Visits within Russia

4 august, 2010 15:48

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin chairs a meeting on measures being taken to fight wildfires and help people who have been affected in Voronezh Region

“All necessary decisions on relief work in the wake of this natural disaster have been taken, the regions have received the funds and it is crucial now to organise this work accurately and efficiently. This relates to federal, regional and local authorities. We need well-coordinated joint efforts and tight control both in terms of construction schedule and quality.”
Vladimir Putin
At a meeting on measures being taken to fight wildfires and help people who have been affected in Voronezh Region

During the meeting Vladimir Putin called upon the governors of regions affected by wildfires to provide full information to the special government commissions involved in examining the efficiency of recovery work following the natural disaster. The Prime Minister stressed that these commissions will not stop working until the effects of the fires have been entirely mitigated, and everyone left homeless in the fires is housed.

Vladimir Putin also told the governors to set up, within two days, special information centres - hot lines for people to receive full information on all urgent issues.

The Prime Minister also requested that when restoring buildings make them look as they did before, and not limit the floor space by some norms.

Mr Putin added that in addition to broadcasts from the video cameras installed at construction sites, the regional plans for repairing the houses of those affected will be available on the internet. Thus people will be able to compare footage from the construction site with the local authorities' plans.

The Prime Minister also encouraged the Russian political parties to take part in rendering aid to all those who have suffered as a result of the wildfires.

Transcript of the beginning of the meeting:

Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Today we will consider the wildfire situation in the Voronezh Region, but everything we will discuss here today is clearly relevant to every Russian region affected by the fires. I hope what we say here in Voronezh will be heard by our colleagues in all regions of Russia that have been affected.

The wildfire situation in Russia is stable but remains acute and dangerous. Therefore, as you know, a number of measures are being taken, including organisational ones. Yesterday I signed a government resolution on state fire inspections in the forests. Those employed in state forests and parks under regional jurisdiction will receive broader powers: those of fire inspectors.

Given the gravity of the situation, we have decided to deploy ad hoc commissions to regions most-affected by the fires. These commissions will supervise the organisation of fire fighting and relief efforts. They will continue working until the consequences of these fires have been completely mitigated and everyone left homeless has received new housing.

I would like to draw the attention of those present, and all the governors, to the fact that these commissions should have access to full information about the situation, without anything being omitted. I would like to emphasise that the work of these commissions is aimed at giving the regions the broadest support in fighting the wildfires and in their relief efforts.

In total, these fires have destroyed about 2,000 homes across the country, leaving almost 4,000 people homeless. Here in the Voronezh Region over 200 homes have burnt to the ground. There have been fatalities, including among rescue teams and fire fighters. Vasily Galkin, a commander of the fire brigade died fighting wildfires in the village of Kamenno-Verkhovka.

In recent days I have been working with the heads of Russia's regions to formulate a comprehensive package of measures to help those who have lost their homes and property in the fires. As I have already said, all those who have suffered in these fires must be provided with new housing by November 1, and compensation must be made available immediately. We have set aside federal funds for it. The Ministry of Finance has reported that a total of 5 billion roubles have been transferred to Russia's regions, including 1.73 billion roubles to the Voronezh Region.

In addition, we need to move quickly in addressing the issue of recovering documents destroyed by the fires, including passports, pension certificates, and ownership certificates, so that people do not experience any problems as a result of their loss.

Here, today in Voronezh, I saw how this work has been organised. I would like to thank everyone responsible for organising this work in such an intelligent fashion, so sensitive to people's needs.

At the same time, we need to finish verifying the lists of affected families. And most importantly, both for Voronezh and other Russian regions that have been hit by this natural disaster, we need to settle one crucial issue - when the builders will start building new houses.

A few other important issues in conclusion. In those places where this has not yet been done, it is I think necessary for special information centres and telephone hotlines to be set up, to which people can turn for all the necessary information, including complete information about receiving compensation, recovering their documents and housing construction. I ask the governors to organise this within two days.

Second, I said yesterday that we have decided to install video surveillance cameras at all construction sites. The Ministry of Communication and Mass Media is to report by the end of the day on how this work will be organised and will get down to it. All the information about the status of the construction works will be available in real time for the government's supervisory bodies and for me personally. Any interference with the video cameras' transmission will be considered an emergency and a government commission will be dispatched to the construction site. Regional housing construction schedules will also be uploaded onto the internet so that people can compare the footage from the construction site with the regional authorities' plans.

Third, all necessary decisions on relief work in the wake of this natural disaster have been taken, the regions have received the funds and it is crucial now, as I have already said, to organise this work accurately and efficiently. This relates to federal, regional and local authorities. We need well-coordinated joint efforts and tight control both in terms of construction schedule and quality.

Mr Gordeyev (addressing Governor of the Voronezh Region Alexei Gordeyev), now you have the floor.

Alexei Gordeyev: Thank you, Mr Prime Minister.

