Czech convoy arrives in Grozny with 80 tonnes of relief aid

A convoy organized by the Prague-based People in Need Foundation (PINF) and carrying 80 tonnes of emergency relief aid has succeeded in reaching the smashed capital of Grozny in Chechnya. According to the PINF field office, the convoy arrived in the city on Tuesday evening (28 March) after a four-day journey from Nazran in neighboring Ingushetia and numerous lengthy delays at Russian checkpoints along the way.
The convoy is only the second by a non-Russian agency to reach the city since the beginning of the current round of fighting. In late February, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees organized a large convoy of aid that arrived in Grozny from Stavropol. A spokesman for the agency in Geneva announced this week that the UNHCR is not planning any additional convoys at present due to security concerns.

The PINF convoy was jointly funded by Austrian Caritas and consisted entirely of food commodities -- wheat flour, pasta, sugar, milk powder, cooking oil and tea. The trucks also carried some basic medicines and items of children s clothing that were provided by other international aid agencies. The supplies have been off-loaded into a warehouse in Grozny secured by Russian forces, and is being distributed to local residents at three centers around the city under the supervision of a PINF coordinator.

PINF has now delivered seven convoys totalling 300 tonnes of aid to locations inside Chechnya since mid-January, making it the only non-Russian agency that is even attempting to work on a systematic basis inside the breakaway republic. All aid is purchased on local markets in Ingushetia with cash sent by courier to the PINF field office, and delivcred to Chechnya with permits and trucks provided by the Ingushetian Ministry for Emergency Situations (EMERCOM).

According to the PINF coordinator in Grozny, conditions for the estimated 30-40,000 remaining residents are "nightmarish" and the city has the appearance of a "ghost town." There is no electricity or gas, fuel for heating and cooking is almost nonexistent, and the only source for water is broken pipes and pools of ground water which are largely contaminated. The city survivors are overwhelmingly women, children and elderly people, who live in bombed-out ruins and underground cellars. Food is virtually impossible to purchase locally. Residents have access to one daily meal of soup, gruel and bread served at two locations in the city by Russian forces, but many elderly and infirmed people cannot take advantage of this service because of the long walking distances involved. Continuing fear of crime and reprisals by Russian forces keeps people indoors; of the few who walk the streets, most are orphaned children scrounging for food or looking for adults to join with and care for them.

There is little health care available in Grozny. None of its former hospitals is functioning, and conditions in all of the facilities are catastrophic. The Russian EMERCOM operates several mobile clinics in the city which provide primary health care with a limited range of basic medicines.

PINF is assessing the possibility of establishing a permanent presence in Grozny to coordinate further aid deliveries, and which might also serve as a conduit for other agencies which want to provide aid for Grozny but are unable to do so because of logistics and security concerns.

Summary of PINF Chechen Relief Aid, January - March 2000

1. Aid Distribution

PINF has delivered a total of 300 tonnes of bulk food to the following locations in Chechnya: the border villages of Sernovodsk and Assinovskaya (Jan. 13); the heavily destroyed village of Alkhan-yurt east of Grozny (Jan. 23); the regional center of Achkhoy Martan in southwest Chechnya (Feb. 5); the village of Chiri-yurt in central Chechnya (Feb. 18); again to Alkhan-yurt (Feb. 20); and a joint convoy to the town of Shali and villages of Duba-yurt and Serjen-yurt (Mar. 11-13). All aid was delivered by trucks provided by Ingushetain EMERCOM and accompanied by PINF field coordinators who controlled distribution.

In Ingushetia, PINF is providing regular food shipments and primary health care services for approximately 4,500 Chechen refugees living in 24 spontaneous settlements, or "wild camps," scattered throughout the republic. All food is purchased on local markets and distributed by trucks provided by EMERCOM.

Total Aid Provided to Date: US$110,000.-

2. Fundraising

The PINF "SOS Chcchnya" appeal in the Czech Republic has received $80,000 in individual Czech donations, $55,000 from the City of Prague; $18,000 from an Austrian businessman; $15,000 from Austrian Caritas; $5,000 from PINF s sister organization in Bratislava, Nadace =C8lovek v Ohrozeni; and a $40,000 in-kind donation of winter clothing from a Czech business. In addition, the Czech Ministry for Foreign Affairs provided an emergency allocation of $40,000 in early January to enable PINF to start relief activities in the region.

Total Funds Raised to Date: US$253,000.-

3. Advocacy

PINF produced a 25-minute documentary film on Chechnya entitled Dark Side of the World, which was filmed inside the Russian zone of military operations during November- December 1999 and broadcast by Czech Television in February 2000. Given its unique footage, the film was subtitled in English for foreign distribution, and in late February the Czech Embassy in Washington D.C. jointly arranged with PINF a visit to the U.S. by one of the filmmakers, PINF co-founder Jaromír ?t=ECtina. During his visit, special screenings of the film were arranged in Washington at the Czech Embassy, the U.S. National Security Council, the U.S. Department of State, and the U.S. Senate, and in New York City at the headquarters of Human Rights Watch. Outcomes of Mr ?t=ECtina s visit included: 1) an opinion-editorial on Feb. 20th in the Washington Post by editorial page editor Fred Hiatt entitled "Pretending Chechnya Is Different," which challenged the aloof Chechnya policy of the Clinton Administration; 2) a $1,000 donation to the PINF SOS Chechnya campaign by former U.S. National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski; and 3) a $47,000 grant from the U.S. National Endowment for Democracy for PINF to implement a special 1-year information project on human rights abuses, aid conditions and access of foreign media in Chechnya in partership with Human Rights Watch and the Memorial human rights group in Russia.