In FRY (excluding Kosovo), heating fuel shortages are resulting in low heating levels in many institutions, including hospitals and schools, which rely on their own heating system, as well as reduced temperatures in institutions and private accommodation heated by district heating plants.
Due to a number of improvisations and improvements, as well as favourable weather patterns, electricity supply has been relatively stable so far this winter. However, there have been numerous technical failures and outages in localized areas lasting at times for a number of days.
2. Humanitarian assistance to heat institutions
Whilst estimates vary, domestic refining of crude oil in January is believed to be just over half normal January levels (ie: around 136 000 tons, as opposed to 240 000 tons). This oil is mostly being refined into mazut, diesel and heating oil. Levels of oil import are unknown at this time. Oil import to Serbia is prohibited by US and EU sanctions. There are reports of oil being imported from countries not imposing sanctions, and indications of oil being smuggled into the country.
However, according to a number of humanitarian agencies with extensive operational experience in FRY, the heating fuel situation this winter is worse than any previous winter of the past decade. These shortages are caused by a combination of lack of fuel supplies (heating oil, mazut, and coal), financial shortages, and blockages in both domestic and international deliveries.
At present, international humanitarian assistance, funded by ECHO, UNHCR, and UNICEF and implemented through CARE, is providing heating fuel assistance to:
- collective centres;
- other institutions housing refugees;
- geriatric centres;
- children's institutions (including orphanages, but not schools);
- specialised hospitals (including some maternity wards);
- institutions for handicapped persons;
A number of humanitarian organisations are involved in particular winterization projects involving distribution of blankets, winter clothing, wood and shelter assistance to vulnerable groups.
However, there are key institutions not currently being assisted by humanitarian delivery of heating fuel. Some of these institutions rely on poor district heating (as to which see below); others have insufficient fuel for their own heating systems. Fuel deliveries from the state-controlled Yugopetrol and Beopetrol are unpredictable, meaning that many institutions are operating from day-to-day, and often are without heating for a number of days. Foremost among these institutions are:
- many hospitals;
- many schools and kindergartens;
According to the ICRC, heating levels in hospitals are low (in Belgrade, between 16 and 18 degrees), and only the most essential rooms are heated. This is the general situation - there are, however, some hospitals reporting severe fuel shortages. WHO reports concern that inadequate hospital heating is reducing the impact of efforts to combat the current influenza epidemic.
The situation in schools, which remain on Christmas holidays, will become clearer in the weeks ahead, but UNICEF reports concern that heating shortages are interrupting children’s education, and have the potential to be harmful to their health and well-being. Prior to the holidays many schools had reduced class times from 45 to 30 minutes to reduce the amount of time children spent in poorly heated rooms (and also as a form of industrial action by teachers to protest their salary situation). Given these prospects and the current influenza epidemic, the return to school has been postponed for one week until 31 January.
Whilst prisoners have been provided with blankets and clothing by the ICRC, OHCHR reports extreme concern regarding the heating situation in many prisons, which are afforded low priority in heating fuel distributions.
3. Heating aid to cities
Fuel shortages are also seeing low or irregular output from district heating plants. Many plants rely on natural gas, which is flowing from Russia through Hungary. Although restrictions on gas use in industry remain in force, gas deliveries are not large enough to meet all needs and many heating plants are not receiving sufficient supplies. In the case of heating plants relying on mazut and heating fuel, there are numerous reports of lack of financial means to purchase fuel, as well as of delayed deliveries of fuel already purchased.
For some, the "Energy for Democracy" project, whilst not a strictly humanitarian project, is providing relief. This assistance is at present limited to EU assistance to the towns of Nis and Pirot. In a related initiative, Norway is providing fuel assistance to institutions in Uzice and Cacak. Consideration is currently being given to expanding "Energy for Democracy" deliveries to cover more towns.
The recently announced Italian "City-to-City" initiative, involving assistance to Belgrade, Kragujevac, Nis, Novi Sad and Pancevo, includes provision of some heating assistance.
