Balkan countries beg for international assistance after record floods

by Rachel Lynn Aldrich
Posted 5/21/14, 02:38 pm

Record floods in the Balkans last week forced half a million people from their homes and led to at least 44 death as of yesterday, including 22 in Bosnia, 20 in Serbia, and two in Croatia. One quarter of Bosnia’s population of 4 million has been affected by the six days of floods and the resulting 2,100 landslides.

Receding waters yesterday revealed thousands of dead livestock abandoned by fleeing owners. Today, as floodwaters continued to dissipate in Bosnia and Serbia, it’s revealing billions of dollars worth of damage. 

The Balkan countries have some of the weakest economies in Europe and officials have already started appealing to the international community for assistance. As the flooding struck, the European Union responded immediately with rescue workers, helicopters, boats, tents and other forms of aid from 16 member countries and that more is to come for both Serbia and Bosnia. In the next phase of the recovery, the EU and local experts will assess the damage. 

Serbian state television showed footage of army units spreading out Tuesday to decontaminate and disinfect flooded areas. Residents in both countries were told not to return to their homes and not to eat any food from flooded gardens, orchards, or barns.

“Dead animals are a special problem and those have to be removed and destroyed properly,” said Bosnia’s chief epidemiologist, Dr. Zeljko Ler.

While there’s been no official figure on damages in Bosnia, some preliminary estimates suggest nearly 1.3 billion euros ($1.78 billion). The flooding devastated the agriculture industry in Bosnia’s flatlands and wiped out infrastructure. With one of the lowest GDPs in Europe and a nearly 44 percent unemployment rate, almost no one in Bosnia has property insurance. And many residents lost everything. 

“This country has not experienced such a natural cataclysm ever in its history,” Bosnian Foreign Minister Zlatko Lagumdzija said.

Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic said the damage in his country exceeded 0.64 percent of GDP, qualifying it to apply for EU emergency funds. 

Infrastructure Minister Zorana Mihajlovic said 3,500 kilometers (2,200 miles) of roads have been destroyed or damaged and about 30 percent of railway lines still cannot be accessed. The country’s economy still hasn’t fully recovered from the wars and international sanctions in the 1990s and is marred by mismanagement and widespread corruption. The unemployment rate officially stands at 20 percent, but is much higher in reality.

Serbia and Bosnia have begun talks with the EU about receiving international help with reconstruction efforts. Bosnia’s Serb region is also talking with Russian officials about an aid package. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Rachel Lynn Aldrich

Rachel is an assistant editor for WORLD Digital. She is a Patrick Henry College and World Journalism Institute graduate. Rachel resides with her husband in Wheaton, Ill.

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