Bosnia and Herzegovina

Volunteers provide food, shelter and psychosocial support in the aftermath of floods

News and Press Release
Originally published
View original

By Andreea Anca, IFRC

Rabija could have never imagined that the pretty Starinska river in front of her house would burst into her life and turn it upside down in an instant.

“I loved that river and it was that river that took everything from me,” she says. The river crushed her house and she now lives in some barracks with 250 of the 2,000 inhabitants from Topcic Polje in Bosnia and Herzegovina, who lost everything in the few hours it took for the river to rise.

Still shocked from the experience, and with tears in her eyes, Rabija says she and her family have been sharing with 14 other fellow villagers since last week. It doesn’t take long before a former neighbour, Mirnesa bursts into tears and tells the story of her family’s escape from the water and the surrounding hills.

“My husband broke his leg trying to jump a fence and save our animals, while my 14-year-old daughter kept screaming and hanging onto me,” she says. What ultimately saved her and her family’s lives was hiding in the bucket of a bulldozer out in the field. “What we lived through is like the end of the world.”

“Last week’s events make me have nightmares, that I am sinking and the earth is swallowing me up,” says Dervis, another villager who, with his wife, sought shelter following the floods.

The Red Cross branch from the Zenica municipality in Zenicko-Dobojski Canton is now looking after the daily needs of the people who were evacuated to the dormitories of a local army barrack and a college. The volunteers are in charge of registration and provide ingredients for the people to cook three daily meals. 5,000 Red Cross volunteers and 250 staff have been active in providing support for more than a week in 50 different locations.

The volunteers are also there to listen to the people who often need to share their apocalyptic stories of flight and destruction to try to make sense of it all.

The shock of losing homes is only heightened by the impossibility of going back, as landslides made chunks of hills and swathes of land disappear, houses are submerged or flooded, crops and farms are destroyed.

“We are not hungry and we have our clothes,” says Mirnesa. The hardest thing, she says, is answering the repetitive question of her children: “Mummy, when do we go back home?”