The Albanian capital of Tirana is a sparsely populated city. While many residents live downtown, the 1,110.03 km2 (428.58 sq mi) municipality has an average population density of 500 residents per square kilometer. In comparison, Barcelona has a population density of 16,000/km2.
This means that a large percentage of the population of Tirana lives in small neighborhoods, with limited access to shops. The situation is especially critical for the older generation who live alone with no access to transportation. Also, after the November 2019 earthquake, a significant number of residents lost their homes and have been living in tents, waiting for new apartments to be built.
To ensure social distancing and sanitation, the city has suspended public transport for the duration of the state of emergency.
Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Tirana’s city council established a series of emergency services to help residents deal with the crisis, and the mandatory isolation declared by the Albanian government.
According to the city council, “over 12,380 families have been provided assistance, among which families in need, lonely seniors, citizens with disabilities, the homeless and families living in tents after the November 2019 earthquake, are being delivered groceries, medicines or daily meals through an in-house delivery network of social service workers and community liaisons.”
To understand more about how the city is managing the current crisis and the supporting Tirana’s residents, I spoke to Anuela Ristani, Deputy Mayor of Tirana.
Ms. Ristani has been working for the municipality for five years, first as Chief-of-Staff and then as Deputy Mayor since July 2019. She holds an MBA and a PhD from the University of Missouri-Columbia.
Ms. Ristani told me about the challenges of enforcing the isolation measures in a Mediterranean city where residents are so used to living outside, especially during spring. The city had to work hard to make sure people understood the necessity for imposing the measures, including the closure of all the city parks, coffee shops, and restaurants.
Additionally, disinfection tunnels have been installed at the entrance of outdoor markets, while customers are being advised to stand at marked spots to maintain physical distance.
One of the most successful initiatives, Ms. Ristani says, is “Adopt a grandparent”. The city reached out to the younger population, asking them to help their elderly neighbors. The program, under the hashtag “#AdoptoNjeGjyshe‘’, asks for volunteers to cook an additional meal for elders who can’t cook for themselves, and help deliver their groceries.
Erion Veliaj, the Mayor of Tirana, took to the streets himself to engage with residents, city workers and volunteers, to help everyone in need of assistance.
Additionally, the city has established some emergency programs to help small businesses, such as a moratorium on municipal fees, and zero-interest loans, guaranteed by the government, to help them pay their bills and payrolls.