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Balkan floods destroy livelihoods and bring disease

Zorica and her five children were rescued from their home by boat when floodwaters entered their house. She doesn't know when they will be able to return home.
Zorica and her five children were rescued from their home by boat when floodwaters entered their house. She doesn't know when they will be able to return home.

The flooding in the Balkans has escaped the limelight of the UK media. However, the region's worst floods since records began have brought devastation to countless families, destroying precious crops, killing livestock and leaving behind the threat of disease.

In Serbia, the unprecedented severity of the floods took Zorica and her family by surprise. “The water began rising on Thursday,” she says. “It was scary, but we didn't believe it would be that bad. In the evening, we had dinner. I put the children to bed and moved the three pigs into the small wooden kitchen attached to the house, just in case.” Like many families in her community, Zorica and her husband Milan keep livestock, an essential part of their livelihood.

“I've only seen such things in movies before”

The next morning she woke early. “I opened the window and saw a flat shiny surface. I didn't have to reach down to touch the water; it came up to the window sill ... I called the emergency services and the firefighters. They came with a boat. I put the children in and went back in to get a few things. I began rolling the carpet. I don't know what I was thinking.

“I heard a noise from the bathroom like rats running. I opened the door and a fountain of muddy water burst from the toilet. I've only seen such things in movies before. It sprayed all over me and the walls, and began pouring into the other rooms.”

Zorica lives near the Western Morava river, in the hardhit Kraljevo region. Now, she and her children are staying in a hotel in town, their home uninhabitable. She has tiny rashes on her arms. “I guess it's from the water,” she says.

Floods hit families close to the breadline

Milan, her husband, stayed at home, living in the attic where he is safe from the water. Zorica's family don't live in poverty, but they rely on everything they have to get by, so Milan couldn't afford to abandon the pigs. Zorica puts it plainly: “For five euros I can only buy a kilogram of meat. What can one make of that? If we have pigs, we can eat all winter.”

Trstenik house Balkan floods 2014 69643
Many houses stand as empty shells after being gutted by the floods

All over the Balkans, farmland has been devastated and livestock killed. In Kraljevo alone, thousands of square miles of arable land lie useless, all crops destroyed. As the floodwaters recede, they leave in their wake the carcasses of animals and the remnants of the summer's harvest. In a region where many people rely on agriculture for their day-to-day survival, the consequences of such widespread destruction are almost beyond comprehension.

Zorica has been back to her house. She says the stench is unbearable. Milan has been helping the clean-up effort, making people's homes inhabitable again, but for now, his children cannot come back to theirs. As temperatures rise into the 30s in a country strewn with animal remains and dirty water, the risk of waterborne disease rises. Rats and mosquitos are expected to arrive in increased numbers. There is even talk of a hepatitis or typhoid outbreak.

What is SOS Children doing to help?

With projects across the affected countries, we are doing all we can to offer relief to families in dire need. Disinfectants and detergents are desperately needed to protect families from disease, especially at a time when children are playing among the rubble and contaminated water while their parents clean up. Clean drinking water is vital, as are milk and nappies for new mothers and their babies. At the moment, support in Serbia especially goes out to families in Lazarevac near the particularly hardhit city of Obrenovac.

All SOS families in Serbia, Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina are safe. In all three countries, we are offering accommodation to families in need. We are also working with governments, local authorities, UN agencies and other organisations to ensure that children and families get the support they need, from education and counselling to financial help. In Serbia and Bosnia, SOS employees are donating a day's pay towards relief efforts.

How can I help?

The best way to help our work in the Balkans is to sponsor an SOS Children's Village. This way, you can help the most vulnerable children grow up in a caring family environment, with all the support and guidance they need to succeed in later life.

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