From: Alice Taylor
Albanian Government Warned of Shortcomings in Firefighting Capacity in May of This Year

In May of this year, the Albanian government was told that they were not sufficiently prepared for wildfires in the country by the World Bank. In a 60-page report called “Diagnostic Report: Emergency and Preparedness and Response Assessment,” the government was repeatedly told that they needed to do more to fight wildfires and prepare the emergency crew for such events.

Despite this warning and others in previous years, wildfire season seems to have caught the government unprepared. Consequently, wildfires have and continue to ravage the country, causing one death and the destruction of acres of farmland, countryside, and vegetation.

The report notes that as per the Disaster Risk Index, Albania is number one in Europe in terms of exposure, susceptibility, vulnerability, and coping capacities for disasters such as floods and forest fires. Some 86% of the country is prone to disasters, with approximately one disaster occurring every year.

The R2R noted “several gaps in structures, frameworks, and capacities” and recommended that the system be further specialized to address specific hazards to main risks, including forest fires. This was especially important in the context of new challenges such as climate change. The Albanian government should have recognized these challenges, further developed equipment and technology and building capacity, and reduced the turnover in personnel.

“These changes will help ensure that Albania is prepared to cope with existing and new challenges professionally and coherently,” the report stated. The World Bank even broke down what should be done and how much it would cost. This includes investing in firefighting and technical rescue.

In the report, Albania’s capacity for dealing with firefighting was scored at just 1.25 out of a possible five. One of the main gaps highlighted in Albania’s coping mechanisms was firefighting, made worse by outdated equipment and the lack of a national training center.

It was also noted that only two volunteer firefighting teams had been established in the country, although each mayor has the power to create them. Individuals entrusted with monitoring the situation in terms of fires are not trained property and require further capacity building.

The most important goal highlighted in the report was strengthening community engagement by supporting the country’s volunteer firefighters. This would help support employed firefighters who are “lacking personnel and equipment to respond to larger and more complex incidents.”

Capacity for fighting wildfires was “limited” and “basic,” and firefighters are missing equipment, 4X4 vehicles, and thermal cameras, amongst other things. In fact, a “large investment gap was identified” in the purchase and renewal of firefighting vehicles with appropriate equipment to fight challenging fires.

The report continues: “One of the biggest gaps in the EP&R system of Albania relates to equipment for urban and technical firefighting and medical services. Much of the needed equipment is old or missing. Most of the firefighting vehicles are donations and up to 60 years old with maintenance problems. A significant investment is needed to establish a strong firefighting and rescue system that will cover all realistic disaster scenarios in the country. Jointly with the General Directorate of Fire and Rescue, a plan should be developed to purchase vehicles and equipment and in the longer term grow toward European Union (EU) standards.”

Wildfires are not a new phenomenon in Albania. Over the years, every summer has seen reports of fires throughout the country.

Between 2004 and 2013, an average of just under 5,000 hectares of land was burnt due to wildfires every year. This included protected areas, forests, other vegetation, and even wetlands.

A study published in 2013 recommended that the government improve the network of forest roads to create fire-prevention boundaries. They also said that firefighters should be provided with the necessary equipment to fight blazes in difficult-to-reach areas. More training should be provided to firefighters, and the capacity of volunteer fighters should also be improved.

It also suggested that changes to existing laws be enacted and that coordination and collaboration between institutions and organizations should be bettered.