Action Against Hunger enters inside Chechnya and prepares assistance for Sernovodsk and Assinovskaia

Originally published
Following this assessment mission, AAH is preparing a three month (March-May) food and basic hygiene products distribution for all IDPs living in these two towns. Distributions will take place on a monthly basis and will complement food items already received through MS. The first cycle will begin in Assinovskaia on 13 march.


1. Movement and security

The assessment mission consisted of one AAH expatriate, Jonathan Littell, accompanied by three local staff (two program officers and one driver). The mission was accompanied by two AAH Ingush (MVD) armed guards, who received written authorization from their superior in MVD. Two unmarked AAH rental vehicules (Jiguli) were used.

The mission was facilitated by EMERCOM who negociated passage through the CPs. Documents were verified at some of the CPs, but we were basically waved through after a brief discussion with the EMERCOM representative. The control at Kavkaz-1 was somewhat stricter on the return trip, but we again passed with no significant problems. On the way in, we were told at Kavkaz-1 to return before 14:00; we passed it on the way back at 13:30.

Note: Shortly after this trip, on 25.02, an envoy of the Chechen Temporary Administration, Mompash Alievich Machuev, made a presentation at EMERCOM's Friday Sleptsovskaia coordination meeting concerning NGO work in Chechnya. He explained that NGOs seeking to work in Chechnya should address a request to Khasan Alaskhanovich Musalatov, Head of the ChTA, detailing their means and planned programs and listing personnel and vehicules for which permissions would be required. At a later meeting, it was agreed that the permission would be worded so as to include rented trucks transporting humanitarian aid without specifying their details in advance.

2. General Findings

a. Sernovodsk

The mission met with the Head of Administration ; the Deputy Head of Sernovodsk Migration Service (MS) ; and later, on Kavkaz-1, with the Head of Administration.

We visited the train camp, the Tekhnicum collective center, a family in the center of town hosting IDPs, and the town market.

Local population : 12.000 (est. 2.000 families)
IDPs total : 14.476 as of 14.02 (2.899 families)
Train camp : 2.613 (614 families)
Tekhnicum : 1.838 (418 families)
IDPs private sector : 10.025 (1.867 families)

Of the total quantity of IDPs, 2.969 (20.5%) are men ; 4.578 (31.6%) are women ; and 6.929 (47.9%) are children under 16 (MS figures).

Sernovodsk was first bombed by the Federal forces on October 13. Bombing lasted several weeks, though it was concentrated mainly on the train station and the sanatorium above the town. This sanatorium, which served as a CC during the 94-96 conflict, has been entirely destroyed and is now uninhabitable. 48 houses were destroyed in the town. Civilian casualty figures were not available.

Sernovodsk has seen a massive influx of IDPs, estimated at over 2.000, in the past two weeks, coming from the villages of Katir-Yurt, Shamii-Yurt, Zakan-Yurt, Alkhan-Yurt, which have been severely bombed by the Federal forces during the fighters' retreat from Groznyi. However of these 2.000 an unknown number have already returned home, or attempted to but then again returned to Sernovodsk.

Responsibility for aiding IDPs is divided between FMS, which is responsible for all food distributions, but which in practice only distributes to the IDPs in collective centers (Tekhnicum and train) ; and MChS, which is responsible for housing and distributing NFIs (beds, mattresses, sheets, etc.).

There has been only one distribution for local inhabitants, for the end of Ramadan, of a very small quantity of food items.

The IDPs in the CCs received a food allowance fixed at 15rur/day. In practice food items are distributed irregularly, according to what MS is able to buy with their budget. MS is forced to buy through official government channels and pays higher prices for food items than the local market prices. There is no attempt at calculating norms on a nutritional basis. The Train is supplied directly by MS Ingushetia, which is able to buy food items at a lower price ; therefore, they receive slightly more than the IDPs in Tekhnicum, which is supplied by MS Chechnya. However MS Chechnya has just been able to open its own bank account in Mozdok, and claims that this will slightly improve their budgetary position, though in what manner was not clear.

The Train : the 47 wagons (platz-cart or collective wagons w. 60 beds) composing the Train Camp had originally been set up in Sleptsovskaia, Ingushetia. At that time they received food from MChS through the local administration, and later on from UNHCR. On 18.12.99, the train was forcibly moved to Sernovodsk, against the will of most of the IDPs living in it. IDPs interviewed, including the Train commandant, stated that most were afraid to return to Chechnya as they did not believe the hostilities were over, and also that the food situation in the train had gotten worse since the move and the handover of responsibilities to MS Ingushetia. IDPs claimed that they were promised that pensions would be paid, but this has not yet been the case.

