At least four rivers have overflowed and the largest bridge in the Balkans has been destroyed due to extreme flooding in southern Albania and Greece, flooding that the Albanian prime minister has called some of the worst the country has ever seen.
The floods are Albania’s second worst on record, the Guardian reported Thursday, after speaking with prime minister Edi Rama. Hundreds of Albanian families have so far been evacuated from their homes, and no human casualties have been reported. Rama has declared a state of emergency.
“What we are experiencing, not only in Albania but across Europe, gives us very considerable food for thought about climate change,” Rama reportedly told the Guardian. “There have been so many talks about it and so few real measures against it.”
The floods were caused by heavy rain and snow that has fallen steadily over the region in the last few days. But Rama also said man-made factors contributed to the severity of the problem — “soil erosion, deforestation and bad management of rivers,” he said. “The dam reservoirs are old and have not been maintained.” He noted that poorer Albanians in need of wood have been chopping down trees close to the country’s powerful rivers. Without them, he said, flood damage has been accelerated by soil erosion.
Still, in terms of climate change, Albania has been deemed one of the most vulnerable places in the Balkans, the region of Southeast Europe that includes Greece, Romania, and Bulgaria. This is in part because of changing weather patterns — — already in the last 15 years, Albania has seen increasing temperatures, decreasing precipitation, and more extreme events like floods and droughts. But it’s also because of the country’s reliance on agriculture to fuel its economy. In Albania, the effects of climate change are exacerbated because a majority of its rural population is economically dependent on agriculture, either directly or indirectly.
Though Albania is one of the most vulnerable to the effects of climate change, its people emit very low levels of carbon pollution compared to those in other countries. According to World Bank data from 2010, Albania emits 1.5 metric tons of carbon per capita, while the United Kingdom emits 7.86 metric tons per capita. The United States — the world’s second-larger carbon polluter — emits 17.6 metric tons of carbon per capita.
Albania is not the only vulnerable country to see historically extreme flooding in the last few months. At least 39 people died in Kashmir this past September due to extreme monsoon rains, causing flooding that multiple news outlets deemed the worst to hit the region in 22 years. And this past December, Malaysia was hit with its worst flooding in more than 30 years, an event that killed at least five people and left more than 100,000 temporarily displaced.
Many scientists say climate change, a phenomenon caused by greenhouse gas emissions, makes precipitation events more extreme and increases the likelihood that those events will occur in some areas of the world. That’s because when carbon dioxide is emitted from burning fossil fuels and destroying tropical forests, it traps heat in the atmosphere, raising the planet’s average temperature. A warmer atmosphere is able to hold more moisture, meaning more water vapor is available to fall as rain, snow, or hail when storms occur. The finding has been backed by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Climatic Data Center, the National Climate Assessment, and multiple peer-reviewed scientific papers.