Statement – Floods in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia and Serbia

Statement by Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO Regional Director for Europe


Communities in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia and Serbia have been severely affected by floods triggered by cyclone Tamara and the associated heavy rainfall, hitting large areas in all 3 countries since 13 May 2014. The immediate impact of the disaster was the loss of over 40 lives, and the need to evacuate over 85 000 people to temporary shelters. Economic damage is calculated to be in the order of hundreds of millions of euros.

On behalf of WHO, I wish to express my sincere condolences to the affected populations, those who have lost their relatives and friends, and those who have lost their home and belongings. This is the time to show our deepest sympathy but also to react forcefully to this tragedy. I commend the timely and pertinent response of the ministers of health of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia and Serbia to the situation and the dedication of the health workforce.

In the immediate aftermath of the flooding, WHO/Europe has offered all its support to the 3 affected countries. Emergency, environmental and communications experts are working closely with the WHO country offices and local health authorities to address the immediate health needs. These include:

  • shipping emergency health kits with essential medicines and supplies, each covering the basic needs of 10 000 people over a 3-month period for treatment of acute and chronic diseases;
  • mobilizing supplies from the United Nations humanitarian response depots in Brindisi, Italy and Dubai, United Arab Emirates, with the financial support of Italy, Norway and the Russian Federation;
  • deploying water purification equipment;
  • making plans for water, sanitation, and safe drinking water after the floods have receded; and
  • providing public health advice to the affected communities on their return home.

The WHO internal alert level was raised according to the Emergency Response Framework to coordinate the response and deploy experts in support of the relief efforts. A water and sanitation specialist from the WHO European Centre for Environment and Health in Bonn, Germany, is working with Serbian health authorities on site. A number of experts in emergency preparedness and response, environmental sciences and communicable diseases are expected to reach Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia next week to assist in the aftermath of the disaster.

Action will focus on the surveillance and prevention of water- and vector-borne diseases; strengthening disease surveillance and early warning systems for communicable diseases; the recovery of damaged health facilities; and the prevention of health risks when the waters start to recede from industrial and chemical pollution, impaired sanitation, unsafe water and food, as well as psychosocial disorders. Of particular concern is the forecast rise in temperature that is likely to lead to increased mosquito breeding in a region that is endemic for West Nile fever.

Finally, WHO is closely coordinating resource mobilization with partners, including a submission to the United Nations Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) for financing life-saving interventions.