Editorial: A failed state laid bare by a natural disaster

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times December 5, 2019 20:09

Editorial: A failed state laid bare by a natural disaster


On November 26, a natural disaster of significant proportion hit Albania when an initial earthquake of 6.4 magnitude followed by dozens of aftershocks claimed the lives of more than 50 people and destroyed the homes and livelihoods of thousands of others primarily in Durres, Tirana and Lac. The majority of the losses, both in human lives and in infrastructure have been judged as a manmade consequence related to buildings outside of security parameters in terms of construction site chosen and materials/techniques used.

In addition to the immense pain and loss to the directly affected families and the destruction of entire buildings or even sections of the cities, the earthquake brought also the stinging pain of laying bare the utter failure of the Albanian state in all its chronological dimensions: past, present and most likely the future.

For more than three decades now, the Albanian state has failed to establish the bare minimum, control over the territory and a basic governance over the buildings and people it's supposed to rule over. For more than three decades corruption in the construction and permits sector have produced buildings without minimum safety standards. The outcome was made visible when the devastation hit and claimed so many human lives.

For the moment it is unclear, despite the powerful rhetoric, whether this past lesson will be taken or lost on the decision-makers. Rules and regulations over the planning and execution of construction respecting all requirements of "where and how" (hence territory type and quality of materials), will be strengthened however their implementation will still be dependent on the control mechanisms and responsible individuals in charge. 

Two months prior to this shock, on September 21, a large earthquake (approx. 5.5 magnitude) also hit the same areas and caused some significant damage. This natural warning went ignored and many of the buildings damaged the first time were among the ones worst hit the second time around. No responsibility was taken over this fact either.

This was the unearthed pain of the past. As for the present, the management of the crisis reveled the ugliness and debilitating chaos that prevails in all the current institutions of the Albanian government, both at central and local level.

First there was the utter and ludicrous personalization of the post-event time with the Prime Minister wondering around the affected sites and inside damaged homes, hugging people and dogs, shedding tears and barking against mayors, trying to make jokes and boasting that he had made international leaders feel Albania's pain.  This all live in all the TV screens of national media, whose unprofessional and unethical coverage merits a whole other critical article on its own. The behavior of some ministers was similar and in some cases even worse.

In addition, the Prime Minister and his majority even in these difficult days tried to gain political capital by benefiting from the spirit of the post-earthquake, making claims of reconciliation and collaboration with the opposition. Conveniently forgetting that in all the previous days they had worked incessantly to undermine the legitimacy of the real opposition by using the fake one inside the parliament to pass laws and reforms, now suddenly they found an inspiration to extend a hand and curate their image.

Moreover the involvement of stakeholders such as charity organizations and even specific religious institutions in the crisis management tables raised huge questions over the seriousness of the state. Flanked on both sides by a popular and telegenic imam and a young activist for charity, the Prime Minister failed to project the necessary gravitas of a leader that is in charge and instead relied on the usual façade tricks. 

Second, there was the lack of capacities of the emergency management services which had no equipment, no well-trained experts and not even sniffing dogs to rescue people under the rubbles. They were almost entirely dependent on the teams that came from assisting states in the region and from Western Europe to save the lives that were thankfully saved due to the expertise and preparation of others.  Leading among them was the example of Kosovo, which despite being a young state with similar problems, had a well-equipped and well trained emergency force that made a real difference on the ground.

There have been no firings and no quitting with the exception of the Durres mayor which resigned over a poor choice of words! The hierarchy of the intuitions responding to the aftermath of the events is not clear to this day.   

Finally, now a week after, it seems that the seeds of future corruption and mismanagement are already being sown with ambitious grand scale projects of building new neighborhoods. Without a serious analysis of other more realistic options, the government is set already on the path of major expenditures to house hundreds in entirely new buildings in the three affected cities.  Time will show whether the funds and procedures over these major projects will be mad transparent and used effectively or will be another infamous case of the dark PPPs already eating away the public finances. The track record is not inspiring.

The earthquake that hit Albania was a severe natural disaster and would have caused damages wherever. However the fundamental weaknesses of the Albanian state not only did not assist the situation, they made the toll worse. As experts say "Earthquakes don't kill people. Buildings do." It is legitimate yet painful to say now that bad governance does. Unless we change this, the next terrible disaster is just a matter of time.  


Tirana Times
By Tirana Times December 5, 2019 20:09