Calling international rescue: Joanna Gibbon reports on how money raised by the 'Independent' Bosnia appeal is being put to use

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The Independent Culture
WITH the war in former Yugoslavia changing pace yet again during the last few days, humanitarian aid agencies like Care (International) also have to be alert for signs of change. Care's main project so far has been operating its truck convoy from Croatia into central Bosnia and, after all the frustrations of the winter, access has greatly improved during the last two months.

'Even though the roads are in a poor state, it is safe enough to mend them. There are fewer checkpoints, so travelling is much faster,' says Sue Davison, Care's Bosnia project officer. Of Care's 49,000 food parcels for mothers with children aged under five, in both the Tuzla region and Mostar, just under one-fifth has yet to be delivered in Bosnia. Contributions from the Independent's Bosnia Appeal have been spent on this part of Care's operation.

Care's 22-strong truck convoy was established to transport its own supplies and aid for other agencies, particularly the small ones. 'We wanted to co-ordinate it so that it was all under one umbrella, to prevent lots of little trucks shooting up mountains and getting stuck all the time,' explains Ms Davison. Each charity pays a nominal fee to Care for this service. Others, like Oxfam, have a truck permanently in the convoy, dedicated to carrying their own aid supplies.

Care is well aware that a truck convoy is not exactly the most fascinating aspect of aid work, but it is vitally important for all those who benefit. It can also be highly dangerous - because the roads are so bad the trucks take more of a battering: breaking down can be disastrous, even though there is always a mechanic on board. 'You cannot afford to break down because you delay the whole convoy. If you have to leave the truck with its load you risk having it stolen,' explains Ms Davison.

Taking goods into Mostar has been a tortuous business. As the security situation worsened, and the bridge connecting the east and west sides of the city was destroyed, the convoy had to cross the river Neretva in Croatia and drive up the east side of the river to reach the city. Delivering to west Mostar involved returning to Croatia by the same route, crossing the river and driving up the west side. 'We couldn't deliver to the same city in the same day,' says Ms Davison.

Even though the fleet is dealing with emergency aid, Care is traditionally a long-term development organisation and has begun a variety of such projects within former Yugoslavia. If the peace process continues, then these programmes will increase. 'We have got to think of the future now and look at what the country needs,' says Patrick Sayer, Care's overseas director, who is about to visit workers in Croatia and Bosnia to look at infrastructure schemes - building and water - as well as educational and psycho

social projects.

Care has recently started two different schemes in Sarajevo. It has installed 20 solar-powered water purification units in the northern suburbs of the city. 'I questioned whether they would work in the winter but they can - up to six to seven hours per day,' says Ms Davison. The water purifiers have been placed in shallow wells, about 10 metres deep, which have been used heavily by the inhabitants of Sarajevo when their conventional water supplies collapsed. A further 20 solar-powered filters will be installed in villages north of Sarajevo, near the frontline. About 30,000 people will benefit from these systems.

Many of the wells have been contaminated, but all the inhabitants have been very careful about taking precautions such as boiling the water, says Mr Sayer. 'The low winter temperatures have helped, but mainly people understand about contaminated water and have somehow managed in spite of terrible problems. That is one of the advantages of working in a country like former Yugoslavia,' he says. (Care is also working in Kabul, Afghanistan, where - as warmer spring weather arrives - open sewers amongst a displaced population of 50,000 are threatening to become a major public health hazard).

During the last two months, Care has started two psycho-social programmes for elderly people in Sarajevo and Senica. Its team - comprising a doctor, a social worker, a psychiatric nurse and a handyman - aims to visit elderly people with no relatives nearby. Many of them did not want to leave their homes when the war began and have consequently become isolated and unwell.

'Imagine how lonely they have been in those high-rise flats in Sarajevo, sitting up there and never coming down,' says Ms Davison. The project, which is aiming to use local doctors and nurses - there are many highly skilled people needing jobs - is being run in co- operation with the agency Help Age International.

Since last August, Care has been managing a small refugee camp in Rasljani, northern Bosnia, of 250 people - mostly Bosnian Muslims but some Bosnian Serbs - for the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR). Care maintains a presence and calms down any friction internally, and also between the camp and the local townsfolk. This is not unusual - at many towns with collective camps there is jealousy, often based on ill-founded rumour, that the refugees are getting a better deal than everyone else.

Apparently at Rasljani the locals think the refugees are receiving more food than they are: in fact, they are receiving the normal UNHCR ration. But if any camp receives a donation then it is much more difficult. 'It can be very tricky because sometimes donations are given in a restricted way. But usually if a camp receives a huge stock of food then it is as well to divide it so that the refugees get some and the rest goes to the local market, which brings down local prices and gives people equal access to resources,' says Mr Sayer.

Two other Care programmes are about to begin: repairing damaged buildings for local authorities and then run them for specific purposes. The first is a disused primary school in Ljubuski in Herzegovina, which is to be a day-care centre for displaced mothers and children; it will provide educational, recreational and counselling facilities.

At Sibenik, on the Dalmatian coast in Croatia, two properties owned by the local Office of Displaced Persons and Refugees are being repaired, one to accommodate 100 children and one for 75 elderly people. Both groups are psychologically disturbed and highly disruptive in their present accommodation. Care will manage the projects for about six months, before handing them back into the care of the local authorities.

In such a fluctuating atmosphere how encouraged does the Care team feel? Mr Sayer says he is cautiously optimistic that the peace process will continue; Ms Davison is not so sure: 'I am surprised at how quickly everything has changed and improved in central Bosnia, it is a bit disturbing.'

Either way - with their emergency trucking operation or with the long-term projects - the Care team look like they will be busy for quite some time.

(Photograph omitted)