Albania: Mine free and on the road to development

Albania is officially free from mine threats, following a decade of demining. Combined efforts by government agencies and UNDP, supported by EU, resulted in the destruction of 12,452 anti-personnel mines, 152 anti-tank mines and 4,965 pieces of unexploded ordnance.

In northeast Albania - considered the country’s poorest and least accessible region - 16 million square metres of land have been cleared of mines, allowing some 25,000 residents to return to the agricultural activities they rely on for their livelihoods.

Highlights

  • 13,000 anti-personnel mines destroyed.
  • 16 million square metres of agricultural land and pastures cleared.
  • New investments in roads, water supply systems, health centres and schools.
  • 185 community organizations set up to implement small-scale development projects.

“Now our children can play freely, we can make use of our land, and graze our sheep without fear that they will be injured,” says Rujmene Begiraj, from the village of Borja.

A legacy of conflict

During the Kosovo conflict, mines were scattered throughout the districts of Kukes, Has and Tropoja. After the conflict ended, the Albanian Government called on UNDP to help destroy the mines and restore security in the affected districts.

UNDP worked to strengthen capacities for coordinating, carrying out and monitoring demining efforts. By 2006, Albanian operators, equipped with new managerial and technical skills, comprised the bulk of six manual clearance teams.

These activities are part of broad efforts by UNDP to strengthen the link between mine removal and local development in Albania.

To this end, UNDP has worked to provide survivors of mine accidents with improved access to medical care, social and rehabilitation services, and prosthetics. Injured children have received transportation assistance and private tutoring, and adult victims have received vocational training and micro-credit to develop new businesses.

Additionally, UNDP-led workshops taught residents in mine-afflicted communities how to avoid unexploded weapons, reducing the number of mine accidents from 154 in 1999 to zero by 2006.

UNDP also supplied the training and equipment necessary to open the first ever physiotherapy and orthopaedics units in Kukes regional hospital.

“I lost my leg on the 27th of May 1999 while many refugees were crossing the border into Albania,” recounts mine survivor Izet Ademaj. “Since I was given my first prosthesis in Kukes, I am able to walk freely, to dance, to play football.”

The transition to a better future

To ensure continued development, UNDP and the European Union established the Kukes Regional Development Initiative, aimed at broadening the mine action framework to incorporate key development concerns such as infrastructure, poverty and unemployment.

UNDP and the EU helped channel more than $6 million into projects to improve roads and water supply systems, and to build more health centres and schools. As often as possible, local companies carried out the projects, boosting employment in the region.

By the end of the Kukes Regional Development Initiative in 2008 its activities had reached 89 percent of people in the programme area, and absolute poverty rates had declined by 3 percent.

“This area is no longer a place of sorrow, but a place for peace and harmony,” exclaims Rama Basha, a representative of Shishtavec Commune in the region of Kukes.