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Preparing for the spring floods following heavy snow

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By Dmitry Rusakov, Belarus Red Cross

It has been the heaviest snowfalls in 30 years, and in the northern parts of Belarus the snow cover reached 70 centimetres earlier this year. The situation worsened in mid-March when cyclone Javier brought new swathes of snow and caused snow drifts, which paralyzed the entire country for 24 hours.

An allocation from the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) Disaster Relief Emergency Fund (DREF) enabled Belarus Red Cross to respond to the dire situation, and at the same time prepare for the floods, which are likely to happen this spring, when all the snow is melting. The authorities facilitated a smooth procedure for documents and registration on the request of the IFRC and the National Society.

Belarus Red Cross has allocated CHF 13,000 from its own emergency funds for the floods, but more will be needed, so part of the DREF allocation is for preparedness. According to the Secretary General Viktor Kolbanov, aid received from IFRC will enable the National Society to respond quickly to natural and manmade disasters.

Based on official forecasts for seasonal floods from the Ministry of Emergencies, those regions which are expected to be hardest hit and suffer the most have been identified, and regional response plans have been developed.

Analyzing the present capacity, it became clear that Red Cross regional emergency response teams would not be able to cope without more assistance, so special drills have been organised for teams, which have not been involved in flood relief before. These drills were organised in cooperation with the local units of the Ministry of Emergencies and apart from learning basic and advanced skills, volunteers were instructed on how to use equipment purchased as part of the preparedness programme.

“We have acquired pumps and inflatable boats, which together with food parcels, blankets and hygiene kits constitute the main part of the preparedness measures. Thanks to the allocation we are also now able to provide insurance for our volunteers who often work under risky conditions,” says Dmitry Rusakov, Belarus Red Cross disaster management coordinator

The training, assistance and equipment have been welcomed by the local units of the Ministry, which are often stretched and busy during emergencies.

As well as learning how to use the equipment, emergency response teams were also trained in first aid, psychosocial support and search and rescue.

The preparedness plan includes the possible deployment within 24 hours of up to 400 volunteers to any part of the country.

“As a Red Cross volunteer I am ready to go to other regions to provide assistance. It is really important for me to be useful wherever my help is needed. This was my major motivation to join the emergency response team as a volunteer,” says Sergei Gvozdev.

Currently one 24-hour emergency telephone line is being serviced by one staff and four volunteers and negotiations with mobile operator to provide a short-numer are ongoing. Additionally, a leaflet informing the population in high risk areas how to react during an emergency and how to mitigate damages from a possible flood has been printed and distributed to 20,000 in cooperation with the Ministry of Emergencies.