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Yugoslavia / Kosovo: Seeds of hope washed away

18-05-2000 News Release 00/18

When the war ended last year and Shaban Zeneli and his family returned to their farm north of Pristina, he was prepared for months of hard work to give his family a new start. Their house had been destroyed, leaving him and his wife, their seven children and other relatives with only an outbuilding in which to shelter through the harsh winter.

Despite the hardships, life started to improve: his son began studies in Pristina, and the 1.8 hectares of land that have been in the family for 200 years were prepared for planting.

By the end of April, the large field close to the house had been planted with potatoes. But disaster struck on 2 May when a torrential downpour — the region's worst in living memory — left half a metre of hail and water on the ground, flooded the housing and forced the family to sleep in their truck.

" It was like the war all over again " , said Shaban. " We thought we'd have to flee to the hills again " .

When the water subsided three days later, the crops had been ruined and the family's well — their only source of drinking water — fouled with mud. Water had to be fetched from a spring a kilometre away.

The ICRC, which last year carried out emergency cleaning of some 6,000 wells in Kosovo, has launched an urgent programme to clean 460 wells in this low-lying area, which will benefit more than 9,500 persons. The engineer in charge, Bajram Krasnici, himself lives in the affected village and is aware of the people's needs. And when he turned up with his team to clean Shaban's  well — an operation lasting about an hour — the family was delighted.

" Although our main programme came to an end in February, we have the experience and expertise to deal quickly with problems like this " , said Geoff Allison, head of water and habitation programmes in Kosovo. " And, clearly, we couldn't stand by and do nothing in this situation " .