Swiss funds help protect cultural archives in post-earthquake Albania

On 26 November 2019, a 6.3 magnitude earthquake hit Albania causing destruction of public and private infrastructure, hitting thousands of households and resulting in 51 fatalities, about 1,000 injured people, and about 17,000 people displaced. Thousands of buildings were destroyed and seriously damaged, including public and private infrastructure, homes, schools and healthcare facilities.

The Government of Albania, the European Union, the United Nations and the World Bank jointly prepared a Post-Disaster Needs Assessment (PDNA) report, which was released on 5 February 2020 to mobilise the donor community. The Post Disaster Needs Assessment produced provided the basis for the post disaster re-construction and rehabilitation efforts.

A total of 111 cultural heritage monuments and sites were inspected in the earthquake-affected areas; 53 of them were either temporarily unusable or at high risk. The Castles of Durres, Kruja and Preza were among the most damaged cultural monuments. Several monuments were non-functional and consequently closed to the public.

The cultural heritage monuments faced risks such as water penetration and structural damages. The general condition of the buildings and low digitization rate could result in potential losses to the collections, including scientific information. Cultural heritage resources are often non-renewable in nature and have high significance for national identity, history, culture and income. They foster social cohesion and sustainable development at the community level.

UNESCO supported the elaboration of the Post Disaster Needs Assessment (PDNA) for the cultural sector as a response to the earthquake in Albania. It was a key document to sustain the government in ensuring more than 50 million euros from the EU for the rehabilitation of damaged cultural heritage sites in the affected areas e.g. monuments, museums, libraries and archaeological sites. In addition to covering the structural damage, restoration of the monuments and rehabilitation of the buildings, the assistance aimed to improve aspects related to the valorisation of these sites, by improving the sites’ landscaping or other essential tourism infrastructure.

The Government of Switzerland ensured funding for the implementation of the project “Digitization of the archive of the National Institute for Cultural Heritage and the establishment of a protocol for emergency evacuation of the archive”, as a result of the PDNA. Its implementation, by the UNESCO Regional Bureau for Science and Culture in Europe, enabled the creation of a digital archive and preservation of the documentation against possible disasters. This also included the creation of a digital database for all cultural monuments.

Improvements were made to the infrastructure of the internal network of the institution for protecting information and documents from computer malfunction. More so, responsibilities and procedures of the Institute’s staff were established to enable continuous updating of information at the projected initial level.

Thanks to the project, original documents are protected from degradation and physical damage. Specialists of the National Institute for Cultural Heritage and other stakeholders can now consult and have access to documents without being physically present on the archive premises and without handling the original documents. Significantly, the digitalization ensures the safeguarding of a rich archive collection for future generations, and its knowledge and appreciation will be supported through facilitated access: 4,100 technical dossiers of various monuments and sites; 47,700 negatives of films and microfilms; 256,000 photographs in colour and black & white technique; 28,500 diapositives of different formats in colour and black & white technique.

Within the overall scope of the project, required hardware and software were purchased – including 3 servers, 2 scanners, a photocopy/scanning machine, one PC as well as a Documentation management system to manage the scanned documentation in accordance to highest professional standards.

Within the overall framework of the 50th anniversary celebration of bilateral cooperation between Switzerland and Albania, the handing over ceremony for delivery of the equipment within the project “Digitization of the archive of the National Institute for cultural heritage and the establishment of a protocol for emergency evacuation of the archive” financed by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, through UNESCO, will take place online on 10 February 2021.