Dispatches from Chechnya No. 19

The Special Report: Lam Survey on Living Conditions in Chechnya

GROZNY, October 23, 2001 – In August 2001 the LAM Center conducted a survey on living conditions in Chechnya. Most of the 2000 people surveyed were residents of Grozny and the surrounding region or of villages in Shatoi and the northern regions. Some of the respondents were living in refugee camps in Ingushetia.

The homes of nearly 70 percent of survey respondents have been either totally destroyed or seriously damaged in the war. Half of the refugees in Ingushetia have nowhere to return to when the war ends because their homes were completely destroyed. Nearly 90 percent of respondents have no source of income beyond pensions, welfare money and humanitarian aid. Only 10 percent of respondents had family members who were employed and receiving a salary. Even those who are employed have difficulty making ends meet because government employees receive very low salaries and are paid irregularly.

According to the survey, residents of Grozny receive humanitarian aid from the following organizations: the Danish Refugee Council, the International Committee of the Red Cross (which aids only children and senior citizens), the People in Need Foundation (Czech Republic), and Polish Humanitarian Action. Regular food aid comes only from the Danish Refugee Council and the Red Cross.

Those who live in areas around Grozny receive aid once a month from the Danish Refugee Council, but according to those surveyed, not everyone receives this aid. For example, in Stariye Atagi, only half of respondents said that they received humanitarian aid, and in families of 7 or 8 people, the food they received was only enough for one or two people.

The majority of respondents in the Shatoi region said that they received aid from the Danish Refugee Council and from Movement Against Hunger (France).

Nearly 80 percent of respondents in northern Chechnya said they had never received any humanitarian aid. They asserted that all the humanitarian aid that makes it to their region ends up being sold on the open market and is only available to people who are close to the Russian-backed administration.

Those in the refugee camps in Ingushetia – primarily refugees from Grozny – receive humanitarian aid from the Red Cross, the Danish Refugee Council, and Islamic Relief. They also receive food products from the Russian government.

Nearly 100 percent of respondents stated that the amount of humanitarian assistance available was just barely enough to ward off starvation. Also, food aid consists primarily of flour, oil, rice and tea, which makes a poor long-term diet, especially for children.

The situation with clothing is even more troubling.  The majority of respondents have not received any donations of clothing for at least several months, and nearly 85 percent lack the means to buy clothing for themselves. In fact, almost 30 percent of respondents were not even aware that humanitarian organizations distributed clothing.

According to the responses expressed in this survey, the number of international humanitarian organizations operating in Chechnya, and therefore, the quantity of aid, is very limited. Much less aid is available in Chechnya than to Chechens living in Ingushetia. In order to receive the limited assistance available, residents of Chechnya must go to Ingushetia to apply for it.

The majority of respondents in Chechnya believe that international humanitarian organizations should broaden and increase their activities within Chechnya proper, as it is within the borders of Chechnya that the need is greatest. Almost none of the respondents are satisfied with the amount of available assistance or with the way in which it is distributed. Some 70 percent of respondents believe that foreign representatives of humanitarian organizations should keep tighter control over the provision and distribution of humanitarian aid.

Almost 30 percent of respondents had one or more seriously ill or disabled family members. None of them have access to free medical care, either from the state or from other organizations. Only those living in refugee camps in Ingushetia have access to free medical care, which is provided by Doctors of the World (France), Medicine for Catastrophes (Russia) and Islamic Relief. But the services that these organizations provide extend little beyond the most basic first aid. People who are seriously ill or disabled can find no help in the refugee camps.  If a person needs surgery or other hospital care, he must pay for it, and at a higher rate than residents of Ingushetia.

The children of approximately 30 percent of respondents are not in school. Of those whose children are not in school, 25 percent cite the lack of suitable clothing or shoes, and 3 percent cite the need for children at home to look after ill family members.  Other reasons cited included fear of “mop-up operations”. Almost two thirds of respondents are not satisfied with the education provided by Chechnya’s schools, and parents in the refugee camps consider the tent schools there to be a disgrace.

Chechnya is entirely unprepared for the coming winter. Buildings destroyed in the war have not been restored, due mainly to the fact that construction materials and money provided for rebuilding have been stolen by members of the Russian- backed government. Even the building materials (glass, brick, roofing material) that are donated by international organizations are sold at market prices.

Even in northern Chechnya (Naur, Shelkov and Nadterech regions), where there were no military operations, living conditions are very poor.  Residents complain that most humanitarian aid and assistance from the Russian government, including agricultural implements, are stolen by officials of the Russian-backed government.
As a result of the war, people are in dire need of medical and psychiatric care, but even for a fee there is little care available, and free care is non-existent. Inside and outside of Chechnya, there are tens of thousands of people, including children, who lost limbs in the war and need both medical care and financial support from the state, especially for artificial limbs. But almost none of these people get any aid from the government that crippled them.

The results of the survey indicate that medical care in Grozny and the rest of Chechnya is essentially nonexistent. There are several functioning hospitals and clinics in Grozny, but they operate in damaged buildings without the most basic medical equipment.  Doctors have not been paid in months.  Hospitals have neither medicines nor necessary equipment. The vast quantities of donated medicines in both Chechnya and Ingushetia are sold in private pharmacies at market prices.

The Russian media writes about widespread restoration work going on in Grozny and throughout Chechnya, but in fact Grozny is not being rebuilt and not a single residential building has been restored. The truth is that the Russian military is blowing up buildings in Grozny that might have been rebuilt and selling them for bricks.

Most people in Grozny have no sources of income and still do not receive humanitarian aid. The international organizations that work in Grozny primarily provide assistance to disabled people and the elderly. Pensions have been paid since August, as have the salaries of government workers, but these groups make up less than 15 percent of the city’s population. Humanitarian aid is available to only one third of people in the Republic.

Those living in refugee camps in Ingushetia are no better off.  Most of the tents are falling apart and are unsuitable for habitation. The tents are cold and do not keep out the wind. Refugees are kept alive only by the humanitarian assistance that just barely keeps them from starvation.

Nearly all survey respondents believe that only some of the aid donated to Chechnya and Ingushetia actually makes it to the people. Trucks of donated goods often cannot even reach Chechnya because they are detained at Russian checkpoints. Local distribution networks for assistance are unsatisfactory for 80 percent of respondents. They believe that distribution should be more organized, without being patronizing to those who have suffered so much from this war. Additionally, they believe humanitarian assistance should only be available to those who truly need it.

More than half of respondents believe that humanitarian aid should be in the form of money, but only on the condition that it be distributed by the foreign employees of international organizations.

The majority of respondents also suggest that it would be better to create job opportunities wherever possible than to have people become accustomed to an idle and demeaning way of life.

All respondents agreed on one thing: standards of living in Chechnya will only improve if the war ends and Russian troops withdraw from the Republic.