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IRC describes plans to make Kosovo villages livable for displaced people returning home

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Priorities: Winterization, water supplies, sanitation, mobile clinics - Refugees in Albania also being aided
NEW YORK, October 16, 1998---The International Rescue Committee says it will begin rebuilding the infrastructure of abandoned villages in Kosovo as soon as residents start returning to their homes.

"We'll winterize damaged houses as quickly and efficiently as possible," said Barbara Smith, the agency's vice president for overseas operations. "We'll create access to clean water and repair sanitation systems. And we'll operate two mobile clinics that we're shipping to Kosovo from England. They'll provide emergency health care, especially to children."

"Winterization means covering windows and damaged roofs with heavy-gauge plastic sheeting and replacing stoves taken by looters," Smith said. "Permanent repairs will come next. We hope to winterize 10,000 dwellings that will provide housing for about 80,000 people."

The IRC will also immediately begin repairs to damaged wells and gravity-fed water supply systems in the villages, Smith said, and to sanitation systems that serve schools and other public facilities. "We'll also train and deploy local community sanitation workers," she said.

Meanwhile, in Albania, where as many as 30,000 people from Kosovo have sought sanctuary, the IRC has begun a major effort to convert unused or abandoned structures into shelters that will get the refugees through the winter.

Funding for the IRC's Kosovo operations is provided by private donations and by grants from the U.S. State Department's Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration and the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance.

Smith said private donations are being used to make local purchases of clothing, shoes, underwear and household items for the displaced people of Kosovo - things not covered by government humanitarian-aid grants.

"Many of these families have little more than the clothes on their back," she said. "They had to flee their homes with no advance notice, and once they left, looters often moved in and stripped the houses bare. They took everything -- stoves, lighting fixtures, furniture, shelving and sinks."

"We'll never be able to raise enough money to meet all the needs, Smith added. "But every dollar will help."

Allen Jelich heads the IRC's operations in the region. Bob Turner is the IRC's emergency coordinator for Kosovo and is based in Pristina. The IRC has run aid programs there since March 1997.

Hugh Fenton is the IRC's emergency coordinator in Albania. He's based in Tirana.

CONTACT

Sheppie Abramowitz - IRC Washington (202) 822-0043 Ext. 10
Ed Bligh - IRC New York (212) 551-3114

International Rescue Committee
1612 K St., NW, Washington D.C. 20006
122 East 42nd Street
New York, NY 10168-1289

The IRC, which has been working in Serbia since 1991 and in Kosovo since March 1997, is the leading nonsectarian private voluntary agency assisting refugees worldwide. For 65 years, the IRC has been helping victims of racial, religious and ethnic persecution as well as people uprooted by war and violence. IRC staff and volunteers work in Africa, Asia, Europe, the former Soviet Union and the United States. The IRC was founded at the suggestion of Albert Einstein to assist anti-Nazis fleeing Hitler's terror.