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Deaths Feared in Ex-Soviet Lands

October 7, 1997

GENEVA (AP) _ More than 1 million people could die from starvation or freezing temperatures in the former Soviet Union this winter if predictions of a harsh season in the region prove true, the Red Cross said Tuesday.

The relief organization has launched an appeal to governments around the world to raise $15.7 million, which would go toward providing emergency relief in Russia and three other former Soviet republics.

``One of the severest winters in Russia and the adjoining countries″ is forecast, partly due to El Nino, the weather pattern that is disrupting climates worldwide, said Renny Nancholas of Red Cross.

Even in average years in the former Soviet Union, temperatures can plunge to 58 degrees below zero.

As a result of political and economic upheavals since the collapse of the Soviet Union, many people, including the handicapped, young mothers and abandoned children, have fallen into extreme poverty.

The donations would provide clothing, food and essential medicine for more than 1 million of the poorest people in Belarus, Moldova, Ukraine and Russia during the next six months.

``We don’t want to wait for an emergency to happen,″ said Nancholas.

The appeal is largely directed toward helping the elderly. Pensions have all but vanished as currencies have collapsed. The result, said Nancholas, is that ``the actual value of what they are now getting is peanuts.″

The Red Cross will send monitors to the four republics to ensure that aid reaches the right people.

Of the 15 former Soviet republics, the Red Cross operates in all but the three Baltic states. The organization was relatively well-funded in Soviet times, benefiting from a levy on workers.

Now, said Nancholas, many Red Cross workers themselves are not paid.

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