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News 23 Jun 15

Serbia Distributed Flood Aid 'Unfairly', NGOs Say

Serbian NGOs claim government institutions discriminated against some victims of the May 2014 floods in terms of the equal distribution of aid.

Sasa Dragojlo
BIRN
Belgrade
Press Conference | Photo by Media Centar Belgrade

At the presentation of a Manual on Emergency Situations in the Case of Floods, compiled by YUCOM, the non-governmental Lawyers' Committee for Human Rights, some speakers said state institutions discriminated against certain flood victims and that the distribution of aid after the floods was unfair.

Flash floods hit Serbia in May 2014 and affected about a million and a half people directly or indirectly. Officially, 33 people lost their lives, while many others in Serbia were left without homes and the means of a livelihood.

Zoe Gudovic, of the Reconstruction Women’s Fund, said that state institutions clearly determined who was welcome to get help and who was not.

“We received information that Roma people were not adequately rehoused and did not receive help," she said.

"In practice, however, Roma mothers gave milk for other children so they could survive in the most critical situations and some asylum seekers jumped to help people who had lost their homes, although they did not have their own homes,” Gudovic added.

The government established an Office for Reconstruction and flood relief on May 22, 2014 as a response to the devastation caused by the floods.

Marko Blagojevic, director of the office, admitted that the disaster caught Serbia unprepared but said the state did everything possible in that moment.

“There is no need to enter into a debate on whether state aid was given as needed. The state gave everything it had. We first needed to see the sum we had, then share that sum among the number of those who required help,” Blagojevic said.

Milena Vasic, YUCOM’s legal advisor, said citizens were often not exactly informed about how to apply for help, which suggested that the government had neglected to educate its own citizens about their rights in crisis situations.

She recalled numerous controversies with the commission that was tasked with evaluating the infrastructure damage and with deciding about help.

“Citizens complained about the incompetence of persons in the commission for evaluation of damages, which caused inadequacies in the distribution of aid,” Vasic said.

The latest statistics of the Office for Reconstruction and flood relief said the office helped 20,209 private individuals, 1,716 economic entities and 660 tenants.

The government has since adopted a National Programme for Risk Management of Natural Disasters in December 2014, which will be implemented in cooperation with the World Bank, the UN and the EU.

The government also plans a draft law on disaster management, which should be ready by the end of July.

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