Balkans facing massive bill for clean-up after deadly flooding

Bosnia and Serbia, already struggling financially, now face huge clean-up costs

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 22 May, 2014, 10:36pm
UPDATED : Friday, 23 May, 2014, 1:40am


Recovering from the record flooding of the past week will cost Bosnia and Serbia billions that neither country has, officials said.

Although there is no official total for flood damages, the Raiffeisen Investment Group said in a note to investors that preliminary estimates were nearly €1.3 billion (HK$13.8 billion) for Bosnia alone.

Bosnian President Bakir Izetbegovic said on Wednesday that the damage bill would reach the billions. And in neighbouring Serbia, Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic said that the damages could reach €1.5 billion.

Both countries have already opened negotiations with the European Union to support reconstruction efforts. Separately, Bosnia's Serb region has opened talks with its ally Russia.

The flooding affected 40 per cent of Bosnia, Foreign Minister Zlatko Lagumdzija said. It wrecked the main agriculture industry in the northern flatlands, wiping out infrastructure, farms, buildings and homes. A quarter of Bosnia's four million people have been affected by the six days of floods and 2,100 landslides.

"This country has not experienced such a natural cataclysm ever," Lagumdzija said.

The flooding has led to at least 51 deaths: 27 in Serbia, 22 in Bosnia, and two in Croatia.

Serbia's minister for construction, transport and infrastructure, Zorana Mihajlovic, said 3,500km of roads had been destroyed or damaged and 30 per cent of railway lines were closed.

"It's an enormous tragedy," said Kristalina Georgieva of the European Commission's International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response unit.

The EU has deployed rescue workers, helicopters, boats, tents and other aid from 16 member countries and plans more help.

"Right now, we are at the emergency assistance phase," she said, suggesting a focus on saving lives and preventing the spread of disease. In the next phase, EU and local experts will assess the damage.

Bosnia has one of the weakest economies in Europe and an unemployment rate of up to 44 per cent. Almost no one has property insurance, meaning many residents lost virtually everything.

On Wednesday, a landmine exploded near the northern village of Cerik, where the flooding had moved one of the more than 9,000 minefields left over from Bosnia's 1992-95 war. No one was hurt.

Serbia, like much of the Balkans, is poor. The country's economy has failed to recover fully following the wars and international sanctions in the 1990s, and is also hobbled by mismanagement and corruption. The unemployment rate officially stands at 20 per cent but is thought to be much higher.