Rebuilding together

Donor conference in Brussels. Damages amount to 1.5 billion euro

Almost two months have passed since the most devastating floods in modern history hit Serbia. Today, the dramatic images of flooded homes and crops are still vivid, although they have changed and the local population is striving to return to normality. The damages, according to the Serbian government, amount to one and a half billion euro. 500 homes were destroyed and thousands of buildings will be accessible only after major restructuring. Despite the solidarity of many European countries and institutions, there still remains a lot to be done. On July 16, on the initiative of Slovenia and France, the European Commission will host a donors’ conference titled “Rebuilding together”, to collect funds for Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, which was also hit by the fury of waters. To learn more about the situation, the most urgent needs and the delivery of relief, Iva Mihailova, for SIR Europe, interviewed Father Vladislav Varga, Director of Caritas in Serbia. Father Varga, could you tell us more about the ongoing situation in the areas hit by the floods? “As the rainfalls decreased and as the overflowed River Sava returned to its river bed, the situation improved. People are trying to return to their homes. The flood displaced 32 thousand people; several houses must be rebuilt, while there is a shortage of mattresses and electric appliances such as fridges and stoves. Heaps of refuse and animal remains are still on the streets. Out of 80 thousand hectares of crops, as many as 12 thousand hectares won’t be arable for at least another year. And despite massive disinfestation, there remains a high risks of diseases and epidemics”. Caritas Serbia has been in the frontline since the relief operation began. What has been done so far? “In two of the areas hit, Sabac and Valjevo, active Caritas structures’ volunteers brought food and hygiene supplies as soon as the emergency broke out. In total we have helped 5 thousand families in 45 localities and distributed more than 120 tons of humanitarian aid sent to us through the Caritas network, along with some 300 tons of animal fodder”. Now comes the difficult reconstruction phase. Which projects are you working on? “We’re about to launch a reconstruction initiative amounting to two million euros for nine months, with the distribution of vouchers of one thousand to fifteen hundred euros per family hit by the consequences of the flood. The sums will be used to purchase material for reconstruction works to recover crops, buy cattle and fodder. In our support centres we also provide ongoing psychological and social assistance”. The Holy Father immediately conveyed his solidarity to the populations hit by the floods. Have his words increased solidarity and relief? “The Pope’s prayer and his appeal for solidarity with our population and with that of Bosnia-Herzegovina have been very important, they brought great consolation to these families and encouraged funds-collection. Our appeal for help was received with immediate response. Also the solidarity of Serbian Catholics has been significant. Even if we are few, we have launched a collection of money, clothes, blankets. The faithful have been very generous”. How did civil authorities and public opinion respond to the appeal of Caritas Serbia? “Our presence and help have been positively received. Prime Minister Alexander Vucic thanked the Archbishop of Belgrade Mons. Hocevar for our commitment, and this is reiterated on every occasion. Then, along with the religious leaders of all confessions present in the Country – Muslims, Orthodox and Jews – we took part in an evening TV program on the national channel to raise public awareness on donating for charity projects. The fact that religious leaders of different confessions are working together for this goal was greatly appreciated”. The donors conferences is scheduled for July 16. The disaster hit Serbia when EU EU membership negotiations had already been openened. Has this given a positive contribution to the reconstruction? “Also Caritas takes part in this conference and the initiative of European countries is to give a helping hand. Although we still aren’t a EU member country, it encourages us in our adhesion process. Thanks to the European prospect Serbia is changing its image, overcoming the idea of a Country that is only bound to war”.

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