Bosnia and Herzegovina + 1 more

The Balkans: Worst floods in Century continue to cause havoc

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Although the water has receded in some areas, the worst floods in more than a century continue to create havoc in large parts of both Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina.

While thousands are still waiting to be rescued from their flooded homes, tens of thousands have been evacuated staying with families, in sports centers or in schools as their houses have been flooded, in some cases almost submerged in water. In Serbia and estimated 300,000 and in Bosnia and Herzegovina additional 50,000 people are without water or electricity, some times living in unsafe and insanitary conditions created by the floods.

Almost one third of Bosnia is affected by the floods with houses, roads and railway lines being submerged in the worst affected North Eastern part of the country. A state of emergency has been declared in 14 municipalities, while cities like Maglaj and Doboj were almost completely submerged and hundreds of people had to be evacuated from rooftops during Saturday.

A vast number of landslides have worsened the situation and relief efforts, and there are reports that landmines buried during the conflict and not yet removed are in some instances being shifted with the landslides adding the dangers of people living in the areas as well as rescuers.

River still rising

In Serbia the worst affected area seems to be around the town of Obrenovac, south west of Belgrade, where around 10,000 people are still stranded. Obrenovac is also home to the biggest power plant in Serbia, which is at risk of being flooded, potentially causing abruption of power supply to large parts of the country. Hundreds of officials and volunteers are trying to build banks along the river Sava running through Obrenovac but reports are mixed whether these efforts are successful or not.

While water levels in some rivers are receding, the river Sava and two other rivers are still rising, forecast to reach their peak during Sunday night or later, so the danger is far from over.

Authorities in both countries have become hesitant providing numbers of casualties as many houses and areas have not yet been reached and casualties could grow.

Rescue and relief

The Red Cross societies of both countries have been actively engaged in rescue- and operation activities, providing relief and helping setting up centers for those evacuated.

The Red Cross of Serbia has a clear and defined role in the national emergency response, and specially trained teams as well as thousands of staff and volunteers are assisting with continued evacuations as well as providing relief items.

The Red Cross Society of Bosnia and Herzegovina (RCSBiH) have mobilized multipurpose teams in the affected areas, and staff and volunteers are assisting authorities with evacuations as well as providing blankets, mattresses, drinking water, food and hygiene kits, rubber boots and water disinfectants to more than 10,000 people (as the situation is still unfolding, the numbers of beneficiaries are increasing). Relief efforts are naturally being hampered by the destroyed infrastructure and difficult conditions but both jeeps and boats are being used, while often the volunteers wade through the waters to deliver relief items. Many volunteers and their families in both countries are themselves affected by the floods.

In Brcko, one of the worst affected areas, Red Cross volunteers have also assisted putting sand banks along the River Sava trying to prevent it from flooding dozens of villages which are still in danger as the water level continues to rise. Thousand of hectares of crops and farmland have been destroyed meaning people have not only lost their homes but also their livelihoods.

Sympathy and support

Sympathy for the affected people and support to the relief efforts of the two National Societies have streamed in nationally and from across Europe and beyond.

The Red Cross of Serbia has begun its own collection via their Facebook site, whilst embassies, international agencies and European governments have offered their support in terms of cash, rescue teams and sophisticated pumping equipment. A number of sister National Societies have offered assistance to both Red Cross Societies and some – among them Montenegro, Croatia, F.Y.R. Macedonia, Denmark, Switzerland and Austria – began collections via their websites or in cooperation with mobile phone operators already on Saturday, while thousands of people in the two countries have volunteered to assist their countrymen.

The IFRC is supporting the relief and the planning for recovery through its delegations in Sarajevo and Budapest. Two applications for support from the Disaster Emergency Relief Fund are being finalized.