Kosovo Dealing with the Past
Report by Bev Storer, 3rd June 2006
Hope and Aid Direct
Hope and Aid Direct were established in 1999. It's founders had undertaken previous trips to the Balkans with the charity 'Convoy of Hope' but started up on their own, to mould a charity that would help all persons in need, despite their ethnicity and location, and to give aid directly to those in need, rather than leaving it in a warehouse for later distribution.
Hope and Aid Direct's current work is, on the whole, immediate humanitarian aid relief; the charity gives aid to those in greatest need that cannot afford to buy things, or require help to improve their lives, however, some of the work is sustainable in that the charity also takes items that the people cannot obtain in country, or items to finish off previously started projects. For example eighteen months ago we were asked to visit a school. It was beautiful from the outside and had been constructed by USAID two years prior to our visit. But inside they had nothing and therefore the building stood empty. We provided school equipment, stationary, and musical instruments in order to encourage children to attend the school. Teachers were willing to volunteer their time even though no wage could be paid.
Hope and Aid Direct are currently looking at a nutrition programme to try and improve the diet of those in greatest poverty and to provide a sustainable programme and difference to their lives. As we are all volunteers this is taking time to set up, but progress is being made. The poverty is widespread in Kosovo, although we hear little about the needs through the media. The World Bank's Poverty Assessment states that 37% of the population is classified as 'poor' living on less than $2 per day. 15% are below the extreme (food) poverty line of $1 per day. Children, elderly, female-headed households, the disabled, the unemployed, precarious job holders, residents of secondary cities and non-Serb ethnic minorities (such as Roma and Slav Muslims) are all groups at most risk in terms of poverty.
Hope and Aid Direct's Easter 2006 mission to Kosovo was Hope and Aid Direct's 9th trip to Kosovo. Previous convoys have included Bosnia, Croatia and Serbia. The charity has also helped to get a container of aid sent to Zambia to help schools there, and a container of food was sent immediately after the Tsunami struck earlier this year to Sri Lanka. A convoy is currently en-route to Romania in order to assist with the state of emergency as a result of the flooded banks of the River Danube. By 2 May 14,000 people had been evacuated to makeshift camps in 156 localities and 2,500 homes had been submerged, 651 having collapsed completely. 82,000 hectares of agricultural land has been lost to the floods, resulting in entire wheat and soy crop destruction.
As everyone involved is a volunteer, missions to Kosovo are limited to two convoys per year, however, additional trips are undertaken for particular projects if needed and constant planning for the next trip begins pretty much as soon as we return to England, hence the capability for a quick response to the situation in Romania.
In-country, Hope and Aid Direct works with both local (LNGOs) and international Non Governmental Organisations (INGOs); these are our partners for the work which is undertaken, and they provide sponsorship and support letters which are required to enter the country. Hope and Aid Direct's partners on the ground work with vulnerable people and have documented lists of families who require help and also institutions which need assistance. Prior to each trip, our partners provide us with a 'wish list'. This is circulated amongst the team and each crew (i.e. 2/3 persons per lorry) works to obtain items on the list that are needed in-country and which will be most beneficial to our recipients; past convoys have included the transportation of complete dental surgeries, various items of medical equipment to include ultra-sound machines, incubation units, and specialist equipment for the handicapped, tables, chairs, and rolling blackboards to fit out classrooms in schools, and on this last trip an Ambulance for a town that couldn't afford one.
In addition, our normal and basic food stuffs are collected, together with toiletries, sanitary items, bedding, clothing, household equipment, and tools which are used for household and Collective Centre drops.
Hope and Aid Direct also take on special projects e.g. the donation of Ambulances, a Fire Engine on this last trip, and other projects that individuals feel strongly about and wish to continue to support after visiting, i.e. Skenderaj Collective Centre.
Kosovo - background
Prior to 1991, the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY) was made up of six constituent republics (Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia, Croatia, Slovenia and Bosnia & Herzegovina and two autonomous provinces of Serbia and Vojvodina (Kosovo was an autonomous province of Serbia). Kosovo had similar rights to the republics, despite the fact that it was part of the Republic of Serbia.
