Algeria is still in the grip of an unprecedented cold spell that has lasted for more than a week.
By Lyes Aflou, in Algiers
At least 46 people have died in Algeria after a severe cold snap gripped the nation for more than a week.
One person was swept away by floods in a wadi (valley) in Skikda, and another was buried by a snow avalanche outside his house in Tizi Ouzou. The other victims died from carbon monoxide poisoning or road accidents caused by icy conditions.
The situation has turned particularly dire for people living in rural and mountain areas, where snow has made main and secondary roads impassable. Food supplies are running low and gas canisters have become extremely scarce in the many localities that are not connected to urban gas supply networks. Several eastern and central-eastern parts have experienced power cuts.
To ease the situation, authorities deployed snowploughs to free up residents. Food supplies were restored to villages but dwindling butane gas supplies are still a serious problem.
In the commune of Ait Aissa Mimoun, about 20km east of Tizi Ouzou, residents have stormed the town hall to express their anger.
“Gas canisters are being distributed in dribs and drabs, with just one canister per household,” Omar, a teacher, told Magharebia. “That’s not enough in this icy cold, but the situation should improve as the roads are opened up, as long as it doesn’t start snowing again.”
Protests have multiplied in areas experiencing gas shortages. A crisis team in the province of Tizi Ouzou on Friday (February 10th) announced that a consignment of 20,000 gas canisters would be delivered to the region.
This “action forms part of the solidarity operation initiated by the Ministry of the Interior and Local Communities to help the provinces affected by bad weather since last Saturday”, the team explained.
These supplies from neighbouring provinces such as Chlef, Relizane, Blida and Algiers will be sent to a central warehouse in Oued Aissi before being delivered to localities across the province. The team reassured people that adequate supplies of gas will be provided.
“The supply of butane gas across the country is gradually getting back to normal after the disruption in several provinces due to the bad weather,” Energy Minister Youcef Yousfi announced on Saturday (February 11th) in Algiers.
“The weather is improving, and that enables us to distribute gas equally to the population, as will the opening-up of the roads that are still blocked,” he said during a visit to inspect the central warehouse in Sidi Rezine (south of Algiers).
Yousfi described the situation as “still difficult because of the exceptional weather conditions”.
Thirty-seven stretches of road remain closed to traffic in nine provinces in the centre of the country because of the weather, which is continuing to hamper efforts to clear the snow, the interior minister said in a statement issued on February 11th. Army intervention and the efforts of private and public companies have helped to reduce the isolation of snowed-in areas considerably, according to the ministry.
The government has come under fire for failing to respond adequately. Political parties and the media accused it of ignoring the plight of citizens, especially at the beginning of the cold snap.
“Not one minister has bothered to go and assess the difficulties experienced by people living in the provinces,” Liberté editorialised.
The Socialist Forces Front (FFS) said in a statement that government actions have “fallen well short of what the situation requires”.
“Millions of Algerians are without basic essentials and for several days they have been experiencing hunger, cold and anxiety for their sick loved ones.”