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Yugoslavia: International Community, Locals Looks At Reconstruction

This week sees two major international gatherings focused on reconstruction following the Kosovo crisis. On Friday, heads of state and government meet in Sarajevo to discuss efforts to rebuild economies throughout southeastern Europe. Today, the first international donors conference on Kosovo itself is beings held in Brussels. RFE/RL correspondent Lawrence Holland, reporting from Pristina, looks at the latest estimates on the cost of rebuilding and talks with a local economic analyst about Kosovos most pressing needs ...

Pristina, 28 July 1999 (RFE/RL) -- The weather in Kosovo this week is unseasonably cool. But Pristina-based international officials and Kosovars themselves are well aware that much colder weather is just a few months away. That realization is prompting a sense of urgency about reconstruction efforts in a land heavily damaged by NATO bombing and fighting between Serb forces and ethnic Albanians.

Today in Brussels, officials from more than 100 countries and international organizations held the first international donors conference for the reconstruction of Kosovo and pledged $2.1 billion in aid for Kosovo.

At the meeting -- co-sponsored by the European Commission (EC) and the World Bank -- the United States pledged $500 million; Japan pledged $200 million; Germany pledged $190 million; and Britain promised $145 million. Other nations and aid agencies also pledged proportional amounts.

The European Union will provide about $160 million this year and $532 million next year through the new European Agency for Reconstruction.

In Kosovo's capital, Pristina, today, the spokesman for the EC's Kosovo task force, Roy Dickinson, said the EU, the U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR), and the NATO-led peacekeeping force (KFOR) have all been gathering detailed statistics on the level of damage in Kosovo. He says this provided those who attended todays conference hard evidence with which to plan.

Dickinson went on to say that the Commissions observer mission had visited 1,300 villages across Kosovo and had found that some 120,000 homes are damaged. Of these, 78,000 are destroyed or damaged beyond repair. Officials with the UNHCR and KFOR say their estimates of damage to houses are consistent with the numbers compiled by the Commission.

Together with the rebuilding of housing, the first phase of reconstruction in Kosovo will include rebuilding or repairing the 500 schools and more than 200 medical facilities estimated to have been damaged. It will also include repairing facilities providing electricity and water to several hundred villages.

Dickinson urged the international community to respond to the reconstruction needs in Kosovo. Otherwise, he says, many Kosovars will face a very hard winter:

"Behind the cost [of reconstruction] lies a human reality that upwards of a million people this winter may not have adequate shelter in a region where the temperatures can reach minus 25 degrees Centigrade. A second humanitarian crisis [in Kosovo] is waiting to happen unless the donor community can mobilize significant resources."

Dickinson also emphasized that the effort will not mean the end of the international contribution to rebuilding Kosovo, but rather just the first phase. Other less vital but still important work will remain, including repairs to roads, bridges and public buildings. He says the final figure for reconstruction will be much higher.

Halim Gjergjizi is associated with the Pristina-based economic research institute, Riinvest. He told our correspondent that he is impressed by the response of the international community so far in helping to rebuild Kosovo. However, he says international officials are making a mistake by not utilizing local expertise:

"My impression is that the gentlemen from [the U.N. mission in Kosovo] and other international organizations are not very interested in consulting with local experts in order to achieve reconstruction and economic development."

He says the offices of international organizations in Kosovo appear to include largely technical staff. He fears key decisions will be made elsewhere.

In his work, Gjergjizi focuses in particular on the economics of rural communities. He points out that the majority of Kosovars live in these communities and that they were the most heavily devastated in the 17 months of violence preceding the withdrawal of Serb forces last month.

Therefore, he says the rebuilding of homes, schools and other infrastructure is particularly vital in the countryside, But he says the international community could also assist in revitalizing the economy in ways that might not occur to those unfamiliar with Kosovo, where small family farms are numerous:

"If the [international community] wants to help revive the economy in rural areas, they can help, in addition to rebuilding houses and emergency activity, by providing each family with two or three cows."

Gjergjizi notes that in addition to boosting rural incomes, there is currently a near-total lack of milk in Kosovo and that the distribution of cows would provide basic proteins vital to the diets of children.

He also points out that 70 percent of farm equipment was destroyed and that providing new tractors and combines is vital. He says another key need is for the provision of credit in rural communities -- something he says has not been available in the past.

Gjergjizi says it is important for the international community to learn from mistakes made in earlier reconstruction efforts:

"It will represent a big success for the international community and for Kosovo to learn from lessons in Bosnia and to avoid the mistakes made by the international community there."

Gjergjizi says reconstruction in Bosnia took too long, which he says led many Bosnians to abandon any effort to return to their original homes and communities.

Gjergjizi, the EU Commissions Dickinson and other observers say the people of Kosovo are demonstrating great energy in starting initial reconstruction efforts largely on their own. But they also agree that the scale of destruction means Kosovars will not be able to complete the work alone. Gjergjizi says it is crucial that the international community work quickly. Otherwise, he warns, Kosovars will begin to tire, and the energy and sense of hope needed to complete the reconstruction process will wane.