February 7th 2012, Budapest - The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) has increased its emergency support and operations across Europe as temperatures remain in double digits below freezing across much of the continent.
A total of 576,000 Swiss francs (477,300 Euro, 625,000 USD) is being disbursed from the IFRC’s Disaster Relief Emergency Fund to help national Red Cross Red Crescent societies bring direct relief to some 50,000 of Europe’s most at-risk. More allocations are expected in the coming hours and days.
Emergency funds are being rushed to the Red Cross in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Ukraine, Montenegro, Serbia and Belarus to purchase and distribute warm clothes, stoves, food parcels and warm drinks to supplement local aid efforts. Hundreds of volunteers have been alerted to help get aid to remote villages and temporary shelters. Red cross Red Crescent volunteers are also taking part in rescue operations, and evacuating elderly or injured persons – often using sleds – to receive medical care.
The IFRC is concerned about the plight of tens of thousands of vulnerable people across the region: the homeless, elderly people trapped in their apartments, or those cut off in remote villages. Hundreds of people have died, with Ukraine (131) and Poland (53) seeing the highest death tolls. Fatalities have also been reported as far apart as France and Lithuania. Travel has been severely disrupted, and fatalities have been caused by infrastructural damage such as the dam burst in Bulgaria which claimed eight lives. A group of 40 migrants from Libya, Afghanistan and Algeria were rescued from a forest on the Hungarian-Serbian border by Hungarian police.
“We are deeply concerned humanitarian situation affecting the most vulnerable; the homeless, elderly, frail, and those with chronic illnesses”, said Anitta Underlin, Director of the IFRC’s Europe Zone office in Budapest.
“This cold snap came on so suddenly and with such intensity that it caught those living on the edge of society by surprise and the needs are immense. The response has been speedy with volunteers working around the clock, however the freezing weather, which is predicted to continue in much of Europe, often makes hard to reach those most at risk and get them the aid they need.”
The IFRC also warns that thousands of Europe’s “new poor” may be at greater risk than the long-term homeless as they have not developed the “street smarts” to cope with living rough in such extreme temperatures.
National Red Cross societies across the continents are working as part of their governments’ emergency plans, in their role as auxiliaries during crises and disasters.
COUNTRY RESPONSE SUMMARY
• In Belgium, the Red Cross is giving financial assistance for people who cannot pay their home heating bills, visiting the homeless at night on the street and bringing them hot drinks, warm clothes and food. The Red Cross soup kitchens are in strong demand, and more volunteers are needed to help run them. A call centre has also been opened with a free hotline.
• Temperatures in Malta have not fallen below freezing but he Red Cross has distributed 150 blankets to (mainly African) migrants living in temporary accommodation centres.
• Italian Red cross has opened its headquarters in Rome to shelter 50 homeless people.
• Albanian Red Cross is providing food and clothes to 70 homeless Roma in Tirana and preparing food parcels, hygiene kits and blankets for a further 200 families in hard-to-reach rural areas.
• Bulgarian Red Cross is running a national fundraising campaign to bring aid to those most-affected by the fatal dam burst on February 6 and another breach the following day. Floodwaters may reach Greece and Turkey.
• German Red Cross is active in Hamburg and Berlin, distributing blankets, sleeping bags, jackets and hot drinks to homeless people. In Essen the Red Cross has converted a warehouse into a temporary shelter to supply services to the homeless.
• Hungarian Red Cross has assisted over 4,000 people over the past three days through 15 homeless centres and door to door services in rural settlements. Twelve deaths have been reported in the country during the cold snap.
For more information please contact:
Joe Lowry, Communication Manager, IFRC Europe Zone, Budapest, +36709537712, email@example.com
Giovanni Zambello, Communications Delegate, IFRC Europe Zone, Budapest, +36709537712, firstname.lastname@example.org
Jessica Sallabank, Senior Media Officer, Geneva, +41799481148, email@example.com
++++ Please note Joe Lowry will travel to Kiev on Sunday to report on Red Cross distributions in rural Ukraine. He will be reachable by Skype (webcam for live on the spot interviews) and mobile.