The situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia has reached alarming proportions as the worst natural disaster ever to hit the Balkans is now threatening to escalate into a public health crisis, Save the Children warns.
Staff on the ground witnessed floods more than two metres high across towns in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Entire villages have been wiped out by landslides, and public infrastructure has all but been destroyed.
"Several towns and villages are unrecognisable; everything is covered in mud, trees and rubbish," said Ahmed Pjano, Director of Programmes, Save the Children in North West Balkans. "Families are seeking refuge in attics, having lost all of their belongings in one night and not knowing when they will be able to return to normality. One person described his experience as if it was 'the end of the world'. A school I visited has been demolished, leaving a graveyard of chairs and benches that once hosted students. Everyone is trying to clean up the roads and houses but it will take days before things start getting back to normal and the risk of infections and communicable diseases increases is increasing."
Already hundreds of thousands of people have no access to clean water. An estimated two million people are affected, including more than 500,000 children. Thousands of families have run out of diapers and baby food while living amid appalling hygiene and sanitation.
Save the Children is on the ground in the two countries responding to the emergency providing life-saving aid, rescue equipment and helping with the evacuation efforts of thousands of children and their families. But as the extent of the disaster sinks in, the long-term consequences for the region that was already devastated by war become all the more alarming.
"Years of development could be undone unless the international community responds immediately," said Andrea Zeravcic, director of Save the Children. "We want to provide relief to the most vulnerable people, especially children, as quickly as possible, so that nobody is left behind."