Unprecedented rainfall has triggered the region's worst disaster in over a century. Between 13 and 16 May 2014 torrential rainfall brought floods that swept away roads and bridges, flooding entire towns in minutes.
The Red Cross Society of Bosnia-Herzegovina is hard at work helping the victims of the flooding, and the International Committee of the Red Cross is providing the National Society with logistical support.
Eastern and central areas of the country experienced 300 litres of rain per square metre in a very short period, with the waters submerging entire cities. The floods have directly affected close to a million people, a quarter of the country’s population. Homes, agriculture, industry and infrastructure have sustained heavy damage.
While water levels are starting to fall in certain areas, the water is moving downstream, endangering other regions. The flooding has claimed 24 lives so far, with thousands more having to flee their homes.
The ICRC is supporting the Red Cross Society of Bosnia-Herzegovina as it helps people affected by the floods:
- We are providing logistical support to the National Society, helping them deliver emergency aid.
- Flooding and landslides have swept away mine warning signs and have displaced mines and unexploded munitions left over from the conflicts of the 1990s. The ICRC is working with the Mine Action Centre to help the National Society warn people of the danger.
- The tracing service of the Bosnia-Herzegovina Red Cross is assessing the need to help people get back in touch with relatives, and the ICRC is supporting them in this area.
- Finally, we are helping the National Society mobilize support for its humanitarian action and publish accurate information on what aid is needed and what is being done.
The Red Cross of Serbia (RCS) immediately sent disaster response teams to endangered regions of Serbia. Working with emergency teams from Serbia and abroad, the RCS evacuated dozens of people and delivered food and water to hundreds of others cut off by the raging waters.
A flood … of volunteers
At the same time, RCS volunteers were pouring in (pun intended!) to staff reception centres and shelters. They registered the evacuees, provided them with food, water, clothes, hygiene items and words of sympathy and consolation. They organized accommodation for people who had no friends or family to stay with. The response from volunteers was so overwhelming that at one point the Belgrade Branch of the Red Cross had to ask people to save their energy for later!
As the waters start to recede and people begin to return to their ravaged homes, the RCS has begun to pump out muddy water and sanitize houses, some of which may have been contaminated by sewage. At the same time, the Society continues to provide food and other basics. Some areas still almost completely cut-off due to the destruction of roads. Others are still without water or electricity. To make matters worse, a number of RCS branch offices have suffered heavy damage.
Restoring contact between families
As well as saving lives and delivering aid, the RCS has activated its tracing service, enabling people to enquire about family members missing in the floods. As of 22 May, the RCS had received 166 such enquiries. The Society has located 107 of these persons and forwarded the remaining 59 requests to the police, as per the established procedure.
The ICRC delegation in Belgrade offered its support to the RCS right from the first day of the emergency. We have put three vehicles and three members of staff at the disposal of the RCS, plus an RFL specialist. So far, we have focused on restoring family links. We have acquired mobile phones, SIM cards and extension cables, and the ICRC/RCS team has been going from one shelter to another offering free phone calls and, in several cases, transporting vulnerable people from one shelter to another so they could rejoin their families.
Solidarity from near and far
The one positive aspect of this unprecedented disaster has been the outstanding show of solidarity. As soon as the scope of the catastrophe became apparent, support poured in from all quarters: individuals, companies, organisations and governments. And, as expected, help has arrived from the Red Cross/Red Crescent family – from the National Societies of the region and elsewhere in Europe, from the Turkish Red Crescent and from the National Societies of countries as far away as Iran and Japan.