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UK engineers advise Prime Minister on severe Albanian floods

British engineers are advising the Albanian government after several villages in Shkodra, north west Albania, flooded due to heavy rainfall and melting snow.

A delegation from project development company Zumax A G, with assistance from British and Swiss engineers, has just returned from Albania. The team visited the region to assess the situation and develop plans to overcome the flooding.

After days of heavy rains and melting snow the public water system has been contaminated by sewerage. World Vision is working with local agencies to provide emergency sources of clean water and will continue to monitor and assist with water supply issues during the recovery phase. 4,000 people were evacuated from the region. 10,270ha of farmland and seven villages have been flooded.

“The river has become silted up. The first thing is to start dredging the river to get better flows.”

Philip George, Zumax

The Zumax team met Albanian Prime Minister Sali Berisha last week and outlined a three stage plan for the problems. “Zumax has an office in Tirana,” said Zumax project director Philip George. “We’ve developed a good relationship with the government.”

Zumax is now preparing a more detailed report for the Prime Minister following the team’s assessments in the region. The report is expected to be delivered tomorrow.

“The main thing will be to improve the flow of the river,” said George. There are three large dams as the river flows down the mountain, and flows are further challenged by the fact that two rivers were diverted into one during the communist era, he said.

“The river has become silted up. The first thing is to start dredging the river to get better flows.” George said Zumax will also be advising the government on better strategies for releasing water when needed.

Fast thinking

During the delegation’s visit, the Albanian government provided a helicopter to enable the Zumax team to travel around the area and meet the affected people. The team toured the river flood dykes which had been breached and saw the temporary repairs that had been carried out by teams of volunteers and the Albanian army. 

The team also flew over the village of Obot which was still under water and had been badly affected. Nearby the village at Pentari had been submerged to a depth of over 2m.

The Ministries of Economy, Interior and Defence provided assistance to the Zumax team during the visit, making it possible to carry out an extensive review of the situation in just three days, said George. “The Prime Minister immediately got three of his ministers to meet us,” he said. “It was a wonderful piece of fast thinking.”

“The Prime Minister immediately got three of his ministers to meet us. It was a wonderful piece of fast thinking.”

Philip George, Zumax

The severe floods were the result of inclement weather. Heavy snow fell on the Albanian mountains in December and January. This was followed by a sudden shift of the winds to the south bring a sudden thaw, combined with heavy rain. In addition the strong winds caused unusually high tides, restricting the outflow of water from the Buna River.

The Albanian Power Company opened the gates of three major dams on the Drin River in Shkoder area, raising the water level in the Fierza lake two metres above critical point. Rising water from the two hydroelectric power stations flooded several villages in Shkodra, which lies one hour northwest of the capital Tirana, causing an estimated €66M (£57,660) in damage.

Hoiwever, ICE All Reservoirs Panel member and Zumax dam engineering and hydrology group head Andrew Sheerman-Chase said the operation of the hydropower dams on the Drini River were not to blame for the floods. The water flows would have been greater had it not been for these reservoirs, and a more pressing issue that must be addressed is illegal building in the vulnerable areas, he said.

Future fears

George said the flooding is a symptom of climate change. “This is very much a case of climate change and the sort of thing that is likely to happen,” he said.

Prime Minister Berisha on Wednesday called the situation “a potential catastrophe” and ordered an evacuation. Many families refused to evacuate, fearing they would lose their cattle − the main source of income in rural areas.

Some 5,000 people have been left homeless and now seek refuge in military bases, tents or with relatives. The rising number of dead cattle threatens to spread disease and infection.

Zumax is a Swiss company with Anglo-Swiss management. It plans to establish co-operation agreements with Albania engineers and contractors to enable solutions to the problem of illegal building in areas vulnerable to flooding. The company aims to offer its international experience to the re-emerging Albanian economy through technical assistance and direction.

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