Romania

Romania neglects flooded villagers

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While the government is absorbed with battles over EU reforms, critics say it is forgetting its basic duty to the victims of a natural disaster.

By Cristina Liberis in Bucharest (BCR No 565, 14-Jul-05)

Villagers in flood-stricken areas of western Romania say their plight is being ignored as the government concentrates on its European Union-related reforms.

Around 4,500 people in the Timis and Caras counties of western Romania have been living in huts and tents for months, after flooding destroyed their homes.

They lost almost everything in the catastrophe, including their homes, crops, household goods and furnishings.

Worse may be yet to come, as none of the government plans for building new housing has even started yet.

"People have little hope of getting into new houses by the autumn," said Cristian Pavel, a priest in Timisoara, working for the Orthodox Church's social service department.

"Going home is much more important to them than listening to government promises of how life will be better inside the European Union." Some 600 kilometres away, in Bucharest, the government says it is dealing with the plight of the evacuees in several counties of western, central and eastern Romania.

The flooding is the result of unusually wet summer weather, with meteorologists reporting the highest rainfall in 50 years.

"We are monitoring the situation daily and are taking all the measures necessary to help people," said a recent government press release.

But the apparent neglect of the homeless in Timis and Caras counties has given the opposition a chance to attack the government for pursuing the wrong priorities.

"The government is focusing on meaningless things like early elections instead of helping the people in flood-affected areas," said former president Ion Iliescu on July 12.

"Early elections mean useless expenditure of money, which should go instead to these people," added Iliescu, who is also leader of the opposition Social Democratic Party, PSD.

Iliiescu has called on the country's National Defense Council to discuss the situation.

Elections rose to the top of the government's agenda on July 8 when Prime Minister Calin Popescu Tariceanu said the six-month-old coalition administration would have to resign after the Constitutional Court blocked a package of laws aimed at overhauling the judiciary in line with EU norms.

"Judicial reform is now blocked," he said. "The solution is to go back to the voters and to wait for their verdict."

The government insisted that its 17 reform bills, setting retirement ages and laying down rules governing competitions for judicial appointments, among other matters, were in line with EU requirements.

The laws also aimed to align Romania's antitrust rules with the EU and fight corruption.

Many political analysts said the resignation of the government might even delay Romania's accession process.

"There is now a 50 per cent possibility of postponing EU accession," the rating company Standard & Poor's said in a recent statement. "The time scheduled for completing the reforms has been reduced, due to anticipating elections, planned for this autumn."

Investors are also worried. "The government's resignation will damage the business climate because the tense period that will follow will slow the pace of economic decisions," said one local businessman.

The government is now trying to find the way out of its dilemma. On July 12, Tariceanu said he may even reconsider his decision to resign after President Traian Basescu urged parliament to find a way to push through the key reform bills.

Basescu asked parliament to rephrase certain articles in the proposed laws, so that the measures could be adopted in time for Romania to join the EU in 2007. The two chambers of parliament passed some judicial reforms this week, but Tariceanu said it would not be enough to ensure that become a union member as planned -- and he now intends to stand down next week.

But in the meantime, people in the flood-hit areas of western and central Romania feel forgotten, and say that Europe seems very far away.

They are still waiting for the aid they say they are entitled to. The Romanet family from Foeni in Timis county includes five children -- one of whom is HIV positive.

Their house was destroyed in March when a nearby river overflowed after several days of heavy rainfall. Now they have started to build a new home, but without any state help.

"For us, EU integration is a far-off dream," said a male family member. "We are waiting for help from the government, which hasn't arrived, as they promised."

Cristina Liberis is a journalist with the public broadcasting company TVR.