As a humanitarian intervention, Swiss Disaster Relief is assisting in the completion of the District Heating Plant in Cacak.
4. Electricity supply and assistance
Expert international analysis commissioned by OCHA in the autumn concluded that, without remedial action, there was a risk of serious electricity shortages this winter. There have been electricity outages (though central Belgrade has been largely insulated from these problems), leaving some towns and villages without electricity for significant periods (two to three days in some areas). Nevertheless, major shortages have so far been avoided. As outlined in subsequent OCHA energy updates and in OCHA’s weekly situation reports, a number of developments have, to date, mitigated this potential crisis:
- Large scale import of electricity to cover domestic shortfalls - After rotating restrictions at the beginning of the heating season illustrated the likely shortfalls at the height of winter, the state-controlled electrical power company (EPS) began importing large amounts of electricity from neighbouring countries. This import, possibly as high as 30 GWh per day (around 1 million US dollars worth of electricity), is covering up to one quarter of FRY’s daily consumption. Financing arrangements for this considerable import are not clear (though in the case of import from Slovakia output from the Bor copper mine has been providing partial payment). According to official statements from Republika Srpska, EPS’s debt for import in recent months stands at around 20 million DM. It is believed that an entire hydro-electric plant in Republika Srpska (at Visegrad) is supplying FRY.
- Recent output from hydro-electric plants - OCHA has previously reported low levels of water in FRY’s hydro-electric plants, particularly in the reservoirs essential for peak power or back-up in the case of technical failures elsewhere. However, heavy precipitation in FRY, as well as in the Danube basin in Central Europe, have seen water levels rise significantly in December and January and caused flooding in Vojvodina. Large output from the Hydro-Electric plant at Djerdap has been crucial in recent weeks.
- No serious failures in coal mines or power plants - Despite a high technical risk of failure in FRY’s coal mines and power plants, failures have so far been manageable. Due to the poor state of the plants, low coal supplies, and mazut shortages, the output of thermal plants is significantly lower than in previous years (the reason for large reliance on import and hydro-power).
- Provision of spare parts - Switzerland has donated key parts for use in sensitive sub-stations, so far in the form of surge arrestor parts and circuit breakers. Further parts, including current and voltage transformers, will soon be delivered. These parts represent a minimal contribution to the overall needs, but promote grid stability and have stimulated further domestic improvements. EPS has also imported certain equipment from other sources, including second-hand transformers and other essential parts, as advocated by OCHA in its initial assessment.
- Load management strategies - Restrictions on industrial use of electricity are in place in many areas of the country. This is reducing peak demand levels.
- Relatively mild winter temperature levels - OCHA monitors daily weather forecasts, including temperature, wind and precipitation levels. Winter temperatures have so far been relatively mild, with only one very cold snap on December 24 and 25 when temperatures reached minus 14 degrees in many parts. (At this time, most of Kragujevac was without electric heating for nearly 24 hours due to a broken down transformer.)
In general, winter energy shortages in FRY have not reached crisis levels. However, current evidence is that many institutions face significant fuel shortages in the months ahead which will interrupt or stop their operation. OCHA encourages donors to consider assistance to vulnerable institutions favourably, and to respond to verified humanitarian needs regardless of political conditionality.
Electricity supply has so far been relatively stable, due in part to a number of improvements previously advocated by, and reported on, by OCHA, as well as favourable weather patterns (temperature and precipitation). Nevertheless, OCHA continues to monitor the electricity situation closely, since the risk of significant technical failures remains high, and believes that promoting stability of electricity supply and transmission is essential to reduce current and future humanitarian risks.
1 See "Electricity and Heating in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia: Winter 1999-2000", 20 September 1999; "An Update on the Energy Situation in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia", 29 October 1999; "A Second Update on the Energy Situation in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia", 7 December 1999; these reports, and the current report, are available on www.reliefweb.int
- UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
- To learn more about OCHA's activities, please visit https://www.unocha.org/.