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Recovery from Balkans floods will cost billions

Published: Wednesday, May 21, 2014 11:50 a.m. CDT
Caption
(AP Photo/1.st lt. Rok Einhauer, 151.Helicopter squadron, Slovenian Army)
In this picture taken on Saturday, May 17, 2014, and made available Tuesday May 20, 2014 a Slovenian army helicopter team rescues a small baby by winching the baby carrier into the helicopter over the village of Tisina, near Bosanski Samac, northern Bosnia-Herzegovina. The rest of the baby's family was evacuated later on, the rescue team said. Hundreds of thousands of people were forced from their homes in Bosnia and Serbia following the worst flooding since record began 120 years ago.

SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina — Floodwaters receded Wednesday in Bosnia and Serbia, just enough to reveal the next shock: recovery from the historic flood will probably cost billions of euros that neither of the countries has.

Bosnian Foreign Minister Zlatko Lagumdzija said the flood affected 23,000 square kilometers (8,900 square miles), or 40 percent of the country — an area bigger in size than the nearby country of Slovenia.

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

She added that as the flooding struck, the EU responded immediately with rescue workers, helicopters, boats, tents and other forms of aid from 16 member countries and that more is to come for both Serbia and Bosnia.

"Right now, we are at the emergency assistance phase," she said, meaning the focus is on saving lives and preventing diseases. In the next phase, the European Union and local experts will be assessing the damage, and in the third they will work on the recovery and prevention of such tragedies.

While there's been no official figure on damages in Bosnia, some preliminary estimates are pointing to the sum of nearly 1.3 billion euros ($1.78 billion).

Both countries have already begun talks with the EU for getting international help with reconstruction efforts. Separately, Bosnia's Serb region is talking with Russia.

The flooding wrecked the main agriculture industry in Bosnia's northern flatlands. In addition to ruining the region's economic backbone, the deluge has wiped out infrastructure, buildings and family homes. One quarter of the country's population of 4 million has been affected by the six days of floods and 2,100 landslides.

Bosnia has one of the lowest gross domestic products in Europe and an unemployment rate of up to 44 percent. Almost no one has property insurance in the country, meaning many residents lost virtually everything.

On Wednesday, a mine exploded near the northern village of Cerik where the water had moved one of the more than 9,000 minefields left from the war. Nobody was hurt.

"This country has not experienced such a natural cataclysm ever in its history," Lagumdzija, the foreign minister, said.

In neighboring Serbia, Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic has said the damage in his country has exceeded 0.64 percent of GDP, meaning that Serbia can apply for EU emergency funds.

Infrastructure Minister Zorana Mihajlovic said 3,500 kilometers (2,200 miles) of roads have been destroyed or damaged and about 30 percent of railway lines still cannot be accessed.

Serbia, like much of the Balkans, is poor. The country's economy has failed to fully recover following the wars and international sanctions in the 1990s, and is marred by mismanagement and widespread corruption. The unemployment rate officially stands at 20 percent, but is much higher in reality.

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Jovana Gec reported from Belgrade, Serbia. Irena Knezevic contributed from Banja Luka, Bosnia.

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