Mr Prime Minister, gentlemen,

Here's a brief background. The Voronezh Region meteorological centre has only once recorded a temperature of +42°C, in 1942, and then only in several parts of the region for a few days. As for this year, with this abnormally hot and dry weather across the Voronezh Region, it is a first such heatwave in the history of meteorology. It has come as a terrible disaster for our agriculture and forestry.

So far 718 wildfires have been recorded in the Voronezh Region covering an area of 16,000 hectares of which some 10,000 hectares were destroyed by crown fires which ravaged the forests. The main fires have broken out in several districts of Voronezh and Novy Voronezh - which sets specific objectives for us - as well as in the Verkhny Mamon District.

However, the situation has now stabilised. The Emergencies Ministry will report back on the current situation today. Experts are working to assess the extent of the damage. The main tragedy, as you said, is that five people died in the fires, including one fire-fighting officer on duty. At the same time, over 6,000 people were rescued and evacuated from the fire zones.

We took the decision to close all children's summer camps temporarily, relocating about 9,000 children from the hazardous areas. And I would like to note that the rescue operations were organised and carried out very effectively, as you had the saw for yourself while speaking with the Emergencies Ministry rescue crews today, Mr Prime Minister.

As of today, 359 houses have been damaged in the fires, with 237 houses completely destroyed. A total of 249 families, or 519 people, have lost their homes in the fires; 127 people have lost their summer-houses.

Almost all people affected by the fires have received compensation payments of 10,000 roubles, as stipulated by the government directive. In addition to this, I have instructed the municipal authorities to pay everyone affected by the fires another 10,000 roubles to cover their immediate needs.

We have transferred funds to the municipalities to compensate people for the property they have lost. Mr Prime Minister, I reported to you that we received all federal budget funds in full, 1.73 billion roubles. This money is in our account already. Each person who has lost property in the fires will receive 200,000 roubles - 100,000 each from the federal and regional budgets. These funds were transferred already on August 2 thanks to the prompt work of Sberbank, which simplified the procedure to open an account. We have already started depositing money in people's accounts, and are planning to finish it this week.

The government of the Voronezh Region has begun to implement your instruction to provide housing for all those left homeless by the fires by November 1 this year. In a follow-up to the governor's executive order, we have set up all necessary centres, commissions and working groups in municipalities and across the region as a whole. They comprise regional and municipal officials, as well as representatives of all branches of federal executive bodies in our region, acting as external advisors. They have carried out initial analysis of compensation schemes suggested by those who have lost their homes in the fires. Most people suggest restoring their destroyed housing. We have drawn up all documents needed for this work with people who have suffered. I'd like to thank the Ministry of Regional Development for giving us round-the-clock consultations on these issues.

We're in close contact with the relevant federal executive bodies and are cooperating to issue people with copies of documents they have lost in the fires as soon as possible. You saw today how this work is being organised. The officials representing the federal executive bodies in our region are fully appraised of this situation.

In accordance with government instructions, we have developed a programme to help those who have lost their homes. Some houses will be repaired, and some rebuilt. Today we'll finish drawing up a schedule by district to launch preparations for housing construction. Yesterday we selected the sites to be redeveloped. They are being cleared up, and we're selecting contractors and double-checking the list of people affected by fires.

We are working with representatives of the Department of the Interior and the Emergencies Ministry, on an arrangement for the commission's operations at the municipal level, taking into account the fact that some people were not registered as resident, in addition to a number of other nuances.

Today we distinguish between four categories of those affected. First, there are those who have completely lost their homes. The second is the category of people whose homes can be restored through repairs; in other words, their buildings are intact to some degree. The third is people who have lost their farm buildings, and they, unfortunately, bring these issues to us. And the fourth category includes those who have lost their dachas. We are working with all of them in appropriate ways.

Mr Putin, I do not know to what extent we really need to talk in detail about the arrangements that we are developing. At a cabinet meeting with you, we considered this issue; we granted people who have lost their homes the right to choose. They have the option of a centralised construction process, which is certainly more preferable for us, as there will be strict control of compliance with quality standards and meeting the November 1 deadline. But in some cases, where people demand compensation, we are willing to provide compensation according to the area in square metres of the housing lost, up to two million roubles. And they can spend this money on building the house themselves, or we can provide assistance in acquiring housing on the secondary market, either apartments or houses.

Vladimir Putin: You have heard today that some elderly people have asked about the possibility of purchasing flats on the secondary market, and this must be done.

Alexei Gordeyev: We will move in that direction. Yes. Second, regarding construction, it will be based on the calculation of the area, in square meters, of housing lost. At the same time, we have taken the decision, and you gave such a recommendation, that where the social regulations for an individual are not being observed, then we will respectively increase support according to the regulations and build housing that is in full compliance with all the requirements, and people will have normal modern housing.

Vladimir Putin: In other words, new housing will be built according to standards, on the basis of these health and safety standards? A monetary compensation for actual...

