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Image: Source: http://www.ifrc.org/en/news-and-media/news-stories/international/red-cross-supports-response-in-serbia-and-bosnia-during-catastrophic-floods-65956/ 
Copyright: @ ICRC (May 2014)

Floods in Western Balkans trigger civil society solidarity

Unprecedented heavy rainfall that hit the Western Balkans since 13 May calling for urgent humanitarian response in a highly volatile and diverse region. The international community, including the European Union and the United Nations, are currently assisting the responsible governments in the regions to distribute aid. In the current situation, it highly important that the governments incorporate a rights-based approach in their humanitarian assistance to ensure protection and avoid violation of human rights in a chaotic situation.

Thursday, 22 May 2014, by Human Rights House Foundation (HRHF)

The floods that raged through parts of Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia, and less heavily Croatia, starting on 13 May have affected an estimated quarter of the population, leaving them in urgent need of humanitarian assistance. Following the heavy rainfall, there are areas that remain under the water, whilst thousands of people have been evacuated and displaced.

In Serbia a large number of populations remain isolated, without water, electricity or proper shelter. Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia are in the epicentre of this natural disaster, and the eastern part of Croatia, near the Serbian boarder, was flooded as well causing thousand citizens to flee and the entire country in a state of emergency.

To date, it looks like in all three countries governments have mobilised resources quickly to answer the most urgent needs.

In the current state of emergency, there is a strong focus on mobilization of resources to ensure immediate humanitarian help and crises management. At the same time, there is little attention paid to possible human rights violations that are traditionally triggered during natural disasters. Such violations include discriminatory access to humanitarian assistance, forced displacement, sexual and gender based violence, discrimination against minorities and high risk of statelessness. Therefore, a human rights-based approach should be incorporated into emergency relief and response.

Such is even more important to alleviate the long-term consequences attributed to natural disasters. Otherwise, vulnerable and deprived communities can be left in an even greater social and economical despair.

Experience has shown that the longer the displacement lasts, the greater the risk of human rights violations. In particular, discrimination and violations of economic, social and cultural rights tent to become more systemic over time. Hence it is highly important to adopt a right-based approach. This is particularly important as the region continues to struggle with issues related to transitional justice, reconciliation, direct discrimination, with questions of return, restitution and restoration and stuck in an economical ditch.

Nevertheless, this natural disaster has brought out the solidarity and empathy amongst people in the whole region regardless of any past burdens. The way that citizens have mobilized to provide support and help within their countries and cross borders.

 

Assistance through Human Rights Houses in the region

Member organizations in Human Rights House Zagreb and Human Rights House Belgrade have devoted their efforts to immediate support and/or as a provider of information. In both countries civil society organisations are coordinating their activities aimed at helping the endangered citizens.

In one of the HRH Belgrade member organisations a Crisis Unit was organized entitled “Citizens United for Serbia”. It is their goal to coordinate civil society organisations and alarm their international networks, including donors to provide assistance to the affected Serbian citizens.

HRH Zagreb has also organized a two-day donations opportunity during which citizens could contribute with aid and the Human Rights House will organize further distribution.

So far, the devastation and difficulty of such a natural disaster has brought out the solidarity and regional cooperation in the Balkan region that was not seen in the last 20 years. 

Human Rights House Foundation (HRHF)

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