Tirana's water deposits: a danger from above

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times May 27, 2020 09:54

Tirana's water deposits: a danger from above

The devastating earthquake that struck Albania in the early hours of November 26, claimed 51 lives and left hundreds of families homeless, all while bringing to light a major looming issue: the dangers of water deposits sitting on the rooftops of apartment buildings. These storage tanks remain to be the ultimate source of water in Tirana, as residents living in the capital city are not granted access to an uninterrupted water supply, despite all plans made by the municipal government to do so. Prior to the earthquake, these deposits were already deemed unsafe in terms of providing clean and healthy water. Today, they pose an even more visible risk.

One look at the capital city's panorama is all it takes to catch sight of the lined-up deposits above the apartment buildings sitting adjacent to one another. The majority of these buildings have one thing in common: each was constructed before the 1990s - an era which precedes the establishment of democracy in Albania. Thirty years later, these buildings are remnants of the Communist regime, during which citizens had 24/7 access to water, unlike today, where water deposits have "taken over" the city.

Water deposits sitting on apartment buildings in a popular neighborhood of Tirana - prior to the November 26 earthquake.

In 2020, instead of  having 24/7 access to water, Tirana's residents living in newer apartment buildings share common water deposits which are located in basements or first floors of the buildings instead of rooftops. This way, the safety of the building is maintained. Setting aside the issue of construction safety, water quality remains nevertheless questionable for both types of buildings.

According to the Municipality of Tirana, apartment buildings constructed before the 90's which suffered extensive damage due to the earthquake, amounted to 1500 out of a total of 5000 apartment buildings in the city. At the same time,Tirana accounts for the highest population number and population density in the country, precisely 538 inhabitants per square kilometer, which also means that the number of water deposits weighing down on rooftops is significantly high. 

Over the years, Mayor of Tirana Erion Veliaj, has repeatedly promised uninterrupted access to water, which would ultimately lead to the removal of all water deposits; in July 2017, Veliaj stated that Tirana would have 24/7 access to water within five years. Three years later, the situation is nowhere near to these expectations.

It took a 6.4-magnitude earthquake to further prove that these deposits are both outdated and unsafe in terms of the building structure safety; the excessive weight of water deposits caused several older building rooftops to collapse due to the seismic waves on the day of the earthquake. 

As a result, the Municipality of Tirana took measures to avoid future risks. On December 16 of last year, the Tirana Municipal Council approved the displacement of all water deposits from apartment building rooftops to common areas located on the first floors, which was to be done by all building administrators and/or co-owners. Based on the decision, water deposits on all buildings which had not suffered extensive damage were to be removed temporarily until an official report by construction experts was submitted to the Municipality. The Council instructed administrators to remove the deposits within the deadline of January 30, 2020, otherwise it would take control of the matter.

In fact, all buildings had to undergo an examination to determine if they were habitable after the earthquake. In Tirana, reportedly 261 apartment buildings suffered severe earthquake-related damage and 1500 'pre '90s' buildings required thorough inspection, thus a significant number of deposits had to be removed. To residents living in these buildings, this also meant that they would be left without any water for an uncertain amount of time.

For Ina, a 22-year old student residing in a building located in one of the most prominent areas of Tirana, an engineering inspection group never showed up. Although her apartment building is close to two Ministry buildings, no inspections were conducted inside her apartment by official authorities and five months later, water deposits are still up and standing on the rooftop. She says that the group of administrators were aware of the Municipality's order, as an announcement was put up on the main entrance door, stating that all inhabitants had to remove the deposits from the rooftops. That, however, is as far as communication goes between the two parties. The announcement pinned up on the door was ignored and no one made an effort to displace the deposits. According to Ina, this is largely due to the lack of cooperation within the community of residents.

"Most of the inhabitants do not want to share common deposits or pay for them and the group of administrators are not very active in such matters. Some are even fearful that they may be left without any water for who knows how long," Ina says. Either way, no checks or measures were taken even after the deadline had passed. 

In Tirana, the average price of a water deposit ranges from 15000 ALL to 20000 ALL per household, which residents are generally hesitant to pay for a second time, taking into consideration that the minimum wage in Albania is 26000 ALL. Moreover, conflict also stems from a lack of organization within the communities; data from portavendore.al shows that only one-third of apartment buildings have their own administrators - others are either not officially registered in the Municipality's records or do not exist. 

Sami, a plumbing expert with over 20 years of experience in the business, has witnessed similar conflicts when dealing with his customers. He explains that deposits located on the ground floor require a water pump which has a separate cost, hence the reluctance of the inhabitants to displace them.

Numerous water deposits remain on rooftops of older buildings as of May 2020

However, Sami adds that another major reason for their hesitation is related to the fact that they prefer individual water deposits as opposed to common ones - this way no one spends more than the other and water shortages within the community are avoided. As regards the water quality, the expert says that the displacement of deposits makes no difference; the residues and dirt building up over time are neither made worse nor better whether on the rooftop or the ground floor. 

"This is a procedure done only as a safety measure in case of an earthquake. The only solution to avoid the risks of water deposits in terms of water quality, is having 24/7 access to water," Sami says. However, he is pessimistic about the possibility of it happening, predicting that we may be stuck with water deposits for quite a long time. Karlo, the administrator of a newer apartment building located near Joseph St. Martin square, says that deposits are usually cleaned and filtered once a year, which may leave room for a prolonged build-up of dirt even if these deposits are moved to accessible areas and away from the scorching sun.

Yet, it seems that not much is being done in regard to the improvement of current conditions either. Tirana Times' efforts to obtain details on the progress of the initiative from the Municipality of Tirana were futile; questions were only met with silence. One can guess that it is improbable that actions are being taken during this time in which the world is struggling to cope with a pandemic crisis, but the time prior to that could have still been utilized to go through with the initiative.

Although it seems that water deposits are not being permanently replaced anytime soon, one thing is clear: Tirana residents do not need another earthquake to be reminded of the danger sitting on their rooftops.

Reported by: Greta Shima

Project Coordinator: Jerina Zaloshnja

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times May 27, 2020 09:54