International community rallies to support flooded Serbia


International organisations, EU member countries and EULEX are assisting Serbia after the worst flooding to hit the region in 120 years.

By Ivana Jovanovic for Southeast European Times in Belgrade -- 22/05/14


South African helicopter pilots flying for EULEX Skye Ryalls (left) and Rod Pehnall (right) confer with a Serbian pilot to determine areas in need of flood relief. [Ivana Jovanovic/SETimes]

Faced with what Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic called the "biggest water catastrophe in Serbia's history," the Serbian government asked the international community for help.

Within 30 hours after Serbian authorities sought assistance from the EU, EULEX mission trucks brought 5,000 meals, 7,000 litres of water, 200 camp beds and 200 sleeping bags to Belgrade, and a helicopter with five crew members landed at Belgrade airport on Sunday (May 18th).

As part of the civilian mission, their main task is to assist the Serbian police.

"We are part of the Serbian team and we are getting support from all sides: from the EULEX side and the Serbian government. Co-operation is crucial, and we are very happy that we have it," Rod Pehnall, chief of a South African helicopter crew flying for EULEX, told SETimes.

"They have us on stand-by and we are going to stay here as long as Serbia needs us. Once they decide we can go home, we'll go, but not before," Skye Ryalls, another pilot flying for EULEX, told SETimes.

Penhall said international community assistance in this kind of situation is important.

"When you are trying to care for infrastructure, you do not have time to deal with evacuation, medical help," he said. "The international community comes with very good assets to react quickly."

The EU member states are assisting as well.

More than 220 trained rescuers from several countries, including Austria, Germany, Slovenia, Slovakia, Hungary, France, Czech Republic, Romania, Bulgaria, Croatia and Cyprus, have been deployed to the flooded areas, and are helping with evacuations, and repairing flood damage by using water rescue boats, helicopters, high-capacity pumping modules and other equipment.

Dozens of additional rescue teams, helicopters, boats and water pumps are ready to be directed to Serbia at its request.

Macedonia and Montenegro are sending help in the form of food, water, clothes and medicine. Authorities in Peja, Kosovo, have also offered assistance.

Jelena Milic, director at the Belgrade-based Centre for Euro-Atlantic Studies, said international community assistance and co-operation are crucial to crisis management.

"In the last ten years, USAID [US Agency for International Development] invested about $40 million in Serbia to develop municipalities' capacities in cases of emergencies. The EU announced that it will allow Serbia, as a candidate state, to use solidarity funds up to 1 billion euros. Norway has given Serbia 2 million euros in bilateral help, as well as numerous development projects that it is sponsoring on a regular basis in Serbia. All these projects have been supporting the work of ministries, local communities and government that is necessary in situations of emergency," Milic told SETimes.

She emphasised the importance of procedural compatibility with the neighbouring countries as well, since it is easiest to deliver help from there.

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According to Pehnall, Serbia has been on the right track since the beginning of the flooding.

"It is important for a country to identify it has a problem. Serbia's decision makers have been making good decisions from the beginning of the crisis, and they accepted international participation. Many countries will not do that because they think they can do it by themselves, or because they do not want foreign people to come to their countries," Pehnall said.

"Our tasks request additional effort since those people are very insecure due to the massive tragedy. They are traumatised, disoriented. They do not know what to do, they lost everything, and all of a sudden someone is there to help them. They do not see us as foreigners, but as a part of the Serbian team," he added.

How have you been affected by the flooding? Share your stories in the comments space below.

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