International aid from the Baltics to the Bosporus began flowing to Serbia and Bosnia after the worst flooding on record swamped towns and farms, leaving 37 dead and thousands homeless.
The United Nations flew life-saving equipment to Belgrade shortly before midnight and another plane with emergency food and water supplies was dispatched, the Serbian Interior Ministry said in an e-mailed statement today. The European Union deployed more relief workers and equipment than the two countries asked as the situation worsened and said cash aid will follow once damages are assessed.
Serbia declared a state of emergency on May 15 after rainfall-triggered floods left 19 dead in the largest former Yugoslav republic, 17 in neighboring Bosnia and one in Croatia. Governments are still calculating the impact and Serbia has turned to Russia and the European Union for emergency assistance as the rains ruined homes, roads, dams, railroads and crops of wheat and corn.
“The impact on the Serbian budget will be huge as the government will have to increase spending and will be forced to redefine its priorities for this year at least,” Ivan Nikolic, a member of the central bank governor’s advisory council, said by phone today. “The austerity program they planned just days ago will no longer be possible.”
Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic planned policies to save about 400 million euros ($548 million) this year through public wage cuts, later retirement for women, a crackdown on the gray economy and incentives to investors. The steps toward narrowing Europe’s highest fiscal deficit of more than 7 percent of gross domestic product were a condition to start loan talks with the International Monetary Fund.
“Help from friends will be needed for a while,” Economy Minister Dusan Vujovic said at a conference with executives from the United Arab Emirates in Belgrade Monday. “Direct help will also be necessary so that we can bring our economy back to normal.”
Serbia, which started EU membership talks on Jan. 21, will be eligible for solidarity aid of up to 1 billion euros a year from the 28-member bloc should damage exceed 0.64 percent of its GDP, said Kristalina Georgieva, the European commissioner for International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response.
More than half of EU members have responded, sending helicopters, high-capacity pumps, boats, tents and water- purification equipment, she said.
“There’s a tremendous problem with water pollution, water contamination and in Bosnia slides are affecting areas where mines are left from the war,” Georgieva told a press conference in Brussels. “For now it’s about an emergency response and the time will come for the reconstruction of both countries.”
Russia, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovenia, Austria, France, Hungary, Croatia, Montenegro, Bulgaria, Italy, the three Baltic states, Turkey and Azerbaijan are among countries offering assistance, which includes helicopters, equipment, rescue workers and detergents.
The UN deployed a team to work closely with the government to assess “post-disaster needs” and plan recovery activities, its office in Belgrade said in an e-mail.
In Serbia, about 25,000 people were evacuated and 26,000 homes left without electricity overnight, while rescuers struggled to save towns and villages along swelling rivers and keep water away from the main power generating facilities near Belgrade, the Interior Ministry said in an e-mail.
Serb police ordered the immediate evacuation of villages along the Sava river near Sabac, 85 kilometers (53 miles) southwest of Belgrade, state-owned Tanjug news agency reported today, citing Ljubisa Dikovic, the commander of the crisis unit.
Volunteers were reinforcing the Sava river’s banks toward Croatia, where eastern parts have also been flooded. Police sealed off the city of Obrenovac and banned its citizens from returning amid disease threats.
Serbia’s Chamber of Commerce urged the government to ban grain exports at least until more accurate damage assessments have been made and offer incentives to farmers to buy seeds, crude oil and fertilizers, Milan Prostran, the head of the agriculture division, said by phone. Banks were preparing credit facilities to affected clients.
Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia are sending a joint 19-person rescue squad and heavy pumping equipment to Bosnia to assist with flood relief. The team, part of the EU-financed BaltFloodCombat initiative, plans to work in Bosnia for at least 18 days, Lithuania’s Fire and Rescue Department said on its webpage.
Serbia received more rainfall than forecast in the past week, according to Predrag Maric, the head of the Interior Ministry’s emergency unit.
“The weather service had forecast 120 liters of rainfall per square meter and we had more than 170 liters per square meter,” Maric said in an interview with B92 broadcaster. “We had a huge cyclone above Serbia for days and it poured rain for days.”
Sunny weather will replace rain this week, according to the Serbia’s Hydrometeorological Service. The Sava, which runs from Slovenia through Croatia to Serbia, will rise in Belgrade by May 21 “but the Sava will not flood Belgrade,” forecaster Zorica Barborosa said.
Risks remain as Danube water levels rise, forcing the regional authorities in Vojvodina, Serbia’s breadbasket in the north, to reinforce dams along the river.
Bosnia’s Serb republic declared a day of mourning, Bosnian news portal Dnevni Avaz reported, citing Bosnian Serb Interior Minister Radislav Jovicic. The government ordered local authorities to mark fields with unexploded landmines and ban any access to those areas, it said in an e- mail.