaving the cobblestone roads have come to a stop and it has been made difficult by the frozen streets and rainfall.  The company will have to make another legal request for deadline extension, whereas the residents will have to deal a little longer with the opened canals, blocked streets and various difficulties.