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Meeting on flooding in the Far East

August 29, 2013, Khabarovsk

Vladimir Putin chaired a meeting on the situation in flood-affected regions.

During the meeting, the President emphasised the need to create a government commission to oversee clean-up and relief efforts. Mr Putin also instructed the Investigative Committee to scrutinise the actions of all officials, including those in charge of hydropower, to see whether they comply with regulations and existing laws.

Taking part in the meeting were Presidential Aides Andrei Belousov and Yury Trutnev, First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov, ministers responsible for economic, social and security matters, heads of federal agencies and the heads of the flood-affected regions. In addition the heads of Yakutia, Primorye Territory and Magadan Region reported on the situation in their regions via video linkup.

Opening remarks at a meeting on flooding in the Far East

President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon, colleagues,

Today we are meeting here in Khabarovsk to discuss the situation that is developing in flooded areas. The situation is difficult; judged by their magnitude, these disasters are unprecedented. Moreover, experts estimate that in some places the flood has not yet reached its peak. Thousands of people have been left homeless because of the disaster, hundreds of miles of roads have been washed away, as have bridges and farmlands, and power lines have been damaged.

What is particularly important here? We have managed to avoid human casualties. That is the fundamental point. And for that I would like to say a separate thank you to Emergencies Ministry personnel, municipal authorities, and the Defence Ministry, which were involved in the joint relief efforts. Temporary accommodation has been set up, and law and order are being maintained. As I already said, all this is the result of work by personnel from the operational, rescue, utility and technical services, departments of the Interior Ministry, Defence Ministry and Emergencies Ministry, and volunteers. I want to thank them all for participating in this difficult work.

Along with this, colleagues, I would urge you to act more quickly. I am not going to read aloud the letters and messages I’ve received from people. We’ll discuss this at other meetings so as not to cloud the overall picture of hard work in the right direction. But I would draw your attention to the fact that not everything is proceeding as smoothly as we might like. Perhaps the most difficult problems associated with clean-up efforts remain ahead of us. It is important to repair and, where necessary, to build new housing, to restore transport, engineering and social infrastructure, and re-establish mobile communications.

Particular attention should be paid to restoring order in the housing and utilities sector, and all this must be done as quickly as possible. Soon the first frosts will hit the region. Time is tight, very tight. The effectiveness of clean-up efforts will be judged by fundamental indicators: how quickly people are able to return to their homes or receive new ones, when normal life returns to schools, hospitals and kindergartens, and when communities are no longer at risk from sanitary or epidemiological problems. Naturally, the Health Ministry must pay particular attention to this issue.

We have to organise people’s temporary resettlement in good time. If citizens are unable to return to their homes, or do not receive new ones – bearing in mind that, as I said, time is very tight – there is very little time remaining to restore damaged property, for major repairs, and the construction of new housing. In these cases, naturally schools, student campuses, student hostels, and other facilities might be put to use. I would ask the Regional Development Ministry and the Education Ministry to prepare the relevant proposals – naturally, together with the regions. I would also ask them to work on the question of whether to send children out of the flooded areas for recreation and study to unaffected districts in their own regions or to other regions of the Russian Federation. As well as to organise the functioning of schools in affected areas – where possible of course – since September 1 is fast approaching.

Let me repeat that we must act as quickly as possible, eliminating any red tape or bureaucracy. Decisions regarding repairs should be made on-site, rather than via the long road: to Moscow and back. This is precisely how we must organise the work of federal agencies’ representatives that must disperse throughout the area.

As I requested – we just tentatively discussed this with colleagues – we need representatives of federal agencies to travel to flood-affected areas again today. I know that many people already were there, and then came here prior to our meeting. You will need to spend the rest of today and the whole day tomorrow on the ground, in the affected areas. You will have to look at everything, evaluate the situation carefully, and the day after tomorrow we will meet again in Vladivostok and take stock.

It will be necessary to meet with the leaders of affected municipalities, to speak directly with residents, to compile lists of people who’ve lost property and housing; all this is necessary to clearly understand the amount of federal funding required for compensation payments and reconstruction efforts. To be sure, the regions cannot overcome this crisis and cope with their problems on their own.

