Dispatches from Chechnya No. 8

Survey Shows Chechens not Receiving Sufficient Aid

GROZNY, February 15, 2001 In January 2001, the Lam Center conducted a public opinion survey about humanitarian activities in Chechnya and Ingushetia. The Center surveyed 2000 Chechens residing in the cities of Grozny (and the surrounding towns of Gekalo, Kalinina and Prigorodnoye), Alkhan-kala, Komsomolskoye, and in refugee camps in Chechnya and Ingushetia.

In Grozny, according to the respondents, there are two organizations that work in all areas of the city: the Danish Refugee Council and the Russian Ministry of Emergency Situations (MES). The MES distributed humanitarian aid to residents of the Chechen capital between February and May of 2000, and the Danish Council has been distributing aid since August 2000. Additionally, the International Red Cross gives aid to elderly and disabled residents. Respondents living in the Grozny suburb of Kalinina also received humanitarian aid from the Czech organization People in Need. In some neighborhoods of Grozny, people received aid from Polish Humanitarian Action.

All respondents in Grozny, however, noted that humanitarian aid was distributed sporadically and did not provide sufficient food and clothing for their families.  Only 20 percent of respondents had any source of income besides humanitarian aid.  Most of those who had other sources of income were receiving help from relatives in the villages or were retired people collecting pensions.

While residents of Grozny receive sporadic assistance, residents of the suburbs of Gekalo and Prigorodnoye do not receive any aid from either humanitarian organizations or from government agencies.

Residents of the village of Alkhan-Kala, which was heavily bombed at the beginning of the war, reported that they have not received any humanitarian aid at all. Many villagers live in conditions of absolute poverty without any means of survival. Many civilians died in the attacks on Alkhan-kala, and many mothers have been left to raise five or six children alone. Such families are on the edge of starvation and have almost no clothing or shoes. The majority of respondents in Alkhan-kala had their homes damaged or destroyed during the war. Most live in crumbling houses and lack the means to make repairs. Those whose houses were completely destroyed live with relatives or in tents in refugee camps.

Former residents of the village of Komsomolskoye, which has been all but wiped off the face of the earth by Russian forces, live primarily in the three neighboring villages of Urus-Martan, Martan-Chu and Goiskoye. They have been receiving humanitarian aid only from the Danish Council for Refugees. They also note that aid is distributed sporadically and is not sufficient to meet their needs.  One third of respondents had a second source of income pensions for elderly family members.

Refugees living in camps in northern Chechnya receive humanitarian aid from the Danish Refugee Council, the Russian MES, the International Red Cross, and from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). But they too reported that the aid is insufficient, and that it is not distributed regularly.

Chechen refugees living in camps around the village of Aki-Yurt have been receiving aid not only from the Danish Council and the Red Cross, but also from the Belgian NGO Doctors Without Borders. But they are still experiencing serious shortages of food and clothing.

People in the villages of Achkhoi-Martan and Samashki do not receive any humanitarian aid and do not know anything about the work of humanitarian organizations. The majority of respondents live on the food they grow in small gardens. It is difficult, however, to grow crops in a war zone because of the dangers from periodic shelling and from land mines around villages. Only 15 percent of those surveyed were employed, and most of those who were employed were paid irregularly.

Chechen refugees living in Ingushetia receive humanitarian aid from the Danish Council and the Red Cross. Some refugees, however, receive no aid at all, partly due to the difficulty in registering for assistance and receiving it to register or to be given food or clothing, one must stand in line for hours.

None of those surveyed, including both residents of Chechnya and refugees, have access to free medical care or medicines.

Almost 99 percent of respondents had their homes damaged or destroyed during the war (almost 35 percent lost their homes during the first war and have received no compensation for them). The homes of about 30 percent of respondents were damaged only partially that is, the roof or the walls fell in, or the framework was damaged, or property was burnt. Half of these people continue to live in their damaged homes, one quarter live with relatives, and one quarter live in abandoned apartments.

Nearly 99 percent of respondents in Komsomolskoye had their homes completely destroyed and lost all of their property, including appliances, agricultural equipment and livestock. Most now live with friends and relatives. A small percentage live in tents in the nearby village of Karabulak, and a very few rent private apartments (most of these are people who fled Komsomolskoye at the very beginning of the war).

The refugee camps in northern Chechnya and Ingushetia are home primarily to refugees from Grozny.  Most of them have lost their homes and all of their personal property. Even if the war ends, they will have nowhere to go.

Despite the fact that the number of international organizations working in the region has increased significantly, the humanitarian situation in the Chechen Republic and in the refugee camps in Ingushetia is still characterized by extreme suffering. It is absolutely necessary to take immediate steps towards increasing the assistance available to people who are barely able to survive. The following steps towards improving the effectiveness of humanitarian aid distribution were suggested by the Chechen citizens who participated in the survey:

1. Increasing the number of distribution points.

2. Creating a system of public monitoring and control of the distribution of humanitarian aid

3. Distributing assistance door-to-door in places where this is possible, such as in villages.

4. Providing monetary assistance instead of food and clothing.

5. Creating a single database of residents of Chechnya and refugees living in Ingushetia who would then have access to all types of humanitarian aid given out in the region.

6. Distributing aid on a regular schedule in accordance with the needs of the recipients.

7. Eliminating middlemen from the process of aid distribution.

8. Developing a more humane system for distributing (in most cases, recipients must stand in line for hours in cold and heat to receive assistance).

9. Creating a unified public center for coordinating humanitarian aid which would be run by representatives of international organizations and local officials, as well as by local NGOs and community leaders.