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Responding to record-breaking floods in Bosnia and Serbia

May 23, 2014

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  • An aerial view of a flooded city in Bosnia. Photo: Reuters/Dado Ruvic, courtesy Trust.org
  • The heaviest rains and floods in 120 years hit Bosnia and Serbia last week, forcing families out of their homes and cutting off entire towns. Photo: Reuters/Dado Ruvic, courtesy Trust.org

Mercy Corps is on the ground this week assessing needs after massive flooding inundated communities in northeast Bosnia and northwest Serbia last week.

Three months’ worth of rain fell in just three days, overflowing rivers in the area and causing the largest flood on record in the region.

The Sava River that flows along the northern border of Bosnia and through Serbia remains high, and emergency evacuations are still taking place in submerged villages where families may be trapped and cut off from food, water, electricity and basic supplies.

Across the disaster area, homes, livestock and swathes of agricultural land have been completely wiped away, while hundreds of thousands of people are displaced after fleeing their homes or being evacuated to temporary shelters.

Over 2,600 resulting landslides have washed out entire villages in more mountainous parts of the region, while more still remain at risk.

Shifting landmines complicate the problem further as the flood area covers an estimated 70 percent of known minefields left over from the Bosnian War.

While the total scale of the destruction is unknown, early reports indicate severe damage to homes, roads, bridges, agriculture and livestock.

In Bosnia, a quarter of the country’s four million people are affected and an estimated 70 percent of crops have been lost.

“Significant portions of the summer vegetable crops have been ruined,” said Dee Goluba, Mercy Corps’ Director of Field Security, based in Bosnia. “This will be a big hit to small subsistence farmers who depend on these critical months to make their money for the year, so our teams are currently assessing how we can respond rapidly and effectively.”

Bosnia and Serbia already have high unemployment and poverty rates, and with virtually no insurance, many families who have lost everything will have no way to recover.

“The hardest hit areas in Serbia have a high concentration of people from Kosovo who were already displaced and out of work,” reported Jessica Pearl, Mercy Corps’ Country Director for Kosovo. “Now without their assets and land, it will be very difficult for them to recoup what they’ve lost.”

We are planning to work with our local partners and microfinance institutions to initiate early recovery efforts and quickly help families repair their homes and livelihoods.

Mercy Corps worked in Bosnia and Serbia during and after the Bosnian War to distribute emergency supplies, rebuild houses and infrastructure, and provide microloans so war-torn families could restore their homes and businesses.

Our teams currently working in the region are uniquely positioned to respond immediately in Bosnia and Serbia, while capitalizing on existing local relationships to coordinate an impactful humanitarian response.

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