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Dozens dead and thousands at risk as Red Cross responds to sudden cold snap in Europe

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With temperatures expected to drop below -30 in Eastern and Central Europe this week the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies has warned that thousands of homeless people are at risk. Over 80 people have already died in Poland and Ukraine. The sudden cold snap has affected a huge swathe of Europe, from southern Italy to Turkey, and north to Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, and Russia.

The international aid organisation released just over 140,000 Swiss francs (108,000 Euro, 141,000USD) from its Disaster Relief Emergency Fund (DREF); 46,000 CHF to Belarus and 94,000 to its larger southern neighbour.

“We are looking at the evolving situation in the wider area and are ready to respond to requests from any affected regions;” said Evgeny Parfenov, Head of Operations in the IFRC’s Europe Zone office.

The extreme cold wave gripping Central and Eastern Europe continues unabated, with wind, heavy snow and Siberia-level temperatures – in some areas as low as -32 C –has led to the death of over 80 people from hypothermia and frostbite, caused power outages, traffic chaos and seen the closure of schools and nurseries in parts of Ukraine, Belarus, Poland, Serbia, Romania and Russia.

The majority of the victims are homeless people, already victims of the prolonged economic crisis.

The death toll in Ukraine is edging close to the figure of 47 recorded two years ago in a similar cold wave.

In Belarus, hospitals in the capital Minsk are seeing an elevated number of people suffering from frostbite and hypothermia.

Red Cross Societies in the countries gripped by the cold have been working around the clock to meet the basic needs of the affected people, with hot meals, warm clothing and blankets. The emergency funds will be used to increase this support in temporary shelters which have been set up in both countries by the Emergency ministries.

“Although we expect harsh winters in this part of the world this current freeze has come towards the end of a mild winter,” said Zlatko Kovac, IFRC representative for Belarus and Ukraine. “Homeless people have been caught unawares and unprepared. They don’t follow long-range forecasts and are extremely vulnerable.”

For more information, or to set up interviews, please contact: • Joe Lowry, Communications manager, Europe Zone, +36709537712
• Jessica Sallabank, IFRC Senior Media Officer, Geneva: +41 799481148