Assel Tastanova, International Federation, Almaty
Following an initial emergency operation to provide immediate assistance to thousands of people left destitute and homeless after devastating floods hit southern Kazakhstan last month, the Red Crescent has identified 370 particularly vulnerable families, (almost 2,000 people) who are still in extreme need of support. These are primarily families with many children, single-parent families, pensioners, and disabled people, whose basic needs include shelter, food, household items such as bed sheets, mattresses, cooking sets, hygiene articles, candles and basic first aid items.
In order to support the rapid distribution of this assistance to these vulnerable groups by the Red Crescent of Kazakhstan, the International Federation released 200,000 Swiss francs (EUR 125,000/USD 190,300) from its Disaster Relief Emergency Fund (DREF). This second phase of the operation will start in a few next days, and will last over the next three months.
Southern Kazakhstan, the country's most densely populated region, has experienced the worst flooding in 50 years. On 20 February, the combination of heavy rains and rapidly melting snow caused floods which left 1 person dead, nearly 13,000 people in 24 settlements in the Sary-Agash, Ordabasyn and Aryss rayons homeless, and destroyed or damaged more than 2,600 houses, 8 schools, two medical centres, many bridges and roads. People lost their cattle, poultry and food reserves and electricity is in short supply.
In addition, agricultural lands were covered with a layer of clay and sand, preventing any planting this spring and, consequently, any future harvests. Most families make their living from agriculture and cattle breeding in this farming region, so this is a major setback.
'After the heavy rains, the walls of our house collapsed. We were left roofless,' explains a member of the Nikitins family whose house is located on the outskirts of the city of Shymkent. 'Now we are living in a temporary dwelling without heating. We warm ourselves with a small stove.' The sanitary situation is getting worse, with increasing cases of respiratory infections and stomach ailments.
This is the first disaster of such a magnitude in 50 years, and people were not prepared for the devastating flood waters. At the outset, the authorities immediately undertook an emergency operation, forming rescue teams and evacuating the affected population, with the active participation of Red Crescent staff and volunteers. People were moved to sanatoriums, schools and other nearby public buildings or were accommodated with relatives and friends.
'When we were distributing assistance to the affected people, I cooked for our volunteers, and talked to people who came for assistance. I can say I provided psychological support to those who suffered a lot,' says Nurbibi, a Red Crescent volunteer.
Volunteers and staff of the Red Crescent's South Kazakhstan branch in Chimkent were immediately mobilized to take part in rescue and evacuation activities. They also delivered food, shoes, clothing and other relief goods to the affected population, as well as vital psychological assistance.
'I saw a tragedy in reality. Distributing humanitarian assistance and seeing the affected people, I felt what it means to become homeless,' adds Karibzhan, another Red Crescent volunteer engaged in response activities at the scene of the disaster.
The Red Crescent of Kazakhstan made a preliminary assessment of needs during the first days of the disaster. The most vulnerable people in the affected areas have been provided with shoes, clothing, bed linen and food from Red Crescent branch stocks. Additional humanitarian assistance was delivered from the Red Crescent warehouse in Almaty on 4 March, including beds, water containers, clothing and sleeping bags. Information sessions on preparedness for floods will also be conducted for the general population, as there is a strong risk of further flooding over the coming weeks.
Assessments continue, and it is likely that the number of vulnerable people who will need more assistance over the coming months may rise, as many of them have lost not only their food stocks, but also their means of subsistence.