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news 19 May 14

Serbian Flood Relief Campaign Goes Viral

Social networks including Facebook and Twitter are proving powerful tools to mobilise people at home and abroad to help deal with the impact of the worst natural catastrophe in memory.

Nemanja Cabric, Ivana Nikolic
BIRN
Belgrade
Photo by BETA

At over 20 locations in Belgrade and at others all over Serbia, the Red Cross has been collecting food, clothes and other necessities for around 25,000 people evacuated from their homes after the severe flooding of recent days.

At the same time humanitarian aid is arriving from Russia, Germany, Austria, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro and other countries.

After the town of Obrenovac, 30 kilometres southwest of Belgrade, became literally submerged, evacuees started filling up various institutions that have opened their doors to the newly homeless.

   World Joins Relief Mission

As the international relief effort kicks into action, Croatia and Macedonia have sent 90 tons of water while more than 220 rescuers from ten EU countries have been helping with the evacuation people from the worst affected areas of Serbia since Friday.

The EU has sent rescue boats, helicopters, high capacity pumps and other equipment. Meanwhile the EU mission in Kosovo, EULEX, has sent its rescue helicopter to evacuate people from flooded areas.

Aid packages have also come from the United Nations, Belarus and the Russian Federation, which has sent 76 rescuers to help vacuate people from Obrenovac. Humanitarian aid worth more than 400 000 euro has also arrived from Azerbaijan.

As these and other evacuations continue, campaigns have started to raise funds and provide necessities for people left without roofs over their heads, at least until the floodwaters recede.

The government of Serbia has appealed to both citizens and businesses to donate food, clothes, blankets and toiletries.

Red Cross workers as well as volunteers have acted fast to take care of the evacuees from Obrenovac and other affected areas. Across Belgrade, thousands of people donated mattresses and blankets, turning public spaces into temporary public dormitories.

As sport centres, concert halls and hotels open their doors to the evacuees, volunteers have been handing out goods, offering people free rooms to stay in and filling Twitter and Facebook with tens of thousands of helpful messages and offers.

Twitter users have also launched special a website, poplave.rs, containing a map of the flood zone and the distribution network along with a forum on which people can report what is going on, supply information about roads and discuss what kind of help is most urgently needed.

Zoran Torbica, one of the people who launched the website, told Tanjug news agency on May 16 that the founders of the website were in contact with the police and will soon obtain administrator privileges.

In the meantime, on Twitter, mostly under hash tags #poplave and #SerbiaFloods, messages of support have been pouring in across Serbia, sharing information and photographs about floods and about the most useful ways to donate.

The Facebook page “Poplave u regionu” (“Floods in the region”) received 49,000 “likes” over the weekend and is also filling up with posts offering shelter, food and information about how to collect and distribute aid to the flood zones.

Djokovic Criticises BBC

After a win in the Italian Open, Serbian tennis player Novak Djokovic said the BCC, CNN and other world broadcasters were virtually ignoring the floods in the Balkans owing to their preoccupation with the recent mine disaster in Turkey.

While they barely covered the floods in Serbia and Bosnia, there was “lot of talk about the miners in Turkey”, he said.

“ I just hope that people can find common sense and broadcast this, spread awareness about what is going on and help,” he said.

“This rain that has been constantly falling for four days already is going to stop eventually and the river is going to back down, but after that there will be a period of several months of recovery, and people will be without homes. So we need as much help, in any kind of way as possible, from the world,” Djokovic said.

For once, Serbs are not arguing with Bosniaks, some have noted, because the floodwaters of the river Sava “have crossed the borders”, as one post put it.

Another has offers help in saving livestock from Obrenovac, which are forbidden from being transported by boats. He “has a guy that will start this action”, he adds.

A third post offers a free place to stay for “families with several small children”.

The relief effort and lively use of social networks have united people across the region and indeed across the world in a mission to help deal with the crisis.

However, the campaign has not been left solely to social networks.

The Serbian government has opened both euro and dinar accounts for donors and has urged people across the world to help cover the cost of the damage. The Serbian Prime Minister, Aleksandar Vucic, has warned that the bill for the floods will be “dramatically high”.

 

 

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