Impressive Rescue Effort in Bulgaria - Putting the Horse behind the Hearse
In the last two weeks Bulgaria was hit by the coldest and harshest winter in a decade with heavy snowfall, ice, and treacherous, largely uncleaned roads.
Many got stranded in snow drifts, in the dark and the cold, but the real tragedy happened when the waters of the Ivanovo dam in southeastern Bulgaria bust its wall and flooded the nearby village of Biser. The disaster took eight lives with two still missing. Many were left without homes and without the very little they owned.
The village did not have an alarm system – the Mayor warned people by running around and shouting. Had the wave come at night, the death toll would have been much higher.
As an impressive rescue effort was underway, it turned out that people from the region had warned authorities numerous times of the serious threat of flooding and the wall of the dam had a six-year-old crack everyone knew about and no one repaired. It also emerged that the ownership of Ivanovo and hundreds of other such facilities around the country is unclear.
In November 2011, the National Audit Office revealed that the Agriculture Ministry has no data whatsoever about dams, levees, irrigating pipes and other hydrology equipment and the later have not been inventoried and accounted for. Minister, Miroslav Naydenov, countered that he had warned the Prosecutor about this in 2010, but no one acted on his alert - the Prosecutor's Office is now finally investigating.
Despite the usual attempt of senior officials to put the blame on the previous Three-Way Coalition cabinet over all of these unresolved issues, one must admit that the reaction was quick – Prime Minister, Boyko Borisov, his Deputy, Interior Minister, Tsvetan Tsvetanov, and several other cabinet members immediately flew to the disaster location to monitor the rescue operation. Bulgarian EU Commissioner for Crisis Response, Kristalina Georgieva, and new President, Rosen Plevneliev, also traveled to the disaster-stricken area. A novel occurrence, considering their Three-Way Coalition predecessors, who could not even be found for comment in similar situations, or now-ex President, Georgi Parvanov, who on one such tragic day went hunting.
"It does not matter whose property the dam was and who was in charge of its maintenance, the most important is to help people know," Borisov and Naydenov both say.
It does, however, matter; it matters a great deal because if something was done as prevention - establishing who the owner is, for example, and holding them accountable for the cleaning of river beds, letting water out of the dams, repair and maintain them, the people in Biser would not have needed this large-scale, emergency effort now nor funding to rebuild nor the BGN 1 M donation from the ruling GERB's State subsidy.
The weather people warn the worse is yet to come when it gets warmer and the snow starts melting. Hopefully, Biser will be a lesson learned for the authorities.
Otherwise, Bulgaria will keep adding tallies to another one of its sad records – being the country in Europe that has declared the most national days of mourning in the last years.