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Serbia and Montenegro: Floods OCHA Situation Report No. 1

Format
Situation Report
Source
Posted
Originally published
Ref: OCHA/GVA - 2006/0054
OCHA Situation report no. 1
Serbia & Montenegro Floods
20 April 2006

This situation report is based on information provided to OCHA by the UN Resident Coordinator's Office in Serbia & Montenegro.

Summary

- At present, flood levels on the Danube and Sava Rivers are finally beginning to recede from record highs, from Belgrade upstream. However, levels of the Tisa River in the Vojvodina region are still increasing, and much land in Vojvodina remains saturated or with standing water, and some areas along the Danube below Belgrade remain at risk from high levels in the river.

- The Government of Serbia and the local residents and communities have been responding actively to the threat of high waters and to actual relief needs. The Government has taken actions to prevent flooding (e.g., building up dykes). The Serbian Red Cross, supported by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) has been filling important relief gaps.

- At present, the Government has not launched an international appeal, nor does the UN (or the Red Cross movement) see this as necessary, as the relief needs appear to be at a level that national actors can address. However, there is concern about some under met relief needs (e.g., for some rural populations, elderly people, Roma, etc.) as well as a growing concern about impact of this emergency on food production and livelihoods. In addition, there is also concern that further flooding may occur as additional snowmelt occurs traditionally in May.

- The United Nations agencies in Serbia and Montenegro have been closely following the emergency situation and the response. At present, UN agencies do not see the need to appeal for emergency assistance. They are all monitoring the progress of the situation and stay in daily touch with their respective Government counterparts. Meetings of the UNCT, the IFRC and the Serbian Red Cross (SRC) will be held on a weekly basis. Should the need arise, UN agencies would be ready to help the Government by undertaking a rapid assessment of the immediate needs (UNICEF and WHO have a particular interest for that and have adequate expertise in the country). All development agencies, in particular UNDP, are focusing on assessing potential needs to support the Government in the later recovery/mitigation phases.

Situation

1. Due to snow melt combined with heavy rainfall, the Danube River has reached record water levels in Serbia, Romania and Bulgaria in the past days, flooding towns and villages. In Romania, officials say the Danube has reached its highest level since 1895.

2. During the past several weeks, Serbia has also had to face a problem of landslides, which have been followed by large floods. A total of 30 municipalities have been affected throughout Serbia (North and Central/Eastern parts). A state of emergency was declared in 8 municipalities: Loznica, Beocin, Zabalj, Zrenjanin, Pozarevac, Golubac, Gradiste, and Titel.

3. In the Serbian town of Smederevo, about 40 km east of the capital, the Danube swamped a medieval fortress and railway line and flooded 2,000 hectares of fertile farmland surrounding the town. Hundreds of people were evacuated to a refugee centre in the town.

4. The capital, Belgrade, lying on the confluence of the Sava River and the Danube, has suffered its worst flooding in decades. Several municipalities of Belgrade have been affected both in urban and rural areas. Ada Cignalija settlement in the municipality of Cukarica, with 1,000 inhabitants, is being evacuated, although some people choose to stay in their homes. Other suburbs of Belgrade (Palilula and Grocka) situated along the Danube are severely affected as well. Urban areas, such as Zemun, areas around Belgrade Fair (one of the main avenues in town and one of the most important city traffic channels), avenue below Kalemegdan park (along the Sava river) are under water and partly closed to traffic.

5. Up to 7,000 families have been affected in 30 municipalities (3,800 were affected by landslides and 4,200 by floods). The numbers are changing every day. Some of the affected properties are being recovered (i.e. water withdrawing, drying and disinfecting processes underway); others are still in a critical situation (basements and ground floors under water) or are completely uninhabitable. Consequently, plans have been made for the evacuation of up to 1,000 families. However, people resist leaving their homes, and the most recent estimates indicate that less then 500 individuals have been evacuated (thus displaced) so far (125 in Vojvodina and 300 in Central/Eastern Serbia).

6. Approximately 240,000 hectares of farmland are under water in the areas near the major rivers, mostly in the northern province of Vojvodina, considered to be Serbia's breadbasket. Some reports indicate that food production may be severely affected (Serbia may need to import food this year) and large numbers of people in the rural areas may suffer from the negative socio-economic impact.

7. According to the latest update received from the Ministry of Defence, the situation concerning the rivers is the following:

Danube river: Water levels in the North (from Bezdan to Slankamen) are rapidly decreasing. The water levels from Slankamen to Golubac (towards Romania) are modestly decreasing, and are expected to continue doing so.

Tisa river: Water levels are significantly increasing with a trend which is expected to continue.

Sava river: Water levels are stagnating near Sabac and Belgrade.

Tamis and other rivers: Water levels are rapidly decreasing.

The emergency protection/defense measures are still underway in the following areas: alongside the Danube river (from entry to the exit points in Serbia), alongside Tisa river, alongside the Sava river near Belgrade only, alongside the Tamis and other rivers (i.e. Brzava).

