Climate change effects in Albania

Climate change effects have started to be felt since the late 1990s in Albania, more precisely in 1997, when the winter came with very little or no snow at all. It used to snow a lot on the Albanian highlands, but in 1997 it snowed just once and very little, and the whole March and April were hot, and with very little rain. Since 1997, winters in Albania have become shorter and milder, whereas summers have become longer and hotter, sometimes with temperatures above 40⁰C. Droughts in summer and sometimes even in fall, and then sudden floods, became a frequent phenomenon. The climate change impacts started to become visible to naked eye only recently. The coasts have started to erode almost in the entire Adriatic coastline in Albania due to sea level increase—in some places the sea has advanced more than 50m inland, destroying the coastal forests and vegetation, and increasing the salinity in the lagoons and fields near the seacoast. The increase of the sea level, has wreaked havoc on the beautiful Mediterranean Pine forests that cover the Adriatic coast in Albania. Most of the trees that are found on the frontline, are dying from increasing salinity. In other places, especially in villages near the coast, the salinity in the soil and in the water wells has increased significantly, damaging the small rural economies along the coast.

The climate change effects have increased the number and the intensity of fires in Albania. During 2006-2007 there were 352 fires that burned throughout Albanian parks and forests, burning entire ecosystems and pastures. In some areas you could drive for tens of kilometers without seeing a single tree unburned—the fires devastated entire forests sometimes. As the village communities living on the mountains suffered because of the loss of forests, and pastures, it is not known the damage on ecosystems and biota in the burned areas. The fires can be attributed to a higher temperature in summer, prolonged droughts and earlier melting of snow in the mountain caps. In Kukës, in the northeastern part of Albania, mount Gjallica (2468m above the sea level) used to a have snow-covered peak from September until the end of June in the past. Now snow can barely be found in April or beginning of May on Gjallica peak. The climate change has brought mild winters, which have favored the growth of tropical plants even in Albania, and made it possible for mosquitoes to appear in altitudes above 400-500 m above the sea level (mosquitoes were present only in lower altitudes before the 1990s). Seasons have shifted a lot too—trees used to lose their leaves by October and flower in March, but now they lose leaves late in November and flower sometimes even by the end January.

This year, the weather behaved differently—the winter was mild and with a lot of rain, but the strange thing is that summer came with a lot of rain, and there have been two weeks of continuous rain, which is very unusual for the Albanian summer which used to be dry and with short rains of some hours.

The Albanian public and government are largely unaware of the climate change impacts—there is ignorance on the issue and many times also denial that the effects are caused by climate change. The local NGOs are trying to raise the awareness and inform the public on this issue, but the support on that has been minimal either by the public, or by the government.

Above are some pictures from the coastal erosion and its devastating effects on the coastal pine forests.

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Edvin Pacara

Exectuive Director of IEP Albania
Institute for Environmental Policy (IEP)
Instituti i Politikave Mjedisore (IPM)
Website: www.iep-al.org

This article is in response to: 
The drying of the Tana Delta, Kenya