By Stephen Ryan, IFRC

From mid-January, record-low temperatures brought miserable conditions to communities in much of northern Algeria. The Aurès mountains in the east of the country saw snow up to one metre deep in some areas. The Tell Atlas and Saharan Atlas ranges across northern Algeria was also hard-hit. Even at higher altitudes, such snowfall is extremely rare in Algeria, particularly in the east of the country, which is often referred to as the gateway to the Sahara.
The unexpected snowstorm and winter conditions affected 22 provinces in all, however it is those living in rural areas that have worst-hit. Nomadic farming is a common livelihood in the region, with thousands of families typically seeing through the winter at lower altitudes, living in tents with their livestock. These families, already vulnerable and ill prepared for such harsh conditions, have been most severely affected by the cold wave.

Heavy snowfall temporarily cut road access to many communities, with power cuts and shortages of fuel for heating and cooking resulting in extreme hardship throughout the snowstorm. While the public authorities worked to reopen road links, reestablish electricity, and to support the delivery of relief assistance, Algerian Red Crescent activated its nationwide network of volunteers.

Rapid assessments carried out by the Red Crescent indicated that as many as 25,000 families were affected by the cold wave, almost two-thirds of whom were already extremely vulnerable prior to the onset of this crisis. All volunteers of all Red Crescent branches in the country were set to the task of providing assistance to people in need.

Over the past two weeks, Algerian Red Crescent has reached close to 5,000 families with vitally needed relief items including blankets, clothing and mattresses, as well as food parcels where needed. In 12 isolated villages that were left without power during the snowstorm, the Red Crescent provided emergency power with generators until electricity was restored.

Although reaching areas where nomads are overwintering has been a challenge, an additional 320 nomadic families received similar support, as well as tents to replace those that had been damaged.

Other regions towards the coast were less affected by snowfall, but saw similar chilling temperatures. Algerian Red Crescent teams took particular care to provide help to homeless people and migrants suffering from the cold, distributing hot meals, clothing and blankets.

In order to enable Algerian Red Crescent to continue to meet the emergency needs of people affected by this cold wave, the IFRC released 194,000 Swiss francs from the Disaster Relief Emergency Fund (DREF). These funds will be used to provide assistance to 2,000 families – 10,000 people. Technical expertise is also being provided to assist the National Society response.