ICRC to cease distribution of food aid in Chechnya
By Ruslan Isayev
CHECHNYA - The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) recently began its last distribution of humanitarian aid in Chechnya. The process of handing it out to the 15,000 people who qualify for it has now begun in the republic, and it will end on November 20.
The decision to terminate the aid, which consists mainly of food products, was taken by the ICRC on the grounds that the situation in the republic has returned to normal and that therefore such support is no longer needed by residents there.
Many aid recipients are taking a very negative view of the news. People are seriously worried, because the aid has been almost their only source of nutrition.
78-year-old Grozny resident Zara Inderbiyeva sees it in personal terms:
"If the Red Cross won’t give me humanitarian aid, it will be a tragedy for me. I’ll be left on dry rations. I don’t have any sons or other children. The help from the Red Cross and my pension of three thousand roubles a month are all I have to live on," she says, almost in tears. Now Zara will be forced to spend almost half of her pension on buying essentials: bread, milk, butter and medicine.
"The Red Cross gave us groceries: butter, cheese, sugar and toiletries, even toothpaste and soap powder. And now I’ll have to buy all those things myself. Why are they going to stop providing that help, when we need it so badly just now?" Zara complains in distress.
Another woman, Malika, whose family also receives aid from the Red Cross, is angry about the reason the organization is giving for curtailing its program in Chechnya:
"Where is the peace they’re talking about? My house was destroyed. We got some compensation, but it was only enough to put up the walls. It wasn’t enough for a roof. Just now my husband and I are saving so we can have a roof over our heads before the cold weather arrives. In this new situation we may have to leave the roof until spring – we have to feed our children, after all. The Red Cross provided a lot of help for us Chechens when we were living in tents in Ingushetia, and they are doing so now, but many of the people who are getting it now really need it. You can see that at the places where they distribute the aid: they’re all from poor families," Malika says.
The ICRC is offering recipients of humanitarian aid a program for micro-economic projects. "Anyone who has received assistance from us can get something from us to make it possible for them to carry on a trade or profession of their own - to open a café, a sewing workshop, or an auto repair garage, for example," a representative at the Moscow office of ICRC told Prague Watchdog.
When asked by Prague Watchdog what plans there are for people who because of old age, disability or illness are not in a position to participate in this program, the ICRC representative replied that there is another program for such people, but that it is implemented through the Russian Red Cross, via their Chechen department. "The [Russian] Red Cross workers visit people at home and bring them the assistance they require, and the International Red Cross is continuing to finance that program."
The ending of the ICRC’s program in Chechnya at a time when the gap between the rich and poor is rapidly growing will have a serious impact on the poorest and most vulnerable section of Chechen society. Some observers believe that the Red Cross is well aware that the humanitarian situation in Chechnya is far from perfect, and that there may be a political reason for the decision, one that favours the Chechen leadership and Russia as a whole, as a demonstration that peace and prosperity have returned to the previously war-torn republic. However, ICRC representatives reject such an assessment, saying that the decision to end the program is purely apolitical.
(Translation by DM)
(D/T) RELATED ARTICLES:
· Russian Federation: ICRC carries out final relief distribution in Chechnya (ReliefWeb, 26.10.2007)
· Red Cross plans expansion in Chechnya (PW, 12.11.2005)