After the Great Flood, the Balkans begins the long task of rebuilding


As the flood waters slowly subside across the Western Balkans, the million or so people in Bosnia & Herzegovina (BiH), Croatia and Serbia affected by the worst natural disaster to hit the region in modern history are now trying to rebuild their lives.

The toll is staggering.

In just four, long days between 13 to 17 May, a third of the Bosnian economy – already one of the poorest countries in Europe – was wiped out by a cyclone locally named Tamara.

Thousands of houses and whole villages have been destroyed. Towns across the region have been made unliveable and uncleared minefields from the war in the early 1990s shifted by landslides pose a new danger.

Billions of euros of damage has been caused and it has been predicted that a full recovery will take between five and seven years.

In BiH and Serbia at least 56 lives were lost with lower numbers in neighbouring countries.

Throughout April and early May, steady rainfall had left high water levels in the region.

However, the rainfall produced by cyclone Tamara was the largest since records began 120 years ago.

Water broke through dams and levees, washing away virtually everything in its path.

The areas that suffered most were in and around the northern Bosnian town of Doboj and along the Sava River, including Bijeljina in BiH, and Šabac and Obrenovac in Serbia.

The water levels in these places reached as high as a metre and a half.

In a region where youth unemployment levels before the floods already reached 60 per cent, the current situation for the region’s workers looks bleaker than ever.

Those who earn a living from agriculture have been hit hardest by the floods. Crops have been ruined and livestock has been drowned.

Savo, a farmer from Bijeljina, is one such person affected: “Everything is gone: corn, wheat, animals,” he told Equal Times.

“I am at a total loss.What will happen now, I do not know, but it will not be good. I mean, who is there to turn to?”


Rebuilding efforts

During the flooding, and after the water receded, citizens mobilised themselves and formed civil defense groups to salvage their belongings and provide assistance to those who needed it.

In general, people are aware that the main task of rebuilding will not fall on the state, insurance companies or private firms, but on the people themselves.

Trade unions in the region have called on members and supporters to take an active part in the rebuilding effort.

The Savez samostalnih sindikata Srbije (Confederation of Independent Trade Unions of Serbia, or SSSS) appealed to unions all over the world for help on 21 May.

During an emergency session of the presidency held on 21 May, the Savez sindikata Republike Srpske (Confederation of Trade Unions of Republika Srpska, or SSRS, which is a constituent member of the KSBiH, an International Trade Union Confederation member) called for all employed persons to give at least one-days’ earnings to the rebuilding process.

The Savez samostalnih sindikata BiH (SSSBiH, also a constituent member of KSBiH) cancelled its participation at the ITUC World Congress in Berlin, as well as a planned general strike scheduled for the 27 May because of the flooding.

In a statement, it declared: “All resources of the SSSBiH and its member unions have been put at the service of helping people in need. The priority is to ensure our colleagues and all people in need in BiH a fast return to normal life.”

Foreign governments, from as far away as the United Arab Emirates and Japan, celebrities and the Balkan diaspora have taken a lead in raising and delivering aid.

In the affected countries, there is a growing sense that these troubled times have brought people closer together.

In BiH, especially, communities that were once in conflict have lent a helping hand to one another. The distrust between neighbours is being broken down by acts of kindness from people once thought of as enemies.

And across the region there are calls for the revival of labour actions and the kind of mass volunteer community improvement projects undertaken after the Second World War.

Azra, a student and volunteer from Tuzla, told Equal Times: “We haven’t had hardly any rest because every day we are going to a new location. We are cleaning up and Bosnians from abroad are coming to help out family and friends. This is only the start of the rebuilding and I hope we will continue to stand together.”


For more information on how you can help national trade union centres with the relief efforts, visit: