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Bosnia and Herzegovina: Cold Wave DREF operation no. MDRBA002

Bosnia and Herzegovina
Publication date

GLIDE n=B0 CW-2009-000024-BIH

The International Federation's Disaster Relief Emergency Fund (DREF) is a source of un-earmarked money created by the Federation in 1985 to ensure that immediate financial support is available for Red Cross and Red Crescent response to emergencies. The DREF is a vital part of the International Federation's disaster response system and increases the ability of national societies to respond to disasters.

CHF 166,370 (USD 144,027 or EUR 110,798) has been allocated from the International Federation's Disaster Relief Emergency Fund (DREF) to support the National Society in delivering immediate assistance to some 1,000 families. Unearmarked funds to repay DREF are encouraged.

Summary: Extremely low temperatures and a shortage of gas are having a severe impact on the coping mechanisms of already vulnerable groups of the population. They are in need of heating and food since their financial resources have been spent on alternative heating.

This operation is expected to be implemented over one month, and will therefore be completed by 22 February, 2009; a Final Report will be made available three months after the end of the operation (by 22 May, 2009).

The situation

Extremely low temperatures have hit Bosnia and Herzegovina since the beginning of January 2009, followed by a lack of gas supplies have worsened the already difficult situation in the country, particularly for the socially vulnerable groups of population. The number of people most severely affected amount to over 5,200 families or 10,000 people, according to the information collected from Red Cross branches.

The most affected regions are the cities of Sarajevo, Zenica, Zvornik and parts of eastern Herzegovina where some villages were completely cut off from the rest of the country due to snow drifts. In some places, such as Gacko, (Fazlagica Kula) and Sokolac the temperature fell to 25 degrees below zero, and in the most affected areas, the authorities proclaimed a state of emergency in order to get the situation under control. In the city of Sarajevo more than 50 per cent of inhabitants are using natural gas for heating. They have been in an extremely bad situation due to the ongoing shortage of gas supplies from Russia. An intermediate contract with an alternative gas supplier from Germany is in place, but is valid only until 23 January. The normal gas supply is expected to be restored, but the shortage has forced people to spend whatever resources they have on alternative heating. The price of electricity in Bosnia Herzegovina is among the highest in Europe and the prices of heaters are very high at the moment, tripled during the cold wave, and it is very difficult to find them at all these days. In Zenica, the situation is very similar to Sarajevo.

Bosnia and Herzegovina is a very poor country with an unemployment rate of 45 per cent, and large parts of the population have little or no capacity to cover additional expenses. Many poor people have depleted their financial resources. One case of death has been reported from Doboj, where a person living in a house froze to death because he had no means to provide heating. People might go to their neighbours' houses to warm up, but in poor neighborhoods this may not be an option.

To assess the information coming in from the Red Cross Society's coordinators, the International Federation's logistics officer, who is a regional disaster response team (RDRT) member, joined the National Society representatives in conducting a rapid assessment in Sokolac, Lukavica and urban areas of Sarajevo.

In the collective centre and private homes of Sokolac some 100 families (with 8 newborn babies, 30 people older then 65 and 3 blind people), are affected by very low temperatures. They are facing severe food shortage and are almost out of firewood. Water in the households is frozen, as well in the collective centre.

Preparing food was a challenge even before and without water it is impossible. The same situation prevails in Foca and Zvornik. In the town of Lucavica and in Sarajevo (Dobrinje township) many are facing similar hardships. They will be better off once the gas returns, but the food shortage will continue to cause a problem, as they have spent all their money on alternative heating.

The situation after the period of extreme cold is for many compounded by ice storm, leading to high risks of injuries, affecting elderly people in particular, preventing them from leaving their homes regardless of their situation.