An interview with Mr. Maksimiljan Dhima, former Sendai Framework Focal point for Albania

United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction - Regional Office for Europe & Central Asia
Shakemap from USGS for the November 2019 Albania Earthquake
United States Geological Survey


Following the November 2019 earthquake in Albania, which killed 51 people, injured more than 900, and left 17,000 people displaced, the UNDRR Regional Office for Europe reached out to the former Sendai Framework Focal point for Albania, Mr. Maksimiljan Dhima, to get his thoughts on recovery, and how Albania can improve disaster resilience.


The results of the post-disaster needs assessment, conducted in Albania last month, show that the total recovery needs are 1,08 million EUR out of which 51%, was assessed as necessary to address short-term needs. How can this disaster be used as an opportunity to build back better and increase infrastructure resilience? What is the lesson we should learn from what happened?

This disaster can certainly be used as an opportunity to build back better as well as to increase infrastructure resilience in Albania. It has already contributed to increasing public awareness and making decision makers aware of the country’s vulnerability and exposure to disasters as well as of the urgency of mainstreaming DRR into the development policies. Learning from past events and the effects of earthquakes upon critical infrastructure and building stocks, there are various measures to be taken that could ensure resilient infrastructure. More concretely:

  • Being one of the most earthquake-prone countries in Europe, Albania should frequently update its building codes and seismic hazard map. The codes an the map have not been updated in the past 40 years. This can lead to critical infrastructure system failures.
  • Poor land use management and urban planning practices in the country, at both, national and local level have prevented risk informed policies and led to wrong decisions.
  • Physical and functional inspections of critical infrastructure were not regularly conducted
  • Civil Protection Law (Law - 45/2019) represents a good basis for the implementation of DRR policies in the country. However, other sectoral and crosscutting policies and legislation, institutional arrangements, increased administrative, technical, and financial capacities are also needed in order to ensure a resilient critical infrastructure in the future.
  • The lack of budgeting for DRR at all levels was one of the reasons for the obsolescence and depreciation of the existing critical infrastructure. The Law 45/2019 establishes the good practice that line ministries should have a separate budget line for disaster risk reduction and civil protection activities allocating 2-4% of their annual budget, while municipalities should allocate no less than 4%. Nevertheless, DRR budgeting should be properly planned and implemented in all sectors and at all levels of governance in order to ensure DRR mainstreaming into sustainable development policies.

This earthquake increased the poverty rate in the country by 2.3 per cent, affecting 220,000 people or 10 percent of the population. Lack of insurance coverage and the lack of public/private insurance schemes undermine recovery after disasters and sustainable development. What is needed to improve insurance mechanisms for stronger resilience of population to future events?

Strengthening the insurances mechanism is a challenging issue even in more advanced countries. Therefore, the first thing to be done is raising awareness of citizens on the necessity of private insurance.  

The disaster insurance market is already one of the strategic priorities for Albania and as such, it is included in the National Strategy for Development and Integration 2015-2020

With the support from the World Bank, the law on “compulsory insurance of dwellings from earthquakes and floods” was drafted in 2016. According to the law, currently under revision, the market penetration of disaster insurance is still very low in Albania (1-2 houses per 100). In addition, Albania, together with other countries from the region participates in the Regional Catastrophe Risk Insurance Facility launched by the World Bank and other partners in 2010.

After the devastating earthquake from November 26th, 2019, Prime Minister has emphasized that disaster damages will be not compensated by the State in the future, suggesting that citizens should assure their private insurance. Since the respective law is under the revision, we may assume that the process will be compulsory.

Given all of the above, I would like to highlight the necessity for the law to be subject of a broad discussion involving all stakeholders. In this process, the experience of law enforcement in other countries, especially those in the region, should be taken into account. In addition, the social aspect of the Law should be properly considered. In the future, we will face other hazards apart from those that are subject of this Law and if the state will not cover losses any more regardless of the disaster type (which seems to be the case), insurance companies should thus include those kinds (or scales) of disasters in their insurance schemes.

Damages impacted 321 educational institutions, 22 primary health care facilities and 42 municipal buildings. From your perspective, what measures could specifically address the question of resilience of critical infrastructure?

  • The GoA should take all necessary measures to transpose the EU legislation related to critical infrastructure, such as EU Council Directive 2008/114 (December 2008) on the “identification and definition of critical European infrastructure and the need assessment to improve their protection”; Directive 2012/18 of the European Parliament and of the Council dated (July 2012) on the “control of major accident risks involving dangerous substances, amending and repealing the EC Council Directive 96/82/” and to ensure their implementation.
  • All institutions should take the measures to identify critical infrastructure and critical infrastructure with transboundary effects.
  • Implementation of the EUROCODE, a new seismic hazard map, inter alia, in the critical infrastructure design and their enforcement. 
  • In close collaboration with the national and local level institutions, preparing as soon as possible, multi hazard risk assessment of existing and new critical infrastructure and the respective disaster risk management plan/civil emergency plans
  • Verifying structural stability/resistance and compliance of existing critical infrastructure with seismic standards, based on the new seismic codes and the new seismic hazard map.
  • Seismic strengthening of the existing critical infrastructure (including educational facilities in line with the new seismic codes and the new seismic hazard map, prioritizing them according to seismic risk assessment results, starting from the earthquake affected area.
  • Periodic audits and control to ensure proper functionality of the existing critical infrastructure and suitable technologies; staff capacity building regarding internal and external disaster risks and the civil emergency plans as well as conducting regular drills.
  • Build on existing collaboration and partnership with the national and local authorities to ensure proper and timely early warning, prevention, preparedness, and response and recovery measures.
  • Strengthening early warning, monitoring, notification and alarm, alert devices and systems with the local and national networks.
  • Land use, urban planning and all the other policies, legislation and regulation at national and local level should be risk informed in order to ensure resilient critical infrastructures.
  • Technical agencies need to improve their capacity to model, forecast, assess and monitor hazards and risks in order to provide data for warning purposes with clear identification of high-risk areas and at-risk communities.
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