16 million euro – will it help rebuild Hitrino after the railway crash?

Photo: BGNES

At the beginning of December a freight train of tanks containing flammable substances derailed in Hitrino, a village not far from Shoumen in Northeastern Bulgaria, and an explosion occured, razing to the ground everything around. It should be explained that the train station is practically in the dead centre of the village which was built around it. Seven people were killed, twenty-nine were wounded and twenty-six houses – utterly destroyed. The authorities and the whole of Bulgaria reacted instantly, organizing a rescue operation, the likes of which had never been seen before in terms of scope or rapidity of response. The country demonstrated that when the need arises it can be united and show solidarity.

Once the immediate danger of more explosions of the damaged tanks that derailed at the train station had been removed and the 800 inhabitants of the village who had been evacuated had returned to their homes or what was left of them, a different question came to public attention, the question of rebuilding the damaged houses and providing the people left without a roof over their heads with a decent place to live.

The government allocated 5 million euro in a flash. Relief aid started pouring in from all directions – food, clothes, building materials and… money. Lots of money from many different sources, even from companies not all that successful, municipalities not all that rich and from the man in street. The biggest sum came from the EU, which allocated 10 million euro for rebuilding the village. The fund raising campaign of the Bulgarian Red Cross proved more than successful, raising over 1 million euro on donations. Businesses, as represented by the Bulgarian Construction Chamber, offered to build 20 new houses for the people whose homes had been damaged most, free of charge. A total of over 16 million euro has so far been collected to help rebuild Hitrino. What can this money be used for, will it be enough, will it really go to help the people affected worst, isn’t there a danger that this impressive, for a village this size, sum may attract unsavoury interest and the appetites of people without scruples, who place money above all else?

Bulgaria is often described as the most corrupt country of Europe. But there are many indications that this is not so, that corruption exists anywhere in the world. But prestige is a difficult thing to build, and once lost, even more difficult to re-establish. It is clear that corruption is rife in Bulgaria and that the huge sums in aid of Hitrino open up innumerable avenues for misappropriation, embezzlement, diversion of funds, under-the-table dealings etc. All people who took part in the rescue operations in Hitrino realize this is a distinct possibility, so they have been trying to put in place measures that will nip any such attempts in the bud. At a government level, an Interministerial Commission was set up with the participation of independent citizens and organizations, to coordinate and supervise the reconstruction effort. At a municipal level, a public council was set up in Hitrino but it is hardly likely to be competent enough or sufficiently empowered to monitor all efforts. The Red Cross seems to be positioned best, in terms of experience, rapid reaction capacity and prestige.

In fact the money raised in aid of Hitrino is more than enough for the damage repair. Most of the village has not suffered too much damage, there are some broken windows, but the houses are still standing solid. The greatest amount of damage is in the vicinity of the railway station, including the building of the village council and the police station, the road surfaces of several streets have been damaged as have the electricity grid and the water mains. Be as it may, the people of Hitrino are facing a grim winter, because restoration and construction work can only begin in springtime.

English version: Milena Daynova

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