War-torn and impoverished, Bosnia faces rebuild once again after floods

Floods recede in BosniaMitra Colic stands in the shell of her home, anguished by the worst flooding in the Balkans in 150 years. “I have moments when I cry and think: What next? Can I go on like this?” she says.

Colic, a 71-year-old retired cleaner, moved to the northern Bosnian town of Modrica during the Yugoslav war from her home near Vukovar, a city in Croatia that endured one of the longest and bloodiest sieges in that conflict. Now she again faces the prospect of rebuilding her life after the floods that swept across the city in a matter of hours, running three and a half metres (11ft) deep in places and making thousands homeless.

“I’m ill, my body is reacting to this,” said Colic from the sodden concrete space that was once her front room. Outside in the sun, relatives scrubbed kitchen appliances in the vain hope they might work again.

“But there were floods like this all over the country, there are many people in my position. This is my home, my life. I want to repair this house – I won’t leave,” she added.

The floods that hit Bosnia, Serbia and Croatia in the past week are the worst in over a century. Reports suggest three months’ of rain fell in a matter of days. In Bosnia alone, 40,000 people have been evacuated and 25 confirmed dead – but the death toll is expected to rise. Bosnia’s foreign minister has said the destruction is comparable to that in the 1992-95 war that killed 100,000 people and still scars the country.

The damage across the region is expected to cost billions of euros. It is a disaster that Bosnia – one of the poorest countries in Europe – cannot afford. Here the average net wage is just €420 (£340) a month, and the country relies on EU funding of about €100m a year.

Colic’s district – built in the past 20 years and largely populated by ethnic Serbs who fled other parts of the former Yugoslavia during the war – sits beside the river Bosna on a plain beneath a pockmarked medieval fortress shrouded in forest. Muddy lines on buildings show how high the water rose. Suburban roads are now stony dirt tracks, stripped of asphalt. There is a stench of rot. A tanned middle-aged man pushes his bicycle slowly. His house has been entirely swept away, he said.

Downriver, the destruction is more apocalyptic. In what was once an affluent riverside district, one house lies levelled like flat-pack furniture. Next door a swimming pool has been dislodged and sits on the muddy riverbank.

The landslides that are the biggest single danger as floodwaters subside are shifting uncleared wartime minefields.

Of 1,200 sq km of known mined areas, 800 sq km have been affected by flooding and topsoil movement, a diplomatic source told the Guardian. By the end of last week, seven explosions of mines and buried ordnance had been reported and, while there have been no fatalities, the situation poses “a serious risk to recovery efforts”, the source said.

“This is a real disaster,” said Dusko Pejic, a community mayor in Modrica. “We are poor, and what’s happened has made us poorer.” Pejic is coordinating humanitarian aid, which at local level involves NGOs and local volunteers.

The Red Cross has brought a mobile field kitchen where men stir a vast vat of cabbage with a paddle, and there is a dusty warehouse piled high with donated clothes, from children’s dungarees to white leather high-heeled boots.

The bravery of volunteers across the region has been a defining feature of the disaster. In Modrica, Vidra, a local amateur diving club set up to respond to flooding, scrambled its two dinghies to save people in appalling conditions. – The Guardian