Romania: despair in the Danube delta

Published: 2 May 2006 0:00 CET

Eleven-month-old Alexandru Barzu is the youngest of the 19 people who had to leave their homes when the river Danube flooded the village of Salcieni in the Delta. Now three families are living on a barge, alive, but without enough food and water. The barge is old and not very comfortable to house several families. There are no possibilities for cooking and there is only one toilet on board.

“I used to make our living from my garden. I could sell some vegetables and we could also use some for ourselves. Now we have nothing,” says Costica Barzu as she points in the direction of the flooded houses in Salcieni. The total village population is 300 people.

“Some families can still stay in their houses. But not us,” explains Costica. “There are six children under five years old among the people living on the barge. It is chilly in the mornings and at night.”

The Romanian Red Cross Branch of Tulcea has brought food, water and other relief items to flood victims in the delta. It is not a very easy task since all the transportation has to be done by boat. Many communities in the area are very small, only some tens of people, but the villages are scattered over the huge delta between Ukraine and the Black Sea.

As we continue towards the Ukrainian border, we reach bigger communities with more than 700 people. One is called Partisan. The village on the other opposite side of the river is already flooded, although some people, mainly elderly women, still live there. From a distance we watch as one of them picks up a bucket and slowly walks towards the water. She makes her way through ankle-deep water to what looks like a small island where she feeds her pigs. The animals do not have much space to move around and there is a fear that the tiny islet will literally shrink before our eyes.

As the boat moves on slowly, more small pieces of land emerge from the water. Pigs, ducks, cattle and sheep have taken refuge on them. Small and large homes alike are flooded out. We see a huge, beautiful, yellow house in the middle of what was once the garden. Now it is only a pool of water.

In Partisan, not yet too badly affected by the rising waters, we can see boats on the road outside the fences of the houses. Villagers are carrying sandbags to the riverbank and are stacking them along the riverbank. “I am afraid they will not keep the water away. The water is still rising,” one woman says when we stop at the dock. She tells us that they have all been alerted for a possible evacuation, but the final decision is with the mayor. Some of the villagers have left already, she tells us, and the rest will have to be evacuated to the church and the school in the village. “But there will not be enough space for everyone,” the woman notes.

In another nearby village, Plauru, from where we can clearly see the towers of the churches and the high buildings of the Ukrainian city of Izmail, people have moved from their flooded houses to the dry side of the dikes. Tents are being put up and the people are storing their belongings in trees, under plastic sheeting or simply inside the tents. A man takes us in his small boat to see his flooded house. Inside, furniture, bed sheets, mattresses and quilts are all piled up. In a corner of the inundated kitchen, there is food parcel with the Federation logo. On one side of the house, the garden is completely underwater.

“We have already brought most of our things to the other side and today we will take away the rest,” he explains. He does not know when the family will be able to move back, he says, as he points to where the banks of the

Danube should be. But for the moment nothing is normal.
The same scenery is repeated over and over again in the delta as we move on. Animals are evacuated on top of the dikes whenever possible. Boats are tied to windows and doors in small, flooded houses as people try to save whatever they can. And the second wave of water is yet to arrive in this area!


N.B. Following the flooding which has devastated 22 of Romania’s 47 counties, the International Federation has launched a preliminary emergency appeal to assist some 13,000 people who have lost their homes, over the next three months.

The appeal seeks 2.4 million Swiss francs (euro 1.5 million / US$ 1.9 million) to support the relief operation, led by the Romanian Red Cross, and to purchase family tents, blankets, tarpaulins, mattresses and sleeping bags, kitchen utensils, jerry cans, rubber boots, food and hygiene articles. Setting up sanitation facilities is also included in the appeal.

Over the past weeks, hundreds of Romanian Red Cross staff and volunteers have been distributing emergency relief, including blankets, clothing, food and bottled water to flood victims. There is particular concern about the bad sanitary conditions and the possible spread of disease, both for people living in makeshift camps, and for others, still living in villages, where latrines, wells and water networks are flooded out.