No. 03/99 - November 1999 - Page 12

Getting Through the Winter Alive
(Text: Maj Grethe Oestern)

More than a third of the houses in Kosovo are destroyed or damaged, according to the UNHCR. Tens of thousands of civilians are in desperate need of a dry and warm place before winter. KFOR troops are bringing winterisation supplies to every corner of this province.

Pristina: Winter is now the major threat for a large proportion of Kosovos population. The goal of the ongoing winterization efforts in Kosovo is to enable those people to get through the winter months alive.

The leading agency in the enormous task of winterization in Kosovo is the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR). It is co-ordinating the work of a multitude of non-governmental organisations. KFOR too, is doing its best to support the UNHCR and to contribute to the collective winterization efforts. One of COMKFORs priorities is winterization, because it is an element of stability over the coming months.

"KFOR has been very helpful in delivering winterization items, especially in reaching some of the more remote and mountaineous areas of Kosovo. And KFOR will also be useful in the time to come, because this work will be going on all winter," says UNHCR spokesman Peter Kessler to the KFOR Chronicle.

"So much damage"

"The winterization work is going forward. But there is so much damage all over Kosovo, and not enough time. The scale of damage is huge," he says.

The UNHCR assesses that across Kosovo, some 120,000 houses are completely destroyed or damaged in 2,000 villages and towns. This represents more than a third of the houses in this small province, with the main supply lines cut.

"The Kosovo population is up against a great challenge, not only this winter, but for the next few years. We cannot reconstruct the houses, we can only provide rehabilitation assistance to help people through winter," says Kessler.

An important part of the winterization efforts is the distribution of tens of thousands of emergency shelter kits, which essentially consist of plastic sheeting and wood strips that are used to provide households with at least one dry room until sustainable reconstruction can begin next year.


KFORs main winterization contribution consists of transportation of such shelter kits and other winterisation materials, including the "Shelter Express" exercises, "Firewood Express" and operation "Village Hope." But winterization is so much more than shelter kits. It is a conglomerate of all aspects needed to get ready for winter. According to Chief CIMIC at KFOR HQ, Colonel George Borrey, KFOR soldiers have been and are helping with the distribution of tents, food, clothes, heaters and stoves, blankets, mattresses, sleeping bags, firewood, fuel and winter seeds. They have also been providing medical care, fixing water pumps, repairing and clearing roads, helping restore electricity and repaire power plants as well as rebuilding houses, schools and orphanages.

Dropping temperatures

"Every day, we are doing more and more," says Col Borrey.

The concerns associated with winterization increase with the dropping temperatures. Identified areas of concern receive emergency assistance daily. However, the needs still go far beyond what is distributed and even available. According to Col Borrey the winterization efforts are being hampered by the fact that the incoming flow of the winterization materials over the border to the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (1), the umbilical cord of the winterisation efforts into Kosovo, is not fast enough.

(1) Turkey recognizes the Republic of Macedonia with its constitutional name.

Airborne Winterization
(Photo: SSgt Vanessa Klutsch)

Potoc: An RAF Puma helicopter arrivs at the snow-covered mountain village carrying a net with winterization equipment.

A wheeled vehicle would never have been able to get up the snow-covered, muddy and steep road up to the village of Potoc. In order for the people in this village to get help, airborne transportation of the shelter kits was required.

In Potoc, winter had already made its presence felt for quite some time, when soldiers from the Queens Dragoon Guards (QDG) came flying in a KFOR Puma helicopter from Podujevo.

The helicopter was carrying a net with the equipment that enables the winterization of three damaged houses in the village; timber, stoves, doors, windows, carpets, plastic, rope and hand tools.

The fact that KFOR has to supply helicopters to enable the non-governmental organisations to reach people in the many isolated and remote villages in Kosovos mountains, and the amount of time and manpower that this requires, show the complexity of the winterization task in Kosovo.