By Erald Lamja and Diamanta Vito –
This summer the Municipality of Elbasan began interventions in improving the irrigation and drainage systems across its territory. Mechanical equipment and heavy machinery operated daily to clean blocked irrigation and drainage canals and open new ditches where necessary.
Vidhas residents were somewhat taken aback and came to watch the heavy machinery and excavators as they were hard at work opening new drainage canals for their arable lands.
“This area has always been under water every winter for as long as I remember,” says Miri Caka, 30, while his father shovels organic fertilizers off the self-made donkey-drawn farm cart onto his small plot. “My father bought this tiny piece of land about 25 years ago, and since then we have cultivated it only for half of the year, because this area gets flooded in wintertime,” he continued. “When winter knocks in with the heavy rain, I have to leave my house and migrate. I work abroad, save money, and then come back in spring to toil my land and to breed our two cows that are just enough to keep the pot boiling for my household.”
“I don’t recall having seen any drainage canals working in the entire area,” says Kadri, Miri’s father, a hardworking and taciturn man. “If the municipality continues this work, I think this land will definitely be more fertile and boost production all year round.”
These service improvements were made possible in partnership with the USAID Planning and Local Government Project implementing this Quality Improvement Service Program (QSIP).
The process started with interviews and questionnaires with citizens and municipal staff to solicit their perception of the services provided by their municipality. Results revealed that the irrigation and drainage service was in a dire condition and called for urgent improvements in most municipalities, prompting actions of the municipalities of Elbasan, Fier, Patos, and Kuçova to develop plans with specific timelines and responsibilities to rectify the situation.
The Municipality of Elbasan was the first to approve their action plan by the municipal council and promptly began its implementation.
Following the Territorial-Administrative Reform (TAR) approved in May 2014, the municipality’s territory increased by several times to merge 12 administrative units and 116 villages. The size of the Municipality of Elbasan is 873 km², including agricultural land of about 37,496 hectares. About 28% of the local population is employed in the agricultural sector.
The assessment revealed that the municipality’s human resources and infrastructure to provide quality irrigation and drainage services were inadequate and insufficient to implement this new function assigned to local self-government units by law in 2014. The municipal department responsible for the irrigation and drainage service performed other functions as well and had taken on this service as an extra duty. The assessment also identified that a register of irrigation and drainage areas and an inventory of assets were not in place and that farmers’ service contract records were not maintained. Lastly, revenues from this service were at a record low as no taxes and tariffs had ever been collected.
The post-TAR Municipality of Elbasan can irrigate 7,553 hectares of arable land. The linear length of the irrigation canals is 556.5 km. Drainage canals run for 1,983 km and serve an area size of 3,345 hectares of cultivated land. However, the land area under irrigation shrank to 1,760 hectares by year 2016, and in 2017 the weak service delivery compounded the issue resulting in irrigation of only 1,164 hectares.
Once the service improvement action plan implementation began in the summer of 2018, the agricultural land under irrigation quickly doubled to 2,493 hectares, to the benefit of 9,900 farmers. In addition, 180 km of irrigation and drainage canals were cleaned, and the drainage network increased with the creation of 70 km of new canals, a scope of intervention that farmers had not seen for almost 30 years.
In accordance with the action plan, the Municipality of Elbasan will keep intervening in the irrigation infrastructure to make it fully operational and enhance water supply to farmers based on their seasonal needs. In the meantime, the Municipality will place additional efforts and will cooperate with central government agencies to clean and rehabilitate reservoirs and dams with the ultimate goal of improving the irrigation and drainage system as well as to ensure flood protection for local farmlands.
TAR implementation continues to be a challenge for local government units, particularly regarding delivery of quality services to their citizens. Municipalities currently manage and provide services in territories several times larger, challenged by geographical distance of some administrative units where road infrastructure is deficient. Consequently, local self-government units are facing extra challenges in their efforts to deliver quality and timely services to citizens, especially in terms of management of new functions: pre-school and secondary education and infrastructure; forestry and pasture; primary healthcare centers infrastructure; rural road maintenance; secondary irrigation and drainage infrastructure; and social services, fire protection, and rescue.
Photos by Erald Lamja