Earthquake in Albania: Switzerland sends experts and participates in reconstruction

At the end of November 2019, a powerful earthquake shook Albania, causing widespread damage with over 80,000 homes affected. At an international donors' conference in Brussels, Switzerland has pledged some CHF 10.2 million towards recovery efforts. A rapid response team from the Swiss Humanitarian Aid Unit (SHA) was deployed to Albania in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake.

The earthquake tore open the front a building, where a bed is now visible.

The earthquake that hit Albania on 26 November 2019 damaged or destroyed a large number of homes, with more than 83,000 left in need of repair. © Keystone

At the end of November 2019, Albania was hit by the strongest earthquake in 40 years, measuring 6.4 on the Richter scale. The epicentre of the earthquake was 10km north of Durres, the country's second largest city. This natural disaster claimed 51 lives. In response to a formal request from the Albanian government, Switzerland sent a rapid response team from the Swiss Humanitarian Aid Unit (SHA) to the affected region. More than 5,200 people have benefited directly from Switzerland's humanitarian aid intervention.

Man removing a window frame from a room destroyed by the earthquake.
The earthquake reduced parts of Durres to rubble. © Keystone

The earthquake that hit on 26 November 2019 damaged or destroyed a large number of homes, with more than 83,000 left in need of repair. The disaster claimed 51 lives, injured almost 1,000 people and left up to 17,000 homeless.

Situation on the ground following the earthquake

In Durres many houses were damaged, with some reduced to rubble, as one member of the SHA rapid response team recalls. Dust filled the air. Emergency response teams could be seen frantically working amidst the debris and rubble. Most people didn't dare to return home, worried about the fissures and cracks that had appeared and not knowing whether buildings would still be habitable.

Two engineers inspect a wall at a hospital in Durres.
SHA engineers determine the stability of a wall at a hospital in Durres. © FDFA

The SHA is responding by implementing specific measures, delivering winter tents, beds, blankets and tarpaulins to rural communities in the Lezha and Durres areas and providing temporary accommodation for around 1,100 people. A total of 344 households have received cash to carry out emergency repairs to their homes. Working with Albanian colleagues, Swiss engineers are checking the stability of damaged homes and public buildings, such as hospitals and schools, so that these can either be cordoned off or reoccupied.

Switzerland is helping partner country Albania

Although international emergency relief efforts, including those of Switzerland, have been effective, Albania has not yet recovered from the earthquake. Total damage is estimated at around CHF 900 million and reconstruction costs could amount to some CHF 1.15 billion. In response, the European Commission hosted an international donors' conference in Brussels on 17 February 2010. At the conference, Switzerland announced that it would contribute CHF 10.2 million to help recovery efforts in Albania.

Under its cooperation programme with Eastern Europe, Switzerland is already providing support for democratisation, decentralisation, economic development, urban infrastructure, energy and health in Albania. 2020 also marks 50 years of diplomatic relations between Switzerland and Albania. Given this long-standing relationship and the serious humanitarian crisis, it is only natural that Switzerland would want to help its partner country through this difficult time.

The contribution towards reconstruction is provided by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation and the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs.

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