Historic Floods in the Balkans Give Way to Mudslides, Disease, and Landmines

Over the course of several days earlier this week, three-months-worth of rain hit the Balkan region. The floods cut one million Bosnians off from clean water, forced tens of thousands to evacuate and triggered thousands of landslides. And that's just the tip of the iceberg. 

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Over the course of several days earlier this week, three-months-worth of rain hit the Balkan region. On Monday, the Bosnian government reported that one million residents — a quarter of the country's population — were cut off from clean water, and 100,000 buildings destroyed. Both Bosnia and Serbia have declared a state of emergency, as have a number of Croatian villages. Serbia's prime minister said the damage would cost the country hundreds of millions of euros. Thousands of landslides were triggered by the flooding and the tens of thousands who have been evacuated from the affected regions will likely be forced to rebuild their lives from scratch. And that's just the tip of the iceberg.

Yesterday, the New York Times reported that after the rain subsided, Balkan residents are left to fear an influx of disease:

With temperatures in the mid-80s and rising, concerns are now shifting to an almost inevitable outbreak of disease in the coming weeks.“We are preparing ourselves for the worst,” Zlatibor Loncar, the Serbian minister of health, said in an interview on Wednesday. “It could be pretty bad.” Contaminated water has covered homes, towns and fields, turning much of Serbia’s most fertile agricultural region into a poisonous stew of toxic chemicals, rotting carcasses and disease-carrying insects.

AP/Davor Javorovic, Pixsell

The threat of the spread of infectious disease is coupled with another massive threat: 1990s era land mines that have shifted to unknown locations. Foreign Policy explains that the Balkans were on track to clear mines left over from the 1992-1995 Bosnian war by 2019, but now will have to reassess: 

The Mine Action Center, a government-run body that coordinates demining, has warned people that the more than 2,100 landslides and mudslides caused by the flooding have altered fields of land mines. The 120,000 mines still left in the country used to be contained in 13,000 square feet of well-marked fields. Now they have spread away from the warning signs once indicating their locations. As much as 70 percent of the flooded territory could now be at risk of having land mines on it, according to the Mine Action Center.

The United Nations' Jasmin Porobic told Foreign Policy that "all flooded areas have become mine and unexploded ordnance suspected area," adding "roads are blocked by landslides. People are looking for alternative roads. They may end up in the minefields." 

AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic

Both situations are exacerbated by the fact that the Balkan government is basically in shambles. The 1995 Dayton Agreement, which put an end to the war, mandated a complex governing system which gave a number of disparate groups an equal hand in leading the country. Unfortunately, this means there's not a centralized way of dealing with such widespread disasters. Srecko Horvat elaborates in the Guardian's Comment is Free section: 

What lies under the surface of the catastrophic floods is not only a natural disaster, but also a social disaster.... People from across the former Yugoslavia were organizing their own social safety nets, sending clothes, food and medicine to those in need. And, yes, we, the people of the Balkans, should be proud of that. On the other hand, as the water subsides, on the surface it becomes more evident how the Croatian, Bosnian and Serbian states failed not only to warn people or rescue them, but also were complicit in the tragedy. 

Government officials may appear helpless, but they are at least aware of the scope of the damage. Bosnian Foreign Minister Zlatko Lagumdzija told a news conference earlier this week that "the physical destruction is not less than the destruction caused by the war," adding that it may even be worse. "During the war, many people lost everything. Today, again they have nothing."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.