Communities unprepared in the face of natural disasters

April 17, 2018 | By Daniela Ruçi

Natural disasters and catastrophes can result in significant human and economic losses. Albania is frequently affected by natural and anthropogenic disasters, ranking 39th out of 171 countries according to the world risk report for 2017. Although most of these disasters cannot be prevented, there is a way to minimise risks, for example by distributing reliable information about the nature, causes and consequences of disasters. Information dissemination provides people with a better understanding of the risks, thus helping them to protect themselves. It is vitally important to promote a culture of security and awareness about the consequences of our actions or failures to act.

The magnitude and impact of a catastrophe do not depend entirely on natural phenomena. Human activities may exacerbate or alleviate risks: it is important where and how we build houses and settlements, for example, and how we use natural resources. Disasters are complex events, and the prevention and mitigation of their impacts likewise has many aspects, one of the most important of which is, without question, the amount of information available.

How much do members of the public really know about civil emergency situations and the early warning system? To answer this question, REC Albania carried out the survey "Risk: Chance or Choice?" in 2017. The nationwide public opinion poll provided a fascinating picture of what people do and do not know about disaster risk. As many as 85 percent of respondents claimed to recognise the dangers that threaten their community, although they were unaware of emergency plans and around 86 percent did not know what an early warning system was or what means of communication exist within this system at national and local level. When asked about the main cause of the disasters affecting them and their community, the majority referred to alterations and interventions carried out by humans, while only 6.5 percent of respondents mentioned natural cyclical events.

Around 40 percent of the respondents lived in areas that had been flooded at least once (Shkodra, Fushë Kruja, or the villages along the Vjosa River), and 30.2 percent of these respondents had had personal experience of a flood situation. Respondents were asked to identify some of the measures they took in the event of flooding. Of the 11 measures suggested in the survey, the biggest percentage (54.6 percent) of respondents chose recognition and learning of emergency telephone numbers (112, 129, 126, 128). The measure considered to be the least important was knowledge of the local authorities responsible in the event of an emergency. The best-known institution in terms of civil emergency management is the General Directorate of Civil Emergencies, which was identified as having a major role in responding to civil emergencies.

According to 66.5 percent of respondents, the primary source of information about hazards and early warning systems was the media, while 55 percent of respondents ranked school education as the best way to learn about civil emergencies. The least appreciated tools were leaflets (17 percent) and public meetings.

All respondents were asked to decide whether risk is a matter of chance or choice. The question was posed in order to gain a better understanding of civil emergency situations. According to 40.6 percent of those surveyed, risk is a matter of luck, while 59.4 percent considered it to be a matter of choice.

In our daily lives we are faced with a constant need to make choices, and weighing up the relative risks and benefits is far from easy. We can only rely on the knowledge we have. Have you ever wondered how you would react in an emergency? None of us like to think too much about such things, but as citizens we need to have basic information about the risks and the appropriate measures that we need to take, not only to prevent disasters but also to cope with them if they occur.

The EU is providing support for the implementation of the "Programme for Improving the National Early Warning System" (PRO NEWS), which aims to ensure increased resilience to floods by strengthening Albania's national early warning system and improving disaster prevention in line with EU good practices.

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