MS Risk Blog

Europe in the Grip of the Cold: Victims and Economic Damages Throughout the Continent

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Since the beginning of January it has been an emergency in most part of the European continent as a polar cold wave has overwhelmed most countries. The bitter cold air has plunged southward into Eastern Europe from northern Russia and the Artic region, and has been stuck in place with a vortex of cold pressure causing continuous heavy snow for days. This weather is causing particular hardship among migrants, the homeless and the elderly. The freeze gripping has caused so far 61 deaths, a third of those in Poland where ten people died of cold just on Sunday. Deaths have been reported also in Italy, Serbia, Czech Republic, Macedonia, Albania and Greece.

In Italy the situation is critical. The cold has made eight victims, and the lowest temperature of -24 has been reached in the northeast. The South has been particularly hit, with major railways and motorways interrupted, causing inconveniencies in the circulation. Moreover, many small town and villages are still isolated because of the snow, especially in the Apulia, Basilicata and Calabria. In the rest of south-eastern Europe conditions are even worst. In Romania the bitter cold has led to travel delays, power outages and a surge in demand for natural gas and power. Several Serbian municipalities have declared emergency measures to battle the extreme weather and dozens of villages in the south have been cut off by high snowdrifts. In Albania it snowed in the southern city of Saranda for the first time in 32 years, and six people have died so far for the frigid weather. Also three people have been found dead in the past three days in Macedonia as temperatures plunged to -20 C.

The extreme cold has also worsened the condition of thousands of migrants stuck in the Balkans and Greece, not prepared for this kind of weather whatsoever. The worst situation is registered in Lesbos Island, which is currently home to more than 4,000 people in the Moira refugee camp. Roland Schönbauer, a spokesman for the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has declared on Monday this week that the organization was transferring some 120 vulnerable men, women and children, including people still living in tents, to hotels following the storm. However, according to volunteers there are still thousands of refugees living in outdoor tents in the camp, despite the Greece’s minister for migration Yiannis Mouzalas told journalists at a news conference on Thursday that “no refugees or migrants are living in the cold anymore”. Nevertheless, few cases of hypothermia have been reported in the last days, because many people don’t have proper winter clothes yet. For this reason Amnesty International is campaigning for asylum seekers to be transferred from the Greek islands to the mainland, for the temperature are expected to drop again. But transfers to the mainland are only allowed after people have completed the registration process, which has been delayed by a number of factors, including a shortage of spaces on the mainland.

The agricultural sector is the one more damaged by snowfalls and frost across Europe. In the cultivation area in the Austrian state of Styria initial estimates indicate €100 million in damages for the fruit sector alone. In Italy the Italian agricultural organization Coldiretti reported that the fruit cultivation has suffered inestimable damages from the weather circumstances. The most affected camps have been those of tomatoes, courgette and eggplants. Also grapes have been heavily damaged, especially in the region Apulia. Substantial damages to the sector have been reported also in Bulgaria, Croatia and Slovenia.

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