Let me remind you what we did in a similar situation in the city of Krymsk, Krasnodar Territory, and we will orient ourselves accordingly. I remember that for property losses we paid every individual, every family member, 110,000 rubles [$3,300] from the federal budget. And for fundamental renovations, if the structure of the house had to be repaired, we paid 5,000 rubles [$150] per square metre. We agreed at the time to repair private households. I wanted to remind you of this now so that we can use it as an indicator.

Nevertheless, we must take regional needs into account. Yesterday and the day before yesterday we discussed this in the Government in Moscow, and we are now talking with the Finance Minister; the Ministry of Finance must be ready for this. We still have to determine sources of funding, but these funds should be allocated promptly to regions and municipalities both at present and in the future, bearing in mind that all these tasks cannot be completed in a day or two, or even in the next six to eight weeks before the cold weather comes. The Government has already sent more than 3.2 billion rubles [about $96 million] for urgent repair work and material assistance for families. Today I would like to hear where that money is, whether it is reaching the regions or not, and if it is, is it trickling down to the people affected, and how is this work organised.

Next: given the difficult situation in the flooded areas, you need to provide adequate supplies of food, material resources and road construction equipment. If necessary, we should draw on the resources of the Federal Agency for State Reserves (Rosrezerv) to do so. This applies primarily to foodstuffs as well as fuels and lubricants. Let’s discuss these issues today.

I would also ask you to focus special efforts on rebuilding roads. Deliveries of food, the building materials that I already mentioned, and therefore the normalisation of the situation in general, all depend on how fast normal transport is re-established. I would ask the Transport Ministry to submit proposals in this regard.

Finally, a report on what resources are required to rehabilitate flooded areas. As I already said, I am asking you to make this report the day after tomorrow in Vladivostok.

In the future, I would ask representatives of all levels of government to keep the progress of reconstruction work under constant oversight.

We must establish a government commission to oversee clean-up and relief efforts. It should set up its own headquarters in every affected Russian region, and have a commission there chaired by the head of that particular region.

I requested that a representative of the Investigative Committee attend our meeting today. Is he here? Is that you? I talked about this issue recently at Sayano-Shushenskaya Hydroelectric Station. Some independent experts believe (as do some citizens, who are talking about it) that not all officials, including those responsible for hydropower, acted strictly in line with guidelines and current legislation. It is necessary to investigate and scrutinise very carefully the activities of all officials. Please report to me separately on this issue.

< … >

Vladimir Putin: A few remarks about what was said. First, flooding continues, and just now the Emergencies Minister reported that up the Amur [River] the situation is not improving, and is actually deteriorating. So I would ask you to make every effort to minimise the damage. I want to ask the Defence Ministry about this too: you are working very actively and thank you very much for this; you must continue your work in the regions that need your help. The same goes for the heads of the respective municipalities and other services. The heads of the relevant departments are present here today.

We must use an individual approach to assessing the damage as far as possible. Of course, you should stay – and we will stay – within the framework of the decisions taken and current legislation. But please do not descend into overly dry, bureaucratic formalism. I will say more about that later. We need to look more closely at how the real situation and at people’s real needs. Of course, we must avoid any abuse or misuse of this situation.

Next: we have already spoken about the fact that many installations, including residential developments, were built on land at risk from flooding. Of course many things are a product of history, we all know that, and it is not anyone’s fault. Nevertheless, judging by recent experience, including the sad experience of this year, municipal and regional authorities need to analyse and make relevant decisions about building bans in areas that are currently flooded, and could be flooded again in the future. Moreover, it is out of the question that we build new housing for affected people on such sites. We have to carefully look at this at the local and regional levels, and make the relevant decisions. Let me repeat, if you want to amend something in federal legislation, please submit your suggestions.

Now, regarding what needs to be built, and how. Governor of the Jewish Autonomous Region Mr Vinnikov made a good suggestion. Clearly, when possible, we need to buy existing homes or nearly-completed housing construction on the market. But apparently, in some residential areas, we will also need to initiate new construction of single-family housing. Both options are possible, and both should be undertaken.

To be honest, I doubt we need to get students involved in this work. Students need to spend their time learning. We have a fairly well-developed construction sector, so let those individuals do the work. If we need to get military builders involved, fine, that is also possible. We would need to pay them, of course. All this is normal, there is nothing new there. But I don’t think we need to get students involved during the school year.

