Assistance from the international community improves bilateral relations, regional co-operation and the EU integration process.
By Ivana Jovanovic for Southeast European Times in Belgrade -- 06/08/14
A woman pushes her bicycle past piles of flood debris in Obrenovac, 32 kilometres west of Belgrade, on June 4th. [AFP]
In order to help overcome consequences of devastating floods in May, the European Commission gathered 1.8 billion euros in relief funding for Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) during a donor conference organised in Brussels.
The July 16th event gathered delegations from more than 60 countries, civil society and private sector representatives and 23 international organisations.
"The conference once again illustrated the great solidarity for Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia and managed to overall mobilise pledges of 809.2 euros million for Bosnia and Herzegovina and 995.2 million euros for Serbia," the EU said in a statement.
According to President Tomislav Nikolic, who led Serbian delegation at the conference, the flood caused damage worth about 1.5 billion euros in Serbia alone.
"Serbia is grateful that you have responded and showed a readiness to impart the much-needed support and help my country and Bosnia and Herzegovina," Nikolic said during the conference. "I expect that you will thoroughly inform your governments of the consequences of the floods and that you will, as much as you can, find a way to provide us with adequate assistance."
Twenty-three member states offered humanitarian assistance during the flood, and 800 relief workers were deployed to the two countries, making the flood recovery the largest relief effort by the EU to date.
Dejan Jovovic, a member of the Scientific Society of Economists of Serbia and former adviser for the Serbian Chamber of Commerce, said that the EU help encourages officials and citizens.
"This disaster has made us closer with our neighbours, the EU and with the whole international community. Funds collected in Brussels surpassed our expectations and encouraged us because we cannot manage floods recovery alone. There is a deep economic crisis that citizens can feel and now when they see the EU efforts to help, they can feel a kind of safety that they are not alone and isolated," Jovovic told SETimes.
Marko Blagojevic, director of the government Office for Reconstruction and Flood Relief, said that any kind of help is welcome and important for Serbia. He said that the recovery will help Serbia to improve its international reputation as well as citizens' trust in EU.
"We do this job in order to strengthen international credibility of our country and do believe that we'll show to the EU and to the whole international community that we can manage such a process in accordance with international standards, especially those related to transparency and quality," Blagojevic said.
"If anyone takes a look at the structure of donation, it is obvious that this process is going to encourage citizens' commitment that Serbia should continue its path to the EU," he said.
The EU said that funding will help people rebuild houses and public buildings before winter, as well as restore water and energy supplies. Funds will also be designated for flood management and protection, disaster prevention and to rebuild transportation and energy infrastructure.
The EU said that regional co-operation is required for river basin management, as BiH and Serbia share the same river basin.
Bakir Izetbegović, BiH Presidency chairman, called the Brussels conference "a compelling display of our co-operation."
"This joint appeal to rebuild together makes us ever more determined to continue working hand-in-hand. We were struck by a natural disaster of catastrophic proportions. We suffered the largest rainfall and the worst flooding in the last 120 years," he said.
EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fule said that a follow-up conference will be in six months.
"Six months from now, when the follow-up event takes place, I trust that the emergency work will have been finished and that, thanks to your hard work and our solidarity, the reconstruction work will be well on its way to being finalised. I also hope that we will be able to say that we are taking measures to ensure that any future floods never cause the same devastation," he said.
How will the flood relief efforts contribute to Serbia and BiH's efforts to join the EU? Add your thoughts in the comment area below.