For the period 28.01 to 14.02, IDPs in the Train received each the following quantity of food items :

  • Tinned beef 800gr
  • Tea 30gr
  • Vegetable oil 500gr
  • Butter 100gr
  • Sugar 225gr
  • Milk powder 730gr
  • Potatoes 400gr
  • Barley porridge 2 cans
  • Tinned cabbage 400gr
  • Macaroni 600gr
  • Rice 200gr
  • Buckwheat 400gr
  • Bread 400gr/day (x18 days)
According to AAH's calculation, this averages out to 1779.37 Kcals per day, which is only 89% of a standard minimal ration according to WHO norms. The gap is even larger for vulnerable groups which require higher rations.

A major need stated was for hygiene products. Due to the overcrowding and the poor access to hygiene (IDPs can either wash with a bucket in the cramped wagon toilet, or hike several kilometers to a hot spring where there is no privacy possible), it appears that most IDPs are suffereing from lice, as well as various skin problems. No hygiene items have so far been provided.

Tekhnicum : a former technical school entirely given over to IDPs. Room sizes vary ; the mission visited the gymnasium, which houses over 200 people in small cubicles separated by sheets. Food distributions are comparable to the train. Access to showers and latrines is adequate, according to the IDPs. The main problem noted was access to medical care.

Host family : the family interviewed consisted of 7 people : the mother, her three daughters, her eldest daughter's husband, and her 14-month old grandchild. Her husband had been killed during the previous conflict. She was also hosting two families of IDPs, one of 6 people, and one of 3, both from different small villages in the Itum-Kale district (mountains). These IDPs did not know the host family prior to be taken in, and paid no rent.

The family survived through a variety of minor coping mechanisms

- Before the war, the mother conducted small trade, buying 200 rur of items at a time in Sleptsovskaia market, and selling them at a one ruble mark-up in Sernovodsk. This small business stopped when the war broke out and the border was closed. However she has succeeded in « renting out » her small shop as a MS distribution point for invalid IDPs, and receives five breads a day.

- Small garden, gathered 100kg potatoes ; still has 10kg left.

- Some salted tomatoes and cucumbers from the garden.

- Occasional help from relatives

- Some help from the IDPs, who left their homes with some food stocks ; when the host family' stocks were exhausted, the IDPs began providing theirs.

- In January, received 2x360 rur (for each unmarried daughter) as « compensation », though for what she was unable to say (possibly for the deceased husband). She last received her pension of 400 rur in January 1998.

- Water, gas and electricity were working and free of charge.

In general, food was shared between the host family and the IDPs.

b. Assinovskaia

The mission met the Head of Administration ,the Deputy Commander for CCs ; and EMERCOM.

Due to time constraints, we did not obtain as complete and accurate data as in Sernovodsk, and were only briefly able to visit the Sovkhoz CC.

Local population : 12.000
IDPs total : 11.278
Sovkhoz CC : 1.600
IDPs private sector : approx 9.700
About 4.000 of the « local inhabitants » are in fact IDPs from the previous war whose nearby villages (Bamut, Orekhovo) were entirely destroyed during the 94-96 conflict.

In October, most of the inhabitants of Assinovskaia left. In their absence, there was a great deal of looting, and many gardens were destroyed or vandalized ; due to this, few people were able to bring in their winter stocks of food. 88 houses were destroyed during shelling, affecting some 400-450 people. According to the HoA, no civilians were killed, though a number were wounded.

IDPs have been arriving from Groznyi since October-November ; the latest arrivals have come empty-handed, due to the conditions of their departure (brief opening of « corridors »). In the past two weeks, as in Sernovodsk, there has been an influx of some 2.000 people from Katir-Yurt, etc.

IDPs in the private sector theoretically receive a food distribution, except those from Urus-Martan district (Alkhan-Kala excepted), whose home villages are considered « liberated » and who receive nothing.

3. Conclusions

People interviewed disagreed as to whether the IDPs were needier or not than the local population. One argument often advanced was that IDPs received some aid, no matter how small, whereas local inhabitants received nothing and could no longer conduct any economic activity. While this is true, the mission feels that local inhabitants, being in their own environment, all have access to a variety of small coping strategies which is denied to the IDPs. The IDPs, especially those in the camps, have no access to coping strategies and are 100% dependent on humanitarian aid, which is clearly insufficient at this time to meet their needs. Furthermore, any aid the IDPs in the private sector receive is shared with the host families.

The little international aid that has been sent in so far, due to the fact that it has been small quantities only, has all been distributed to IDPs living in CCs.

In general, AAH feels that IDPs living in the private sector should be targeted as a priority - knowing that any food distributed will be shared with the host family - followed by the CCs. Organisations wishing to make small donations only should target the CCs.