Now, regarding the suggestion to push back the municipal elections, scheduled for September 8, by one year. I am not prepared to directly respond to the idea of delaying elections by a year. We need to think about it. If we do this, we will need to understand the legal side of this matter and the mechanism for making that decision. I will think about it, and perhaps we can discuss it together on August 31 in Vladivostok. To be honest, I would not want to push back the elections. But we can consider it some more.

It is imperative to properly analyse the procedures for our work at hydroelectric power stations and the technological capacity of those power stations. If possible, we need to propose solutions that would allow us to perform the so-called discharges more efficiently and gently. I do not want to get ahead of myself now; I think the specialists need to work on it first.

I have already said that First Deputy Chairman of the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation Mr Piskarev will study this matter (he and I discussed it back when he was in Moscow); he needs to analyse what has been done, whether everything was done within the framework of the corresponding procedures and the current legislation. But either way, we need to carefully examine all of these procedures.

Naturally, we need to pay attention not only to regions in the Far East, but to all other regions affected by the floods. Perhaps fewer people were affected in those places, but nevertheless, some individuals did suffer, and we must not forget to help them as well.

Other issues were also raised, including problems affecting families with many children and financing the recovery efforts in the agriculture sector. Today, I met with several agricultural producers in Blagoveshchensk; they arrived directly from the fields, so to speak, and told me about what is happening there. Naturally, we need to look into everything carefully, and we will certainly help them with extending their loans and some issues pertaining to agro-leasing. To be sure, we cannot allow any kind of damage to financial organisations, and that is certainly not our goal; but we need to think about how to do this. Still, without our support, they cannot get back on their feet; it is simply impossible, given the volume of losses they have incurred, they just cannot do it. We have loans, leasing, seeds, fuels and lubricants, and so on. The Agriculture Ministry knows all of this, and we need to ensure that corresponding work is done in every affected region. We need the deputy governors (as well as regional agriculture ministries, if you have such subdivisions) to conduct analyses, make suggestions, get approval from the national Agriculture Ministry and work everything out down to the details within the framework of the government commission that will be created.

Concerning school preparations: we will certainly need to do as much as possible by September 1 so that children can begin the school year normally. Communication and transport infrastructure: the Transport Ministry must analyse all this jointly with the regions and make suggestions. Preparations for winter overall: we need to deliver fuel, petroleum, and food; and, of course, we need to be vigilant to ensure there is no price gauging for food or other prices – not only an increase in railroad ticket prices, but the electrical energy rates as well.

As for the hardest-hit regions, as I already said in my opening remarks, I think we should look to the parameters that were created when dealing with the disaster in Krasnodar Territory, or the city of Krymsk, to be more specific. As you recall, when it came to families there who fully lost their housing, whose homes were impossible to recover, on average, we provided a family of three people with two million roubles to acquire an apartment or build a new house.

This area, of course, has its own issues, but because we will need large-scale construction, we can and should work to lower the corresponding prices, to adjust those prices. I am warning you, all the regional leaders, that it cannot be otherwise.

We cannot abandon people whose homes survived but require major reconstruction and leave them with no assistance. They are unlikely to be capable of doing everything needed on their own. In Krymsk, we provided five thousand roubles per square metre.

And I will remind you of the assistance parameters for families that lost either part or all of their personal property. We chose not to determine whether their property was partially or entirely destroyed. We issued ten thousand roubles from the federal budget for essential needs, and another 100,000 for the restitution of property, for a total of 110,000. I am asking the Government to use these figures as a reference point. I am not saying they should be precisely the same, but these are the points of reference that should be used.

And I will ask the Government and the Presidential Executive Office to prepare a draft (not the final version, but a draft) of an executive order concerning work in the hardest-hit areas in the Far East Federal District – i.e., the questions pertaining to energy, the Agriculture Ministry, transport, healthcare, the Natural Resources Ministry and, of course, the use of the Federal State Reserve Agency’s capacities, and so on, and so forth. I request that this be completed by August 31 –two days from now.

We have already heard that some of our colleagues are doing some sort of heroic deeds. Friends, I am not expecting any heroic acts from the officials present here today and working on location. We simply need to fulfil our duties, work professionally, strenuously and honestly. And then we will achieve the necessary results.

I will see you in two days. Thank you.

August 29, 2013, Khabarovsk