Responding to the Balkans' Devastating Floods

The recent flooding in the Balkans, which has devastated communities in Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Croatia, killed at least 75 people and affected more than 3 million people across the disaster zone.

JDC's comprehensive crisis response included aid to the broader population through International Development Program partners, as well as assistance to the Jewish community. 

In Bosnia alone, according to a Bosnian government source, more than 100,000 people were evacuated from their homes. More than a million people — a quarter of the total population — have lost access to clean drinking water, and 100,000 houses have been damaged or completely destroyed. The situation is even more complex due to debris disposal, land remediation and the displacement of more than 2,000 land mines, which destroyed at least 230 schools, health clinics, and other pieces of critical infrastructure. Landslides literally swallowed dozens of settlements, roads, and railway lines.

In partnership with the Jewish Community of Sarajevo and the Welfare Department of the Jewish Community of Bucharest, Romania, a 15-ton humanitarian convoy arrived in Sarajevo earlier this month, distributing much-needed aid to the local Jewish communities that were hit by these floods, especially those in Doboj and Banja Luka. The goods sent include rubber gloves and rubber boots, surgical masks, one ton of secondhand clothes, mattresses, pillows, and personal hygiene items, as well as cash contributions to each of the families.  

Additionally, and more inclusively, these relief efforts are done on a non-sectarian basis: JDC and the Jewish community have worked with JDC’s local network of partners --- cultivated through IDP's Women’s Health Empowerment Program (WHEP) --- to assist other communities in remote locations that were badly hit by the floods.

Most of these communities are comprised of Romani people who reside in small settlements and shanty villages in the area of Kakanj, where many families lost their property. JDC, together with its WHEP volunteers, is also organizing specially tailored health days in these communities to provide the families, particularly women and children, with medical checkups and first aid packages.

JDC's IDP Senior Program Manager Itai Shamir shared some of his personal observations from his time in Bosnia shortly after the floods.

We visited Kakanj, which is about an hour's drive from Sarajevo. It’s comprised of small villages that are quite remote from the main road. Families live there in something similar to “transit camps." It reminded me of immigrants making Aliyah to Israel. Four to eight families share a unit; each family has its room, with a shared kitchen and makeshift bathroom. The floods hit their villages hard, and it was almost impossible to breathe, let alone imagine how someone could make a life there. Many sleep on mattresses on the floor or low-rise couches that rotted during the floods.  

Each of these families received a collection of items from JDC: hygiene kits, soap powder, sanitary pads, baby diapers, fruit, towels, a mattress, blankets and pillows,  and a carpet.

Meliha, 40, a single mother, lives with her son Arnes, 15, in a small village called Cementarsko Naselje. They have no electricity or clean water. Arnes gets a sandwich in school every day, and sometimes it is his only meal. Meliha struggles to make a living, collect recyclable materials and sometimes cleaning houses in the nearest city (about 15 miles away) to make ends meet. Though Meliha is very proud of her son's commitment to his schoolwork, he struggles to finish his homework before it gets dark.

Despite these conditions, the pair was extremely happy to see us and very grateful for JDC's assistance. 

Later that day, we drove to the remote village of Vozuca for a health day hosted by our partner NGO Buducnost za, from Zavidovici. The day's schedule included mobile mammogram checkups, educational outreach, and other medical services. Some of the women who participated in this event had lost their property, and their homes have been damaged during the floods.

These women were so excited to see us and very grateful. They attested to how rewarding it was for them to see a Jewish organization assisting families in their areas, where most residents are Roma and Muslim.

For more on our work in the Balkans, click here.

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