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Last Updated: Wednesday, 24 August 2005, 14:30 GMT 15:30 UK
Flood crisis hits Bulgaria hard
By Krasi Petrova

Flood damage

Violent storms and torrential rains have once again hit Bulgaria, causing the third wave of severe floods this summer.

Over the past three months, the bad weather has affected two million people and claimed the lives of at least 20, while 10,000 have lost their homes.

"There was so much water pouring from the sky, and an incredibly strong wind," said Yanka Apostolova, a reporter for a local newspaper in the town of Montana, in one of the worst affected regions.

"In the course of two hours, several of the main streets were flooded with water more than a metre high. Many animals drowned that night and an old man was killed by a lightning when he was trying to save his donkey."

The damage in the economy is estimated to be one billion leva ($625m; 346m) with huge amounts of farmland and vital infrastructure destroyed. A big part of the railway system is damaged, causing the Bulgarian national railway company to lose hundreds of thousands of leva every day.

Old systems

It is still not entirely clear what the longer-term consequences of the floods will be.

"The state is absolutely unprepared for a disaster of this size," explained Krasen Stanchev, from the Institute of Market Economy.

It shouldn't become a tradition for public expenses to be raised every time there is a natural disaster and people to expect help from the government
Georgy Stoev
Industry Watch

"There still is the old system of central planning in place, whereby all the decisions have to come from the top and the interests of those using the water resources are not protected. Since the 1970s until now, no money has been used to keep dykes and bridges in good condition.

"Now the government is doing the only thing it can - spend money from the state reserve."

While many communities were trying to cope with natural disasters, politicians were involved in weeks of post-election wrangling, leaving the country without a government for nearly two months.

Now, the new government wants to be seen to be doing its best in this time of crisis. In his speech to parliament earlier this week, Prime Minister Sergei Stanishev said helping those affected by the floods was his first priority.

Bulgarian army
The army is to work on reconstruction until October

A new ministry was created to deal specifically with natural disasters. All ministers were dispatched to the affected regions, including the culture minister, who is to check on the condition of several important historical monuments.

But these populist initiatives have offered little comfort to those who have lost everything. The 1,000 leva (US$625; 346) that each family receives, distributed from the reserve, can only cater for the most urgent needs of some of the victims.

According to economists, the money allocated to cover the flood damage will neither hurt the economy nor help victims recover their huge losses.

"As long as this is a one-off act of the state helping the victims, it's not going to affect the economy in a major way, but it's also not a solution for future disasters," said Georgy Stoev, from Industry Watch.

"It shouldn't become a tradition for public expenses to be raised every time there is a natural disaster and for people to expect help from the government. It is much better for both the economy and individuals if everyone has home insurance."


So acute is the sense of emergency that the army has been called in to help with some of the rebuilding work. According to the defence ministry plan, 900 military personnel and more than 150 units of transport and specialised technology will take part in a reconstruction project to last until October.

But Colonel Iohan Stoyanov, a press officer for the Ministry of Defence, points out that the army's resources are limited.

"The army can only provide personnel and a limited amount of money that it's going to save from military exercises. Some of the projects need financing that can only be agreed by the government."

The summer floods have highlighted how unprepared Bulgaria is to deal with a major disaster.

It is suffering from old infrastructure and the lack of a system to protect the interests of the population. Just as in the Communist days, they have to rely entirely on what the state gives them, which many think is too little, too late.

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