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Earthquake in Albania. Fr. Leuci (Caritas): “Remaining close to those who are suffering and rebuild together”

The seminar promoted by Caritas Italy, "Emergencies and humanitarian crises: the earthquake in Albania, the Libyan situation and the Balkan route", which brings together over 80 diocesan Caritas, is taking place in Rome. The purpose of the meeting is to take stock of the post-seismic emergency in Albania and promote the "Emergency appeal", introduced on January 31, while looking forward to good news from the international Donors’ Conference taking place in Brussels today (Feb.17). The damage from the quake was calculated at approximately EUR 1 billion. The first-hand account of Fr. Antonio Leuci, Director of Caritas Albania, and Ettore Fusaro, from Caritas Italy

According to the Post Disaster Needs Assessment report (PDNA), presented past February 5 by Bledi Cuci, Minister in charge of post-quake efforts, the earthquake of November 26 2019 in Albania caused EUR 985 in damages. The report was drawn up by 90 international (ECB, EU and UN) and local experts who worked for over a month to complete it on time for the European Commission’s Donor Conference in Brussels taking place today, 17 February. The PDNA report shows that “over 60,000 buildings were damaged, and over 200,000 people in 11 municipalities were affected by the consequences of the earthquake.”

Damage to buildings accounts for 76% of the total, estimated at over €696 million, followed by production sectors (culture, tourism, industry and agriculture) with damage exceeding €150 million, schools with over €73 million and infrastructure – over €33 million. In Brussels, Donor countries are being invited to support reconstruction efforts in Albania. The amount needed is estimated at approximately €1.1 billion.

Caritas’ Emergency Appeal. From Brussels to Rome, where – also today – the seminar “Emergencies and humanitarian crises: the earthquake in Albania, the Libyan situation and the Balkan route” promoted by Caritas Italy, that brings together over 80 diocesan Caritas, is under way. The purpose of the meeting is to take stock of the emergency, relaunch “the animation of areas hit by the earthquake and jointly develop intervention and twinning initiatives and projects” within the framework of the “Emergency appeal.”

“We want to raise awareness on the earthquake that seems to have been forgotten by now and respond to the cry for help of the population that is still living in tragic conditions as evidenced in the Post-Disaster Assessment Report. Many people are still without a home”,

said Fr. Antonio Leuci, director of Caritas Albania, present at the seminar. “EUR 985 million worth of damage is a huge amount for the country. Everything must be rebuilt.

The earthquake uncovered decades of unauthorized building.

Now the intention is to get off on the right foot, complying with regulations and monitoring the reconstruction process. I do hope that today’s Donors’ Conference in Brussels will initiate sustainable, controlled, transparent reconstruction devoid of violations, squandering, speculation and corruption. Donor countries must be involved in the monitoring process. The prime concern should be to

to restore homes and hope to those who have lost everything.

Many families don’t even have memories to turn back to because the rubble of their houses was immediately removed, with no chance to recover what was left.” Last January 31st Caritas Albania launched its “Emergency appeal”, developed in conjunction with Caritas Italy, Caritas Europe and other Caritas from European countries such as Germany and Poland.

“We must turn our gaze to the needs of the poorest among the poor, to the peripheries where everything is missing, including people’s dignity. We must remain close to the poor. The government will do its share, but our attention must always be focused on the peripheries. They must not be abandoned.”

Instruments to concretize this commitment will include “the diocesan twinning of Italy and Albania that has borne many fruits in the past. We already have requests from many groups of young people and adults to travel to Albania next summer in order to help with the reconstruction of damaged houses with simple tasks such as electrical installations, plumbing and painting. My appeal to the Caritas of Italian dioceses is to come to Albania; I extend this appeal to humanitarian organizations. It’s not only a matter of raising funds for reconstruction projects, but also to express our spiritual and emotional closeness to the victims of the earthquake, to show our support to those who are suffering.”

“Feelings of disorientation.” “Many people feel disoriented – Ettore Fusaro, from Caritas Italy, supporting Caritas Albania in the earthquake emergency, told SIR – actual reconstruction work has yet to begin. Albanian Institutions are defining the appropriate criteria, not without some misunderstanding with local authorities. We hope to learn more after the Conference of Donor Countries in Brussels.” For the moment, Fusaro added, “a number of housing subsidies have been distributed. Displaced people from the districts affected by the earthquake, housed in hotels and accommodation facilities, are now looking for apartments for rent whose prices, as often happens, have risen. Many people, who are also receiving state support, continue staying with relatives and friends. Difficulties are being experienced by the most vulnerable groups in processing their subsidy applications.” Although the critical phase of the emergency is over, people are still living in tents or in temporary accommodations. “”In Albania – Fusaro explained – rental housing is not widespread so the population affected tends to continue living close to their house even if was damaged.” The situation is further complicated by hotels which, in view of the summer season, are asking for the rooms offered to displaced people to be returned. “Many schools were destroyed,” said Fusaro, “and pupils are compelled to travel to schools in nearby villages or take double shifts. Even hospitals have been damaged.” Caritas Albania relies on the “Emergency appeal” to ensure continued help and support to the local population. “Our intention – Fusaro remarked – is to reach out to more than 5 thousand people – depending on the collected funds – extending assistance to four main areas of intervention. As emerged from the PDNA report, reconstruction and renovation of houses and buildings require the greatest amount of resources, followed by the distribution of cash and subsidies to families with insufficient allowances, along with education programs. Specific attention will also be given to earthquake prevention and post-traumatic stress.”

“The tremors can still be felt and it weakens people’s hope.”

The earthquake has increased the Albanian people’s propensity to leave the Country precisely for lack of hope – concluded Fr. Leuci – But thanks to the help of Italian Bishops (CEI) we will finance many projects developed by agencies and NGOs such as Vides, Vis, Missioni Rog, Avsi, to help women, children, unemployed and Roma people to recover and restart their lives.”

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