Cold spell in Tajikistan: International Federation launches appeal to help vulnerable elderly survive

Published: 6 March 2008

In response to a prolonged spell of unseasonably cold weather which has left thousands of vulnerable elderly people in a dire situation, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies has launched an emergency appeal for over 560,000 Swiss francs (euro 355,000/US$ 540,000) to support the emergency activities of the Red Crescent Society of Tajikistan (RCST). The funds will be used to bring food, emergency items and hygiene articles to more than 5,000 people over the next six months. Most of these are female-headed households and elderly people living alone in the rural districts of Vakhdat and Rudaki.

Since early January Tajikistan has experienced its coldest winter in 25 years, with temperatures averaging around -15°C, which is more than ten degrees below normal at this time of year. The consequences of the uncommonly cold weather were further compounded by heavy snowfalls, by numerous power cuts and disrupted access to water, caused by broken or frozen pipes. Food stocks are low and the government reports up to two million people are in need of food support until the end of the winter. According to the Red Cross Red Crescent Rapid Emergency Assessment and Coordination Team in Tajikistan, food insecurity will last at least until the next harvest in mid-July.

“People are hungry and cold and their health is deteriorating, in particular elderly people living alone,” says Christine South, operations coordinator at the International Federation Secretariat in Geneva. “In normal times, they have difficulty surviving on their pensions and cannot afford to buy food, fuel or heaters. Although temperatures have risen and electricity supplies are gradually returning to normal, the effects of the crisis will take time to dissipate. We must provide them with help over the coming months.”

Over the past weeks, the Red Crescent distributed thermos flasks, candles, flashlights, quilts and socks to more than 2,100 elderly lonely people in Dushanbe, Kurgan-Tube, Vakhdat and Somoniyon. In mid-January, in order to provide immediate support to the RCST, the International Federation released more than 170,000 Swiss francs from its Disaster Relief Emergency Fund.

The severe cold has also caused extensive damage to fruit trees and crops, seeds are frozen and many livestock have either fallen sick or died. In addition, people are using unsafe water sources and the risk of water-borne diseases has increased.

The appeal funds will allow the RCST to distribute food (including wheat flour, sunflower oil, beans and salt), water purification tablets, hygiene articles, water filters and jerry cans to these vulnerable families. Many of them have a small plot of land, and they will also receive seeds to plant potatoes, carrots, beans and onions, as well as fertilizer.

The Red Crescent operation is planned and carried out in close collaboration with the authorities and other agencies in order to ensure adequate coverage and complementary distribution of food and relief items to the most vulnerable families.