Months after disasters, some residents of Bulgaria’s Bisser and Pernik still awaiting relief
Eight months after fatal flooding hit the village of Bisser and five months after the mining town of Pernik was hard-hit by an earthquake, some residents of each are still waiting for new homes.
In both cases, a significant amount of the assistance given to people has come through private donations through fund-raising campaigns by the Bulgarian Red Cross, although Bulgaria’s Cabinet also has come in with large grants.
The heavy snowfalls that covered Bulgaria in early February 2012 caused a number of dams to overflow. On February 6, under pressure from severe weather conditions, the wall of the Ivanovo dam gave way, releasing torrents of water into the villages of Bisser and Leshnikovo in south-eastern Bulgaria.
In Bisser, nine people died, leading to February 8 being declared a national day of mourning.
The disaster, which caused widespread property damage, prompted a number of fund-raising campaigns, including by the Bulgarian Red Cross and public broadcaster Bulgarian National Television. The Bulgarian Red Cross campaign has raised more than 2.6 million leva (about 1.3 million euro) and that by BNT raised 124 000 leva.
Speaking on October 11, Bulgarian Red Cross head Hristo Grigorov told local media that, thanks to the fund-raising effort, 10 houses in Bisser already had been turned over to their owners. The next 10 were almost finished and the keys would be officially delivered within a week, while overall, counting a further 10 houses, a total of 30 houses would be fully ready by no later than somewhere between November 5 and 10.
But on October 24, television channel bTV said that on the threshold of winter, 14 families in Bisser were still homeless.
Assistance was still arriving, the most recent being a donation from Bulgarians living abroad, which people in Bisser would use to meet their most urgent expenses.
Thirty homes had been built or were under construction, the report said, but 14 families still did not have homes and the account was empty.
BTV interviewed one of the people still without a new home, a former teacher who said that she would spent this winter in an outhouse of an abandoned house without electricity and fresh water. She hoped that by next year she would received assistance, and in the meantime had been given a $600 share of the money donated by Bulgarian expatriates, the result of a campaign by a California-based Bulgarian, Vasya Valintenova.
BTV said that to date, donations to assist the people of Bisser had added up to close to three million leva. “Yet different institutions will have to account how they have spent the money because in spite of the spectacular help, the village still does not look as it did before the flood”.
On October 24, BNT reported that people in Pernik, the mining town hit by a 5.8 Richter scale earthquake in May, were ready to protest again because of “slow work by the interdepartmental commission and broken promises by the authorities that all those affected by the earthquake would get help”.
An organising committee said that only 509 households in the city had been helped while 8000 requests for assistance had been filed. The interdepartmental commission had met only seven times, the BNT report said.
Five months after the earthquake, many people in Pernik had rebuilt their homes using loans. Those who had relied on the state would meet winter sheltering in ruins or vans, the report said.
A key source of complaint is the 2000 leva threshold declared for assistance. The committee said that it wanted Simeon Dyankov, Finance Minister and Deputy Prime Minister, to visit Pernik to explain the state’s stance on the situation.
On October 11, the Bulgarian Red Cross’s Grigorov said that the BRC had managed to collect more than a million leva to assist the people of Pernik.
He said that a construction company had been chosen to begin work and he appealed to Pernik municipality to “work more efficiently, because winter is coming”.
Earlier, on October 1, Bulgaria’s European Commissioner, Kristalina Georgieva – whose portfolio is humanitarian assistance and disaster relief – said that 80 per cent of the people most affected by the May earthquake in Pernik had received compensation and were receiving it.
The Cabinet had allocated more than 15 million leva and European funds had financed compensation for the affected population, she said.
The European funds could finance unemployed people in Pernik who could participate in the reconstruction, Georgieva said.
However, even when financing was available, implementation was slow. Here the local authorities were responsible as well, Georgieva said, calling on them to fulfil their duties.