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Floods in the Balkans: taking a toll on people's lives

Floods in the Balkans: taking a toll on people's lives and economy

Long-term solutions needed for people and nature

Belgrade, 21 May 2014 – Floodwaters have burst into Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia, menacing towns, villages and human lives. “WWF is deeply saddened by the dramatic losses of life and homes and our thoughts are with the victim’s families", said Andreas Beckmann, Director of WWF Danube-Carpathian Programme.

Serbia declared a state of emergency on 15 May after rainfall-triggered floods left by now 21 dead, 17 in neighbouring Bosnia and one in Croatia. Governments are still calculating the impact and Serbia has turned to the UN, EU and other countries for emergency assistance. There’s a tremendous problem with water pollution and water contamination.

Obrenovac, some 30 kilometres southwest of the Serbian capital Belgrade, has been devastated by flooding that has claimed the lives of at least a dozen of its citizens.There are also fears that the Sava river, which burst some 100 meters off its bank near the Nikola Tesla Thermal Power Plant, could also start flooding, significantly worsening the situation. Serbia's army was deployed to defend the north-western town of Šabac, where a local chemical factory was threatened by the water.

In addition, experts warn that old land mines laid in the 1990s Balkan war in Bosnia-Herzegovina could be uncovered and washed up in unexpected places.

The latest report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) states that Europe will experience severe weather conditions more often, including more devastating floods. Recent flooding in the Balkans has underscored the need to focus on ecologically-sound flood management practices to shield urban areas from extreme weather events. Long-term solutions for flood management are required that work with nature by giving space back to the rivers, WWF warns.

“Floodplains act as natural reservoirs allowing large volumes of water to be stored and slowly and safely released down rivers and into the groundwater. If cut off from the main river beds and drained for e.g. agriculture, or increasing urban areas as has happened across most of Europe in the last century, their potential for flood retention is lost and the risks from floods are increased”, says Duska Dimovic, WWF Serbia Country Manager.

Still, an integrated and more transparent flood management approach is needed to stop the dangerous cycle of permitting farming or industrial activities in high risk flood areas, like floodplains, and then building higher and higher dykes to protect them. All economic, ecological and human factors must be considered and actions must be taken to provide long-term solutions, by reconnecting the former floodplains to their rivers.

“Restoring the natural capacity of the floodplains to retain flood waters would help to protect people from flood impacts, would cost much less than the damages caused by floods, and, in addition, would provide important benefits to nature, people, and local economies. A restoration potential analysis shows the most appropriate existing or former floodplain areas to be restored, and with further feasibility assessments countries could define which of these places can be restored in reality to bring the biggest benefits from ecological and flood mitigation point of view”, says Duska Dimovic.

This proved to be more effective and affordable solution. An example for this in the area are the special nature reserves of Gornje Podunavlje, Obedska Bara, Karadjordjevo and Zasavica (Serbia), as well as Kopački Rit Nature Park (Croatia). The flood area absorbs huge amounts of water thus saves Vukovar and downstream cities, while the Lonjsko Polje Nature Park (Croatia) is one of the most important retentaion areas that protects the capital cities of Belgrade and Zagreb.

The WWF study “Assessment of the restoration potential along the Danube and main tributaries” can be downloaded from http://assets.panda.org/downloads/wwf_restoration_potential_danube_1.pdf

About WWF
WWF is one of the world's largest and most respected independent conservation organizations, with over 5 million supporters and a global network active in over 100 countries. WWF's mission is to stop the degradation of the earth's natural environment and to build a future in which humans live in harmony with nature, by conserving the world's biological diversity, ensuring that the use of renewable natural resources is sustainable, and promoting the reduction of pollution and wasteful consumption (www.panda.org/dcpo).

ENDS

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