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Tuesday, July 27, 1999 Published at 16:16 GMT 17:16 UK

Business: The Economy

Waiting for winter

Elez Spahiu's vineyards have to be cut back to the root

By Nils Blythe reporting from Kosovo for BBC1's Business Breakfast

Clearing up the war damage has just begun for the villagers of Opterushe, for whom war started over a year ago.

Rebuilding the Balkans
They have just returned from the refugee camps to find their homes in ruins - destroyed, they believe by the Yugolsav army, helped by local Serbs.

Every single house has been badly damaged at the very least, and getting shelter before the icy winter begins in October is the villagers' biggest concern.

[ image: Without successful crops, villagers have no money to pay for reconstruction]
Without successful crops, villagers have no money to pay for reconstruction
Living in tents in the garden of their former home, the Spahiu family is typical of many, in this region where war started over a year ago.

"The houses round here have been completely destroyed. I don't think we can rebuild them," said Elez Spahiu.

"We haven't got building materials or electricity. I really don't think we can rebuild before winter comes," he added.

Crop concerns

Almost as big a concern as the loss of homes is the loss of livelihoods.

Nils Blythe reports on the challenge of rebuilding the agricultural economy
The fields near Opterushe are vineyards, but this year few grapes will be picked.

The failed crop means no money to help repair the houses.

[ image: This year, crops are far from bountiful]
This year, crops are far from bountiful
Elez Spahiu had not seen his vineyards for a year since the family fled the growing violence a year ago.

He now fears that the vines will have to be cut back to the root, and will not produce properly for two or three years - even assuming they can get hold of some pesticides and equipment.

"We need tractors, we need fuel - which we don't have - we need fertiliser ... everything that's needed for a vineyard will have to be imported and we don't have the money to do that," Mr Spahiu said.

Cash flow crippled

Back in the village, the manager of the region's wine-making company has come to find out about the crops.

[ image: And the local wine plant has no money to buy what has grown]
And the local wine plant has no money to buy what has grown
Agim Hasku would like to buy grapes in the autumn to get the business restarted.

But there is no cash with which to pay the farmers, even if they can salvage some grapes.

The wine-making plant turns out to be a huge industrial complex. It was not damaged during the war, but the wine stocks, the tractors and all the cash have been looted.

It is not clear how the business will start up again without new funds, though the manager insists that one way or another, it must.

"It will be a catastrophe if we can't get this company producing wine again quickly. In this region there are 60,000 people and 70% of them are completely dependent on wine-making for their livelihood," said Mr Hasku.

Long haul

Until people in Kosovo can support themselves, the United Nations Commission for Refugees will continue to organise food and basic shelter.

And the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees recognises that a long job lies ahead.

"I think that reconstruction programmes in post-conflict situations that I've seen in the last years are always slow. Reconstruction in the physical, house-rebuilding sense is slow," said UNHCR spokesman Dennis McNamara.

"In two to three years if things work in the way that we would hope the province should be on its feet and able to manage itself in some sort of successful way. But that's barring dramatic unforeseen developments which I guess one should never bar in the Balkans," he added.

In the villages of Kosovo, the immediate threat is the coming winter. And with so many houses and livelihoods destroyed it is going to be a bitter season for many people.

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