Romania hit by worst flooding in 100 years

Published: 11 May 2005 0:00 CET

Caroline Mawdsley in Budapest

More than 3,500 people have been forced from their homes in Timis county, Romania, after the worst flooding the county has seen for 100 years. At least two people have died as a result of the floods.

The corpses of drowned animals remain hidden under the stagnant waters, polluting water wells. Latest reports indicate that four villages – Ionel, Otelec, Foeni and Cruceni – are completely underwater, while many other settlements are badly affected.

At the same time, flash floods are affecting other areas, stretching the capacity of the authorities and the Red Cross to respond.

“The severity of the situation – the size and scope of the disaster – is just not coming across in media reports outside of Romania,” explains Marinko Metlicic of the Croatian Red Cross, who was deployed as a member of a regional disaster response team and who has just returned from an assessment of the affected region.

“It is a sea – you cannot see the land on the other side of the flooded area,” he continues. More rain is expected, and it is unlikely that the flood waters will recede within the next month, as the land lies in a depression with no outlet for the stagnating waters.

Local volunteers have been at the heart of the Romanian Red Cross operation to bring relief to the affected communities. Often the first to arrive at the scene of the disaster with assistance, the Red Cross volunteers have been working with the local municipality crisis management teams.

Within the first few days, emergency relief worth euro 41,500 had been distributed: blankets, rubber boots, clothes and shoes to replace materials left behind or destroyed.

The International Federation initially approved an allocation of 160,428 Swiss francs (US$ 134,590 or euro 104,140) from its Disaster Relief Emergency Fund (DREF). Soon after, on 29 April, an emergency appeal for 1.055 million Swiss francs (US$ 884,985 or euro 684,735) was launched to support the Romanian Red Cross in delivering assistance for the next six months.

The appeal focuses on the medium- to long-term needs in the communities, where destruction to agricultural land during the planting season will mean no crops this year. “The real impact of this disaster may only be felt later in the year when food stores cannot be replenished from a non-existent harvest,” warns Marinko Metlicic.

“The health risks are also high. The water supply system is polluted and the risk of infection increasing. There is an urgent need to make people aware of the risks of cooking and washing with polluted water, not just from drinking it. The affected area is a producer of mineral water and local companies have been generous in responding to the disaster,” he adds.

By the time the longer-term consequences of the disaster are being felt in the communities, it is unlikely the television cameras will still be around. “It is vital that we can continue to support this operation in the longer-term and we urge our donors to contribute to this emergency appeal,” explains Slobodanka Curic, the International Federation’s regional disaster management coordinator.

By 10 May, contributions had been confirmed from the Swedish Red Cross, Hungarian Red Cross and an announcement of possible funding from the German and Slovenian Red Cross.

It is hoped that the Romanian Red Cross will be able to build on the excellent response to the fundraising campaign it launched in January for the victims of the South East Asia tsunami, when the equivalent of over one million Swiss francs was collected nationally.

The fundraising success was a clear indication of renewed trust and confidence in the national society. This time, however, the disaster is much closer to home.