Bulgaria reels as floods hit

Published: 29 June 2005 0:00 CET

Caroline Mawdsley and Arzu Ozsoy in Bulgaria

Kurumca Demirov feels quite alone. “Before, people used to help me. Now they are too busy helping themselves,” the 73-year-old says.
Kurumca’s village of Mirovjane, is in Novi Iskar, the region worst-hit by the wave of floods and landslides that have hit in northern Bulgaria.

Rent from the small piece of land he owns usually supplements his meagre pension. However, this land is now under water, and he has lost his crops as well as this essential income.

Two million people were affected by the heavy rains that hit nine regions in northern Bulgaria at the end of May and beginning of June. Three people were reported to have died and a state of emergency was declared in several municipalities of the capital, Sofia.

The water levels of the Iskar, Vit, Osam, and Struma rivers rose and dam capacity in the region reached a critical point, resulting in damage to roads, railways, electricity and water supply systems and telecommunications, as well as to private property.

By mid-June, a number of houses in several villages in the Sofia region were still flooded, especially the basements, where the food stocks are kept. Although water levels were slowly decreasing, the flooding of septic tanks has contaminated agricultural land and normal toilet systems were not working for some time.

Many of the villagers are deeply concerned about water-related health problems. The situation of the elderly people in the flooded area is of particular concern. Pensions are low, and there is little in reserve when disaster strikes.

A Regional Disaster Response Team (RDRT) training course, run by the International Federation was being held in Bulgaria in the region affected by the floods. Experienced RDRT members from neighbouring countries, who were facilitating the course, conducted an assessment mission to the affected area in mid-June.

The assessments were continued by those participating in the course, who as part of the practical session were asked to do follow up assessments in affected villages - Jiten, Mirovjane, Izgrev, Slavovski and Kumaritsa.

“This was the first time that our RDRT training has been able to put theory into practice on the spot, turning our simulation exercises into a real life situation,” explains Slobodanka Curic, the International Federation’s regional disaster management coordinator. “The teams prepared well for the assessment and fed the results into the disaster response plan.”

Seeing the RDRT members arrive in her village, Vasilka Stefanov, wanted to share her frustrations and despair. “When I woke up at 5.30, I found a sea of water around me and rushed to help my husband out of the house”.

Vasilka lives with her handicapped husband in the village of Slavovski on a pension of less than 40 euros a month. Following the disaster, there is an extra financial burden, as she has to buy mineral water instead of drinking from the tap. The local authorities have warned the public of the dangers of contaminated water.

Since then, Vasilka and her husband, who used to be a doctor, have not eaten the vegetables grown on their plot of land. They are well aware of the water-related health risks but there are many who might not. Many families already have difficulties in making ends meet.

Over 92,000 Swiss francs (US$ 73,000 or euro60,000) has been allocated to Bulgaria from the International Federation’s Disaster Relief Emergency Fund (DREF) to respond to the immediate needs for hygiene parcels, blankets, bed linen and kitchen sets. Staff and volunteers from the local branches of the Bulgarian Red Cross have begun distribution of relief items to some of the hardest hit areas.