After the floods – rebuilding a more robust Romania
by Debbie Stowe, UNICEF Consultant
“What should I do? I have lost my house. There is nothing left. I have just the clothes I’m wearing right now. I would start again but I am old and weak. I do not even have a bottle of water to drink.” The words of the Săuceşti woman, her home destroyed by the recent floods that devastated parts of north-east Romania in June 2010, cannot fail to touch the heart. So too the story of the fire fighter who, while working with colleagues on the rescue effort, was told that his own house had also been flooded. Over 20 people died in the disaster, most drowning and two being struck by lightening.
The catastrophic flooding of late June was brought about by freak weather, with Suceava County the hardest hit of the areas affected. Over a week of heavy rains and storms sent river levels dangerously high. As well as those who lost their lives, thousands of people were forced from their homes. But the repercussions spread beyond the afflicted zone itself. The floods ravaged Romania’s agricultural heartland, wrecking the harvest at a time when local food prices are rising. Fields and farms were turned into swamps almost overnight. Infrastructure – roads, bridges and power lines – in the region was also brought to a standstill.
UNICEF Romania/ The UNICEF team volunteers alongside Habitat for Humanity to repair flooded homes in Dorohoi
Flood disasters are not the sole preserve of developing countries: recent disasters in France, the UK and the US show that. But while richer nations are able to rally more resources and deploy them more effectively in disaster areas, less well off countries struggle to protect their land and people from the wrath of nature. Rudimentary defences were mounted in north-east Romania, with sandbags used to contain the ravages of the water, but they could do little to stem the tide.
The authorities responded as best they could, given the constraints that the economic recession has placed upon the state budget and the estimated EUR 60 million clean-up costs of the floods. Local authorities, the army and the police moved to provide immediate relief, in the form of blankets, food and water, and start the process of repairing and rebuilding damaged homes. President Traian Băsescu and Prime Minister Emil Boc were among the public officials to tour the region.
Beyond the financial cost is the human toll, as people who have lost loved ones, homes and livelihoods, and seen places where they lived and worked submerged in mere hours, try to come to terms with their traumatic experience and move on with their lives – either in new locations or in their flood-prone towns and villages, aware that the waters could always return.
With help from its donors, UNICEF has moved to try and provide aid to people in the stricken areas. Its response consists of several phases. The first is situation assessment, an ongoing process that involves gathering and using data from various sources, in order that the extent and details of the damage are fully known, allowing the relief effort to be effectively targeted. Next comes the immediate response in the form of psychological assistance provided to the worst hit communities of Dorohoi, Pătrăuţi, Suceviţa and Săuceşti. The establishment of a safe environment for children, including child-friendly spaces, is a priority.
Children are typically the most seriously harmed by disasters of this kind. The third phase of the relief effort involves play activities and summer camps organised by child specialists as a means to reduce the effects of the trauma suffered by children in the region and boost their psychological recovery. Psycho-social support is integrated into education and protection responses. Local teachers are be trained to spot signs of post-traumatic stress disorder.
Schools and education are also at the heart of the next phase of UNICEF’s plan of intervention. The teachers who received training after the floods of 2008 are being ‘reactivated’, enabling them to help their local communities. Schools are being assessed and furnished with supplies where necessary.
UNICEF Romania/ UNICEF’s Eugen Crai helps distribute essential supplies in Dorohoi
Further down the line, the focus narrows to making sure the most vulnerable children are attending school regularly, a cause that UNICEF is also working towards countrywide, and which is covered in depth elsewhere in this issue. Finally, 50 houses will be repaired in Dorohoi, Botoşani County: single-parent families with more than two children are the priority candidates.
With crisis comes opportunity, and the hope is that through the efforts of UNICEF and its partners, the communities – some of the poorest in the European Union – will ultimately be restored to a better condition than they were in before the floods hit.
Working with UNICEF to achieve all of this are the Directions for Social Assistance and Child Protection (DSACP), Prefecture, General Inspectorate for Emergency Situations (GIES), NGOs: CRIPS, SPAS, SOS Children’s Villages, the National Authority for Youth and Sport, County School Inspectorates, Institute for Educational Sciences, Roma Civic Alliance, Community Development Agency Together and Habitat for Humanity. Orange, Vodafone, Cosmote and Romtelecom are the agency’s telecommunication partners, and BRD – Groupe Société Générale its strategic partner.
As usual, none of this is possible without the compassion and support of the general public and corporate donors, who have offered up their resources in a heart-warming gesture of solidarity for their stricken compatriots in response to a media campaign by Realitatea TV, UNICEF’s fund-raising partner. 650,000 Euros had been raised for the flood victims.
Over 200,000 people donated for the flood victims. The campaign also gained support from numerous companies and organisations such as: Fundaţia Romtelecom pentru români, Amgen, BRD – Groupe Société Générale, GDF SUEZ Energy Romania, Tractebel Engineering, Carrefour, OMV Petrom, Fundaţia Vodafone, SIF Moldova, Enel, Grupul Industrial de Componente, Anvergo, Romanian Trade Garments, FIN EXPERT, Konsta Splendid and DIGITAL IT CONSULT.
Though the waters may have now receded, the road to recovery for Romania’s devastated north-eastern communities runs far beyond repairing their homes and farms. But with the efforts and expertise of partners and the generosity of donors, there is hope that the afflicted communities can look to a brighter tomorrow.