Saturday 24 May 2014

'Worst floods' since records began in Serbia & Bosnia

Dead animals from Balkan floods pose danger of epidemics
Human death toll hits 49; millions in Bosnia, Serbia without clean water
The Straits Times, 22 May 2014

BELGRADE - Officials in the Balkans have warned of the risk of epidemics as the death toll from the worst floods in over a century hit 49 and water levels in Serbia inched ever higher.

Bosnia, where a million people were without drinking water, was in official mourning, while Serbia, where 1.6 million have been affected, was due to follow suit.

Serbia's Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucics sounded the alarm over the possibility of diseases spreading as rising temperatures turn thousands of animal carcasses in the flood waters putrid.

"There are tonnes of dead animals that we must dispose of," he said in Parliament.

Health experts and army teams in Serbia and Bosnia wearing olive green protective uniforms were already working to decontaminate and disinfect the vast tracts of farmland under water.

Tonnes of dead animals have been recovered, but muddy areas and landslides have hampered the effort.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) said on Tuesday that it had sent an expert to advise the Serbian authorities on sanitation and ensuring safe drinking water.

The WHO said it was also working to mobilise medical supplies, including supplies to fight diseases commonly spread by floods, such as illnesses that cause diarrhoea.

"We will face a major fight against epidemics and infectious diseases, which are inevitable after such floods," said Mr Nermin Niksic, Prime Minister of Muslim Croat Federation, one of the two entities that make up post-war Bosnia.

An intense deluge of rain last week caused the fast-flowing river Sava and its tributaries to burst their banks, leaving huge areas under water and causing hundreds of landslides.

More than 100,000 people have been evacuated in Bosnia in the worst exodus since its 1992-95 war, while in Serbia some 30,000 have had to flee their homes.

In Croatia, some 15,000 people have been evacuated, including 4,000 in Gunja, where waters flooded the whole village. Two people have been killed, and one person remains missing.

Officials in Bosnia warned on Monday that some 120,000 unexploded mines left over from the Balkan wars of the 1990s could be dislodged and moved.

The authorities in the Balkans have begun assessing the damage, which is expected to reach hundreds of millions of euros.

Mr Vucics on Monday said some analysts have estimated that the cost to "rebuild a lot of roads, bridges and renew the infrastructure, which will not be easy," could reach up to a billion euros (S$1.7 billion).

"We are expecting significant help from foreign governments, we need a lot of medicine, food, and especially baby food and construction material," he said.

The European Commission said on Tuesday that 19 EU states had offered assistance, with close to 400 relief workers from member countries on the ground.

Ms Kristalina Georgieva, EU commissioner for humanitarian aid and crisis response, met government officials in Belgrade.

"Now, immediately, we will make funding available to meet the immediate humanitarian needs of the affected population," she said.

Equipment and humanitarian items would also be shipped from member states to Serbia.


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