Bosnia and Serbia: Cataclysmic Floods in the Balkans Leaves Devastation on Scale of War; Thousands Face Daunting Task of Rebuilding

All photos by Fuad Focho for CRS

All photos by Fuad Focho for CRS

Across Bosnia and Serbia, the worst floods in more than a century have left tens of thousands of homes destroyed by floodwaters that reached as high as 10 feet, and by landslides that have buried neighborhoods under mountains of mud.

“It took me twenty years to build my life after the war,” says Muharem Krilic of Maglaj. “I’m 74 now. How will I have the time to rebuild again?”

donate-nowThe scale of need facing communities has been compared to the levels of destruction in the war two decades ago. During the week of May 12, the Balkans received as much rain over a three-day period as is normally received over three months. A reported 37,000 families have been displaced, with countless more having lost all of their belongings.

“I cry it off everyday,” says Muharem’s wife, Zineta. “There is nothing left. We had to throw out everything that’s made of wood and cloth. No beds, no nothing.”

Now that the waters have receded, the urgent needs are clear: clean water, sanitation and clearing of debris, support for farmers to replant crops and salvage their flooded fields, and the repair and rebuilding of homes.

Having worked in the Balkans since 1993, Catholic Relief Services was able to immediately dispatch field teams to the affected areas of Bosnia-Herzegovina and Serbia to evaluate the most urgent needs and identify the most relevant interventions for relief. CRS has committed $500,000 to this Balkan flood emergency response.

“ALL THE STUDENTS WORKING TO HELP US, THEY ARE LIKE LITTLE FLOWERS. IT GIVES ME CHILLS TO THINK ABOUT WHAT THEY ARE DOING FOR US.”

A morale boost for many people has been the outpouring of volunteers, especially youth, who have come from across the country—and are of diverse nationalities (Croats, Bosnaiks and Serbs)—to help. In front of homes and along debris-strewn streets, people of all ages are equipped with shovels, wheelbarrows and knee-high boots to clear homes, yards and streets take on the physically arduous task of cleaning up the heavy mud and remains—much of them water-ruined furniture, memoirs and personal belongings built over a lifetime.

All photos by Fuad Focho for CRS.

All photos by Fuad Focho for CRS.

“All the students working to help us, they are like little flowers,” says Muharem of teenagers from across the country who are helping to clear his backyard and home. “It gives me chills to think about what they are doing for us.”

But questions remain for many like Muharem and Zineta: For starters, how on Earth can they afford to repair their homes and buy everything they owned—from beds and clothes to furniture and appliances—again? For those in more rural areas, threats are posed by thousands of landmines that have been dislodged by the mud and water, and some mountainside neighborhoods are now rendered unsafe for return.

“I’m really worried about what is going to happen to all of the people here,” says Kozlic Mehrid, who lives in a village covered in a landslide and that is now deemed by local officials as uninhabitable. The village is Ciganski Potok, or “the Gypsy Spring.”

“We’re going to have to build everything up again, but from what? We just need a place to stay, like normal life conditions. We’re not asking for anything major, just basic hygiene and a roof over our heads.”

donate-nowCatholic Relief Services will be working across the Balkans to provide immediate relief to thousands of families, as well as to help them have the means to rebuild and recover for long-term stability. Further reports on the response to come.

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