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Update No. 97/09 on ICRC activities in Albania

26-06-1997 Operational Update

 General situation  

Tensions continue to escalate in Albania in the run-up to the general election, the first round of which is slated to take place on 29 June. Violence has increased across the country and even previously calm areas are now in turmoil. Looting and acts of banditry are rife and the general atmosphere of unease caused by the persistent shootings and explosions shows no sign of abating. The food situation, although no longer in crisis, is being affected by the lack of security on the roads, as convoys are repeatedly held up and robbed. Fear of looting is also preventing shop-owners from restocking their premises, which has led to a consequent rise in prices.

Despite the precariousness of the security situation Red Cross operations have proceeded without major difficulty and it was possible to begin the family parcels distribution programme (see below, Relief activities ). The ICRC's programme of assistance to Albania ( cf.  Special Appeal for Albania  , issued 17 March 1997 ) will now continue over a period longer than the original three months envisaged. The programme's objectives i.e. to supply social and medical institutions with food and medical material and to provide support for the most vulnerable ten per cent of the population, remain unchanged at present. However, the situation will be reassessed after the election. In the meantime, the ICRC has decided to interrupt field activities during the election period, owing to the poor security situation and the expected increase in tensions surrounding the vote.

 Insecurity - a major problem  

The current lack of security in Albania, particularly on the roads, is undoubtedly a serious problem. Relief operations have been affected by several minor incidents over the past two weeks: an ICRC truck carrying food was intercepted and its load robbed by armed villagers, two distributions were disrupted and family parcels stolen and a warehouse was also looted. In some areas the family parcel distribution has been put on hold until the authorities can guarantee safety and the situation allows for the continuation of the operation. In the meantime, distributions are going ahead in other areas.

Deliveries of medical supplies to hospitals and health institutions have generally remained unaffected. However, security for the hospitals themselves continues to be a matter of great concern, as threats to staff and " revenge " beatings seem to be on the increase in some areas. Several meetings have been held with the Albanian Red Cross (ARC) and medical organizations in order to discuss how best to tackle this problem in order to encourage respect for medical structures and personnel.

 Relief activities  

 Family parcel distribution  

The first round of the ARC/ICRCs'relief programme to assist the most vulnerable among the Albanian population began on 26 May. The programme received contributions from ECHO and the National Red Cross Societies of Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Slovenia, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. So far, wheat flour and 20-kg parcels containing basic foodstuffs and hygiene items have been distributed to some 34,000 families in the following towns: Devoll, Durres, Elbasan, Fier, Kavaje, Librazhd, Peqin and Tirana (centre), Bulqize, Burrel, Kruje, Peshkopi and Rreshen (north), Malesi and Mallakaster (south).

Distributions will resume after the elections. In total, the programme will benefit some 70,000 needy families (corresponding to approximately 350,000 beneficiaries).

 Social and medical institutions  

Since the beginning of March joint ICRC/ARC teams have distributed a total of 26 tonnes of basic medical and surgical supplies and 112 tonnes of food to 63 social and medical institutions throughout the country. Conditions have now improved significantly as a result of support received from NGOs and other organizations. In addition, some institutions have received funds from their corresponding ministries, which have enabled them to buy supplies and pay staff. Nevertheless, the ICRC is continuing to monitor the situation and make ad hoc deliveries where necessary.

 Water and sanitation  

Following assessments and discussions with the Albanian water authorities and other participating organizations, the ICRC is to provide 50 tonnes of powdered chlorine to treat the country's water supply during the hot summer months of August and September.

 Dissemination  

In view of the large quantity of weapons and explosives still in circulation and the number of accidents associated with their misuse, the ARC and the ICRC have initiated a weapons awareness campaign. Its aim is to make the population, particularly young people, aware of the danger of handling firearms and explosives. The campaign, which began on 31 May, is centred around a 30-second radio spot, which is aired regularly by national and local broadcasters, a TV advert and a leaflet, to be distributed to the population.

 International Federation/Albanian Red Cross  

The Federation delegate is continuing to cooperate with and support the ARC in order to strengthen the National Society's capacity. Although the existing branches are doing everything possible to respond to actual needs, it will not be feasible to set up any new branches until the elections are over and the security situation improves. A second Federation delegate will be appointed after the elections. The majority of ARC branches are showing real initiative in the planning and implementation of their distributions, and staff have coped commendably in circumstances which were often tense and violent.