As Yugoslavia broke apart, the international community recognised only the claims to statehood from the actual republics, thus not including Kosovo. Years of rising tensions between a majority ethnic Albanian population and minority Serbs led to armed resistance by early 1998. Battles between Kosovo Liberation Army (UCK) guerrillas and Serb police forces claimed a steadily growing death toll. The pressure on the international community to take action grew, and a NATO cease-fire was negotiated in October 1998. Yugoslavia was forced under pressure to partially withdraw its forces from Kosovo.
Fighting continued as Serbs sought to re-establish control over its territory. An alleged massacre by Serb security forces in the village of Racak in January 1999 prompted NATO intervention. Talks took place at Rabouillet in France and NATO launched air strikes against Yugoslavia in order to drive Serbs from Kosovo. Air strikes began on the 24 March and lead to massive displacement of Kosovo Albanians and a humanitarian emergency. It was expected to last three days, but instead lasted eleven weeks. During this time over 450,000 fled to Albania and 400,000 people fled to Macedonia.
In June 1999 the province was placed under the authority of the United Nations Interim Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK). The arrival of NATO troops led to Serbian withdrawal.
Those who returned to Kosovo found abandoned villages, looted homes and businesses, and burnt out shells of buildings. The people were often highly traumatised by not only months of violence, but decades of oppression and discrimination that they had endured under Serbian rule. The rapid return of the refugees caused its own humanitarian and security problems, resulting in pressures for shelter and food. The returning Albanians killed a significant number of Serbs and Roma and other minorities who were accused of Serb collaboration, having remained in Kosovo. Looting, arson, forced expulsion, killing and abduction became a daily occurrence. (HRW Report 10 (D), 1999 "Abuses Against Serbs and Roma in the New Kosovo" & OSCE H.R. Report "As Seen As Told".)
The Current Situation in Kosovo
"15% of the population (c 300,000) survive on no more than bread and tea/water". (Doctor Luli, UMCOR, 2004)
The current situation is not one of encouragement, more probably one of despair, as there is, currently, no future to be seen economically or industrially in the region. The situation remains tense and everyone awaits the decision on whether Kosovo will gain it's independence and be recognised as a country, not part of Serbia and Montenegro. Needless to say whichever way the decision is made, not everyone will be happy, which will bring potential violence to the country.
Although many new buildings have been constructed, there is still a huge unemployment problem, lack of inward economic investment, on-going ethnic divide, and enormous poverty. Since 2000, donor grants have fallen by 70% and will most likely continue to decline. Prospects for income growth will largely depend on a number of related factors (i) maintenance of peace and security, (ii) the speed of resolving Kosovo's legal status; and (iii) the implementation of a set of reforms that promote private sector led growth. The latter includes the reforms in power and mining sectors, and the support of agro-processing and commercial farming (World Bank Poverty Assessment Report, June 16th, 2005).
Kosovo is the poorest economy in the Balkans and extreme poverty is extremely high among children and the elderly. Female Headed Households only account for 4.7% of all households but (28%) of those are at risk of extreme poverty. It is reported that Ferizaj, Mitrovica and Peja are all regions of extreme poverty and are all regions that Hope and Aid Direct visits regularly.
The unemployment rate in Kosovo is extremely high. It is hard to get clear confirmed figures. We were told that it currently stands at 40%. However, last year IRIN stated that the working age population is 1 million, yet those employed number only 325,000 (13.5%) and if those who work their own land in subsistence farming are excluded, the total number employed is just 147,000 i.e. just 6.1% of the population.
Many livelihoods systems are based on individual agricultural production of fruit trees, staple foods (carbohydrates), vegetables, some animals (providing milk and home production of cheese). The only commodities which are regularly purchased are oil, salt and sugar. However, following the war many people have been forced to move from their rural homelands into urban areas or IDP camps without access to their usual livelihood systems, also there was a great loss in tools, therefore Hope and Aid Direct take out various tools including agricultural equipment.
Employment and Health Capabilities in the region have also been devastated since the war. In a majority of cases, children are separated ethnically when attending school. The Albanian Children may go in the morning and the Serb children in the afternoon. Smaller minorities such as Roma do not have the chance to attend school, unless something is arranged for them on their camps (nearly all Roma live in IDP (internally displaced persons) camps with assistance from International Aid Agencies, if they are lucky.
Recent studies show that only 73% of children aged between 7 - 15 years completed primary school education in 2001. In 2001 and 2002, the ratio of girls to boys in primary was 0.92%. An average wage for a teacher is 120 Euros per month.