The next important critical places are expected to be the villages of Mersosin and Vilovo/Sajkas on the Tisa river in Vojvodina. The second lines of defense from floods are being put in place while evacuation plans for up to 8,000 people are being made.

The existing dykes may not resist if the current water levels remain for a longer period of time. In view of this possibility, places at risk are being identified (amongst which is Ada Ciganlija island in Belgrade).

According to the Serbian Water Management Directorate, emergency phases and floods protection measures will remain activated for another 3-4 weeks.

Impact/Affected population

8. According to Serbian Red Cross/IFRC's preliminary information the impact and the needs are as follows:

- Affected populations need humanitarian assistance for a period of up to 3 months. Items such as boots, food and personal hygiene parcels, blankets, mattresses, bed linen and disinfectants are needed. Vulnerable population (i.e. in the remote rural areas) may need assistance for up to 6 months.

- Local communities are working with the Government to ensure that adequate protection/defense systems are put in place. The workforce needs are increasing despite significant support from the Ministry of Defense and other actors. Drying machines and disinfectants are needed.

- Long-term recovery needs (infrastructure building, agricultural sector support) will be significant and may require external support.

9. The IFRC highlights that the situation in the big cities such as Belgrade and Novi Sad is under control, while the problems of the affected rural areas are less visible and may need urgent attention (due to less media attention). The IFRC sees no need for an international appeal at this stage.

National Response

10. These natural disasters have hit Serbia at a very critical moment from an institutional point of view. Namely, the new legislation on Civil Protection is under preparation, coordinated by the office of the Deputy Prime Minister of Serbia. In view of the temporary lack of harmonized institutional structure for coordination of disaster response, management and mitigation-related activities, the response is being addressed through the coordinated efforts of the following actors:

- At the Central Level: Government of Serbia, Deputy Prime Minister's office, many line Ministries involved either directly or through the ad-hoc set up Government bodies (i.e. Commission for Natural Disasters, Coordination Body for reconstruction activities in the context of the landslides), Red Cross of Serbia.

- At the local level: crisis groups/commissions for assessment of damages comprising all relevant actors at the local level (Government, Red Cross local branches, public services, local citizens etc).

11. The Government of Serbia has approved so far two financial allocations of 90 million dinars (approximately 1 million Euros each) for reconstruction of houses destroyed by the landslides. These funds will be used to construct 26 houses (22 in Trstenik and 4 in Brus). In the context of the ongoing floods caused emergency, the Government is focused on ensuring adequate defense from floods and covering relief needs. In addition, the Government and the SRC have launched an internal appeal to the people of Serbia.

12. The Government is also undertaking some expert assessments in the areas of watershed management, geology and analyzing root causes of the disasters. In order to better assess the damages caused by natural disasters, the Government is in the process of issuing unified criteria for assessing damages to be used by all municipalities in Serbia. Once adopted, these criteria will have to be used by local communities.

13. The SRC is distributing humanitarian aid to the affected areas. So far no Government reserve stocks have been allocated in response to the disasters. The Red Cross has been assisted by the IFRC emergency funds in procuring humanitarian/relief assistance for the affected population.

14. Red Cross volunteers are working hard to provide support to their local communities.

International Response

15. Preliminary discussions between the Government and the Council of Europe Development Bank with regard to possible international loans for reconstruction (dykes, houses, etc.) in the affected areas have started.

16. The IFRC is producing regular situation updates and supports the SRC in their humanitarian efforts. IFRC has released emergency funds for 130,000 Swiss Francs to meet most urgent needs. At this stage, no plans are in place for an appeal. The IFRC is also ready to support the planning and implementation of the recovery activities. They will be assessing the situation by following the Government reports on the longer-term needs/damages and liaise with other international development actors.

17. United Nations Country Team (UNCT): The United Nations Resident Coordinator has been in contact and has exchanged letters with the Deputy Prime Minister of Serbia. The Government of Serbia is aware and is appreciative of the UN willingness to provide support, if and when required, regarding the establishment of the new Disaster Management Coordination system and providing support to the natural disaster recovery/mitigation activities. UNCT is closely monitoring the ongoing situation and the Resident Coordinator is chairing information exchange weekly meeting of the UN agencies in Belgrade and IFRC/National Red Cross. UNCT has assessed that so far the emergency situation is being fully and successfully addressed by the Government, Serbian Red Cross and local people. Therefore, there is no need for UN major involvement/support during this emergency phase. If need be in the following weeks, the UN (in particular some specialized agencies as UNICEF and WHO) may offer a lead role in a Rapid Assessment Mission. UNCT and in particular UNDP is ready to support the Government in the mitigation/recovery activities (medium to long-term support) through development activities at the local level.

18. OCHA is in close contact with the Office of the United Nations Resident Coordinator in Serbia & Montenegro.

19. This Situation Report and information on ongoing emergencies is also available on the OCHA Internet Website at http://www.reliefweb.int.

MAP: Serbia and Montenegro: Floods/Landslides - Situation map (created 27 Mar 2006)

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UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
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