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Emergency needs mount in Europe


"Epidemics must be prevented and people must be supported."

—Vladimir Putin

Faith-based groups in the U.S. and abroad have joined to help meet emergency needs in eastern and central Europe as the worst flooding in 500 years has forced hundreds of thousands of people from their homes. The region has seen mass destruction of cities, villages and farms.

Thousands fled northern Germany Wednesday as floodwaters threatened to deluge that part of the country. In Germany, 15 people have died. In other parts of the Europe, flooding has taken the lives of almost 100 people.

The Czech Republic has been the most severely affected country. But Romania, Austria, Germany, Hungary, Slovakia, Bulgaria and the Black Sea region of the Russian Federation have also experienced significant flooding and damage.

European and U.S.-based members of Action by Churches Together (ACT), a global coalition of faith-based humanitarian organizations, and Church World Service have banded together to address both emergency and long-term needs.

The Ecumenical Council of Churches in the Czech Republic, Diakonie of the Evangelical Church of Czech Brethren, Orthodox Church in the Czech Lands, Czechoslovak Hussite Church, Aidrom, Russian Federation, Ecumenical Association of Churches in Romania, and Hungarian Interchurch Aid are distributing emergency humanitarian aid and preparing long term recovery plans.

"The ACT CO has used its Rapid Response Fund to help members get started," said ACT Communications Officer Callie Long. "AIDROM in Romania is receiving $25,000. In the Czech Republic, the Orthodox Church and the Church of Czech Brethren received $25,000 each."

Last Friday, the waters of the Elba River in Dresden, Germany, were swiftly rising. Officials ordered the evacuation of 33,000 residents.

Last week, in Russia, flooding took the lives of 59 people. Rescue workers searched beaches along the Black Sea coast for bodies. About 4,000 tourists vacationing in Shirokaya Balka, a popular coastal village, were trapped in the town. Crops, buildings, homes and schools have been destroyed.

According to ACT, the Russian Orthodox Church, Department of External Church Relations, has submitted a project proposal for emergency assistance to the affected population of flood-hit Krasnodar region.

This recent flow of flooding has compounded the set of floods and mudslides Russia suffered earlier this summer. According to Church World Service, 77 people in Southern Russia died and nearly 86,000 were evacuated in July.

The Czech Republic was also hit hard by recent rains. In Prague, police used public address systems to evacuate nearly 50,000 residents. Close to 40,000 fled the city after Prague Mayor Igor Nemec ordered people to leave their homes when the Vltava River ran over its banks. Seven people have lost their lives so far, and more casualties are expected.

"Special attention will be given to the displaced," said a Czechoslovak Hussite Church spokesperson. "COF has already accommodated about 40 children, women and elderly. Humanitarian aid is distributed on regular basis. COF seeks to continue with emergency provisions to alleviate suffering of people in the hardest-hit areas of CZR, yet not ignoring longer-term needs for rehabilitation of public infrastructure."

Meteorologists, according to the Czech Republic’s official Web site, said the flooding is the worst since 1890. Czech Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla declared a state of emergency in Prague, Central Bohemia, South Bohemia and the Pilsen and Carlsbad districts, and closed off those areas to anyone other than rescue workers.

"We should focus on ordinary people who lost their properties," said an Ecumenical Council of Churches in the Czech Republic representative. "This can be done via ecumenical flood committees which we are in the process of setting up. Public buildings and infrastructure should remain subject of concern of the local Government."

As waters receed in Prague, officials are attempting to deal with the damage. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Human Affairs, ten people have died, 1,000 were rescued and more than 20,00 have been evacuated. The damage caused by the disaster is estimated at about $2 billion.

Water also flowed fast throughout Austria. In Salzburg, the Danube River was expected to rise 10 meters above normal and all shipping on the river was halted. The city was declared a disaster by Austrian officials last Tuesday. Three people died as a result of the flooding.

“The scene is catastrophic,” said National Fire Brigade Commander for Lower Austria, Wilfried Weissgaerber, on Austrian radio last week.

In Hamburg, Germany, rain caused a mudslide and derailed a train last week. States of emergency have been declared in Bavaria and Baden-Wuerttember, and a 31-year-old Red Cross worker was killed as he drove a van and hit a tree as a result of torrential rains. Several others were died in car accidents caused by the rain.

Heavy rainfall affected other parts of Europe as well. In England, rain has left dozens homeless and shut down rail transportation as lines have been deluged with water. Northern France saw double its usual amount of rain. In the southeast section of Romania, homes, roads, bridges and crops have been destroyed. And in Ukraine, 80 homes have been flooded.

According to ACT, the Ecumenical Association of Churches in Romania has submitted a proposal for financial support for their emergency program. The proposal is under review and the network can expect the first counter flood appeal by the end of the week.

"From the very first days of crisis, HIA has deployed all its national resources to assist affected local population in Hungary and neighbouring Slovakia," said a Hungarian Interchurch Aid representative. "HIA has issued an appeal at the local level which has been quite well supported so far. HIA has been actively networking with its partners and other WCC/ACT members in the affected region. They are currently looking into rendering assistance to the most vulnerable in the neighbouring Slovakia through Slezka Diakonia Bratislava. HIA points out that the situation in Hungary is slowly getting to a point where things are under control and that the country has so far received significant financial support."

Italy was also hit hard, as hail and heavy rain pelleted crops last week. Premier Silvio Berlusconi awarded $50 million in emergency aid last week to help alleviate the estimated $300 million in agricultural damage. Farmers are preparing for more rain.

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More links on Flooding


Related Links:

Czech Republic official Web site

Action by Churches Together

Church World Service Emergency Response Program

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