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Yugoslavia: U.S. Agency Promises Needy Kosovars Shelter By Winter

A top U.S. aid official says humanitarian relief efforts are right on target for Kosovars whose homes were damaged or destroyed during the Kosovo conflict. USAID Assistant Administrator Hugh Parmer says everyone needing shelter in Kosovo will have a place to stay this winter.

Washington, 11 November 1999 (RFE/RL) -- A senior U.S. aid official says the nearly 300,000 Kosovars whose homes were damaged or destroyed during the Kosovo crisis and subsequent NATO air campaign will have adequate shelter this winter.

Hugh Parmer, assistant administrator for U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), said that in all 49,000 homes were destroyed during the Serbian crackdown on Kosovo and in the course of the bombing campaign when Serbs were torching ethnic Albanian homes.

USAID is a federal agency that responds to international disasters ranging from earthquakes to refugees.

Parmer told a Washington news conference yesterday (Wednesday) that all needy Kosovars would be provided a place to stay by Dec. 15. Parmer said his agency's objective is to give every family one warm and dry room to spend the winter nights.

Parmer said that while 240,000 dwellings survived the war unscathed, 76,000 were damaged but are repairable. The U.S. aid agency estimates there were 365,000 Kosovo dwellings prior to the war.

Parmer said that besides providing collective shelters and repairing the damaged homes, the USAID has an incentive for those who have homes and invite in guest families: the agency will give them the materials to build a new roof.

"These people will have to take in guest families in order to complete the program which will result in there being no one for whom shelter is not provided in Kosovo."

Parmer said many people are simply taking in members of their extended family.

The official said the relief agency is working in coordination with other agencies, such as the Commission for Refugees, in supplying food and shelter. He said their reports are similarly successful.

Parmer said that while the agency has not been involved in shelter needs before, it is following the "warm, dry room model," arising from the Bosnia conflict.

He stressed that the American agency was not attempting to rebuild the damaged homes to their prewar condition. Key to the rebuilding of the homes are warm, dry kits. These are made primarily of wood, plastic, insulation and doors. Parmer said the kits will be completely distributed by Dec. 1.

Parmer said that while no problems have occurred since USAID and other agencies have been supplying food and materials, for a time some supply lines were problematic. On the Macedonia border, for instance, trucks would be backed up for kilometers. But now, much of the supplies reach the Kosovars by train.

"As of today, all of the materials in the dry, warm kits that USAID has undertaken have arrived in Kosovo."

It was also reported that the UN High Commissioner for Refugees is running into problems in trying to ship shelter supplies and food aid through Macedonia. The refugee agency said humanitarian traffic must join the normal line for commercial trucks and is being taxed $110 for each vehicle crossing into Kosovo.

Parmer said a number of Kosovars have come up with supplies of their own and fixed their homes without the help of USAID and the other agencies.

He said that there may be people in "uncomfortable situations" between now and Dec. 15 and said he was thankful no severe weather has happened yet. And, he said, there will be those people, whose homes were destroyed, who will continue to stay on their own property no matter what.

USAID officials said other priorities in the humanitarian efforts have been reopening schools to help provide some normalcy for the children as well as health care to prevent the spread of disease.