Alexei Gordeyev: Yes. Money for actual losses incurred. No more than two million roubles for any such actual loss. We have verified all of this.

As for the repair and restoration of housing that can be restored, we are drawing up reports and, accordingly, we will move this work forward. We will take the same approach when building farms, we will work on the cases that are not registered, respectively, using the local councils and involving action groups comprising affected people. Incidentally, action groups in the municipalities are included in the commission's work, to enable them to develop a uniform approach and implement simultaneous monitoring.

We have also decided that, after the construction workers start working, if people want, they can work together with the construction workers and monitor their work at the same time.

Vladimir Putin: That's right.

Alexei Gordeyev: As for dacha (summer house) properties, we will also restore and renovate them based on actual damage, but up to no more than 40 square metres. If people ask for compensation, then, and we have done the calculations, this compensation is not to exceed 500,000 roubles. In our view, this is fully justified economically and socially.

Vladimir Putin: I don't understand, 500,000 roubles for what?

Alexei Gordeyev: There are dacha properties here that have burnt down. We decided that where there has been an actual loss, in square meters, of housing, we will restore it, but we will limit it to no more than 40 square metres.

Vladimir Putin: No, if their little house was more than 40 square metres in size, we need to rebuild the house that was there before.

Alexei Gordeyev: Mr Putin, some of the cottages there belong to people who are, let's say, well-off....

Vladimir Putin: Listen. Those people who are well-off, those local oligarchs and all the officials who got their money from who knows where to build themselves huge houses, they will get their two million just like everyone else. Dacha houses should be rebuilt not to a 40-metre limit, but to whatever size they were before. For instance, if it was 50 square metres, then it should be 50.

Alexei Gordeyev: Well, we will review the regulations. We considered it, basically, most dachas here were 25, 30, 35 square metres in size. We will review it. It's just there are such privileged people...

Vladimir Putin: Well, the privileged should be paid no less compensation than the others, and the dacha buildings should be renovated to the size they were before, no less.

Alexei Gordeyev: Today, in accordance with your instructions, we made the decision to install video cameras in the two villages hit hardest by the fires. My understanding is that this installation will begin today. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the governors of the Irkutsk, Leningrad, Rostov, Orenburg, and Krasnodar Regions for their help, including in placing children at their children's summer camps in August. A group of State Duma members from the Voronezh Region agreed to cover the children's transportation expenses. In addition, some youth organisations and political parties have volunteered to help people and protect forests.

Vladimir Putin: Which youth organisations?

Alexei Gordeyev: Specifically, Molodaya Gvardiya (Young Guard), United Russia, as well our youth parliament, or youth government. These young people are involved in the general effort. These organisations have volunteered their help.

We have also decided to set up volunteer units in all villages. People are working around the clock in coordination with the police and the Emergencies Ministry. Their task is to protect the forest and prevent access by unauthorised people and equipment to prevent new fires.

That concludes my report, thank you.

Vladimir Putin: Mr Gordeyev, when will the builders start working on the construction sites?

Alexei Gordeyev: Mr Putin, the builders are ready to start work. At this stage, we need to receive formal statements from the people affected with their specific requests and action plans. We should get this done in the next couple of days.

Vladimir Putin: Mr Gordeyev, I understand that a lot needs to be done before work starts, including the coordination with the affected people. I am not asking how you are planning to deal with these issues. My question is when the work will get under way.

Alexei Gordeyev: The equipment arrived yesterday and we are already cleaning up ...

Vladimir Putin: In other words, work has already begun?

Alexei Gordeyev: Yes, it is underway. We are cleaning up the construction sites so that we could start building houses.

Vladimir Putin: Does anybody have other questions? No?

I have visited several sites to see how the firefighters and emergency workers are working. And I must say they are working under extremely difficult conditions, pushing themselves to their limits. I want to thank everyone who has been and who continues to be involved in this work. I would like to stress that both the municipal and regional authorities have been very effective in their work. We visited a hospital and had the opportunity to witness how well the monitoring of the situation and hospital evacuation was organised. The evacuation of people from holiday resorts was organised just as efficiently and promptly. Hundreds and hundreds of people were evacuated quickly, efficiently, and without any losses.

Once again I would like to stress that the situation remains difficult and volatile. Therefore, under no circumstances can we afford to lessen the intensity of our focus on this problem or ease our efforts to combat this natural disaster here in Voronezh, or in any other region of the country.

And finally, there is something else I would like to mention. While we were visiting sites today, I did notice at one of them young people from Young Guard, the United Russia party's youth organisation.

As the Governor mentioned, young people are working in coordination with the local authorities and the police to help patrol our forests and enforce restrictions on access, they are raising funds, collecting and distributing humanitarian aid to those who have suffered. I believe that United Russia would be well advised to also become actively involved in this work, and that other political parties as well should not stay on the sidelines.

I would like to thank you all, and wish you all the best.