As I tuned in to Albanian television last night to see what is going on in the country, I was horrified to see that large swathes of the country have been forced to a standstill due to the inclement winter weather.
I come from England, a country that grinds to a halt amidst mass panic at just the mention of a few flakes of snow, but this is Albania – a country where it snows in many areas, every year without fail. Of course, I understand that the infrastructure is such in parts of the country that it is almost inevitable that people get snowed in and stranded, but what I saw on the news last night was unacceptable.
Take for instance the road that links Tirana to Kosovo, “Rruga e Kombit”. This road has been the subject of much controversy and debate over the previous couple of years, and most prominently in the last few months when protests turned violent due to the governments plan to charge a EUR 5 toll for each driver using it. Whilst I am not against tolls per se, the amount that was being charged is simply too high to be justifiable, but that is a topic for another post.
In last nights’ news, reporters showed that the road was completely impassable except for those with off-road vehicles, or a death wish. The road had not been gritted and then, when it inevitably became covered in almost a meter of snow, no effort was made by the government or municipality to clear it. Private citizens were instead resorting to clearing it themselves in able to make it passable, but this did little to stop a number of preventable accidents occurring on the treacherous pass.
These scenes were echoed in Gjirokaster where the entire area has been essentially quarantined from the rest of the country. The roads are impossible to use and pose a deadly hazard to anyone in a vehicle, or on foot, that tries to use them. Again the roads had not been gritted with salt and no attempt by the local council had been made to clear them in any way, again leaving local people with the sole responsibility of attempting to do so.
Ambulances cannot reach people in need, children cannot go to school, people cannot work- the situation is impossible and unacceptable. We are not living in 1919, it is 2019 and there is absolutely no reason why the municipality of areas that are affected with this kind of weather, every year, cannot plan ahead and take the necessary precautions to safeguard their citizens.
In the case of Rruga e Kombit, a road that people pay to use, why was the money not used to salt the road? Why was it not used to hire snow ploughs to clear the snow and make the road safer? We are not talking costs of millions or even hundreds of thousands of euros here- we are talking literal loose change for a municipality to fork out to protect the lives of those using the road. Where is the EUR 5 per person toll going? What is it being used for? Why is it not being used to maintain the road during the winter months when everyone knows that it is going to snow.
In the case of Gjirokaster, I ask a similar question – why are peoples taxes not being used to salt and clear the roads during times like this? It is not as if snow is a recent invention that took everyone by surprise- the municipality knew this would happen and have not taken any steps to prevent it or to help the citizens of the city.
Salting a road doesn’t have a high cost, nor does ploughing one after the snow has settled so I fail to believe that there were not sufficient funds to undertake such precautions. Instead, I have little choice to believe that the funds that could have been used to protect the lives and well-being of the municipality, and the funds gathered from making drivers pay a toll on Rruga e Kombit have been misappropriated and ended up in the pockets of those with little interest in the well-being of citizens.
Sadly this does not come as a surprise as I am becoming all too accustomed with the fact that those in a position of political or financial power here have little consideration for their fellow countrymen, and that realistically, greed comes before compassion.