Floods in Serbia and Bosnia have opened Pandora’s box of woes for the millions of people who live in the region. Triggering landslides, power cuts, and landmines all across the Balkan landscape, the flood waters have made it even more dangerous for people to survive the damage. The flood wrecked Serbia, Bosnia, and eastern Croatia, claiming lives and leaving people with access to very few basic necessities. With religion thrown into the mix, leaders of the highly Orthodox Christian community claim that the floods are a sign of God’s punishment.
The floods were first reported on Thursday May 15, and made history in the region as the first time that water-based damages caused a loss of life and property. With a death toll that started at three people earlier this week, a state of emergency was declared by the Serbian government. The floods cut off power supply to a lot of villages, and saw a firefighter drown in a rescue attempt.
After declaring a state of emergency in 18 towns and villages including the capital Belgrade, evacuation efforts were in full swing. Maglaj, a central town, saw the Bosna river’s level rise to alarming levels, reaching the first floor of many apartments. With army helicopters coordinating the evacuation efforts in Maglaj, special forces were deployed to aid people in the northern Bosnian town of Doboj that were cut off from most of the bigger towns. The Bosnian government ordered the defence ministry to evacuate the residents of the eastern and northern regions, which were reported to be the worst hit. With roads and schools shut down across the two countries, Central Serbia reported a power cut, as well as floods, had stopped production temporarily in two of Serbia’s main power plants, leaving households in eastern and northern Serbia without power.
Since records began, this natural disaster left at least 50 people dead and countless people displaced and homeless. Reports say that in the three days following initial reports, three months’ worth of rain showered Serbia, Bosnia, and Croatia. One-third of Bosnia was under water, mainly its northern and eastern parts. The death toll rose, leaving a quarter of the four million population displaced. Croatia reported two confirmed deaths and efforts to build walls made of earth along the Sava and Danube to prevent the floods. Serbia, reported 12 deaths in the town of Obrenovac, 20 miles from Belgrade. Croatia, Serbia and Bosnia, which stand along the Sava river were hit the worst. Although the rainfall decreased, bridges disappeared as roads and railways were cut off from public use. The tops of traffic signs were just visible although they were under three to four meters of water. Over more than 24,000 people were moved safely, put up in sports halls, hotels, and schools. Bosnia’s refugee minister, Adil Osmanovic, called the event catastrophic as he awaited updated reports on the floods. The floods caused 2,100 landslides in Bosnia while 1,000 landslides were reported in Serbia, causing irreparable damage to roads, land and homes. The village of Horozovina, close to Tuzla, was split in two by a landslide that swallowed eight houses, leaving over 100 still in risk of damage.
Laying open Pandora’s box, the floods in Serbia and Bosnia brought up the question of damage control. While the EU and Russia offered to help, most of the work needed to be done by the governments of Serbia, Croatia and Bosnia. Orasje and Brcko in northeast Bosnia were in danger of being flooded, passing the threat into neighbouring Croatia. Brcko officials had six villages evacuated, with rescuers requesting survivors to reach up to rooftops wearing bright clothes for easy identification. Brcko Mayor Anto Domic spoke of efforts made by the Bosnian Army to reinforce the city from the air to avoid flooding it completely. The Defence Ministry lowered steel barriers backed by sandbags to contain the flooding water from the Sava rivers. Civil protection commander Fahrudin Solak coordinated efforts on land in other regions where the river flooded. Obrenovac, site of the Nikola Tesla thermal power plant, was submerged and suffered heavy financial damage. The site of Serbia’s largest power plant reported 12 deaths and extensive damage to the coal mine that powers it. While efforts to limit the damage are in full swing, it is reported that the current damage was worth €100 million ($137 million). This threat to the plant led to an appeal from Serbian Energy Minister Aleksandar Antic for a wiser use of energy to conserve it in the time of need.
The floods left the land bare and 3,000 landslides exposed the landmines and minefields from the 1992-95 war in over 9000 spots in the Balkan lands. Adding to the woes of the already flooded nations, landslides laid open the wounds and hidden threats in the land adding more danger to the mix. 600 people have been killed since 1995 because of the estimated 120,000 landmines that remain in Bosnia. Sasa Obradovic, Sarajevo Mine Action Center, cautioned that besides the landmines, a lot of weapons were thrown into the rivers for over 20 years, risking further danger. With helicopters arranged to airlift frenzied families and survivors to safety from rooftops, authorities are yet to assess the damage the floods have left in their wake. The landmines are seen as a bigger threat as they run the danger of flowing downstream through south-east Europe and Bosnia itself. While the warning posts have been washed away, threats of unsuspecting danger and mines getting stuck in turbines also seem to be of grave concern.
While more than 10,000 people have been rescued in Bijeljina, 1,500 Bosnian Army troops are busy airlifting people where bridges have broken down. Help is coming to these places from the European Union, Slovenia, Croatia, Yugoslavia, Israel, and Turkey. The refugees were set up in large shelters and aid centers distributed medicine, food, water, blankets and clothing. More than 300,000 people have no access to drinking water, while landslides hampered help. Rescue missions have been commissioned by Croatia and Slovenia, while military aid and money have been sent from Montenegro and Macedonia. Kosovo’s efforts have been rejected. The threats of the flood waters spreading has now reached the Danube, and surges are expected between May 22nd and 23 as they have suffered only minor floods in Romania and Bulgaria. Although the waters have receded in some areas, these floods are expected along the Sava that flows into the Danube.
While efforts to rescue people are in full sway, the situation in Bosnia and Serbia is not good. People will want to know why the danger was not anticipated and better efforts made to rescue people. Serbian people are sure to question authorities why they were asked to stay at home, when they were evacuated hours later, few of them running only with the clothes on their back and their little children in their arms. As the world tries to help Serbia, Bosnia and Croatia, the floods seem to rip open Pandora’s box of woes as reports of polluted water with dead animals are raising the risk of an outbreak of enterocolitis, typhus, and hepatitis in areas with a lack of potable water.
By Rathan Paul Harshavardan.