Expert Opinion

Floods cause new displacement in Bosnia and Herzegovina

Almost 20 years after the Dayton Peace Agreement (DPA) brought an end to bloody ethnic conflict, signs of war are still visible in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Around 103,400 people remain displaced. Destroyed homes stand abandoned in once prosperous villages. Unemployment rates are high and relatively few displaced people have returned to places of origin. More than 7,000 IDPs are still living in dire conditions in collective centres, with entire families, often four or more people, living in one room with leaky plumbing and sharing communal toilets.

Over the past ten years, the future seemed to be getting brighter. More than 90 per cent of home and land repossession cases have been resolved and the DPA’s Annex VII projects (specifically targeting IDPs and refugees) were being implemented, albeit slowly due to political obstruction and donor fatigue. The Council of Europe Development Bank funded project to close all collective centres and rehouse residents in newly constructed or renovated social housing was beginning to get underway.

Floods disproportionally affect IDPs

Between 13 and 18 May, Bosnia and Herzegovina experienced the heaviest rainfall ever recorded. Severe flooding triggered landslides that resulted in large scale destruction of property and livelihoods. Losses have been estimated at over two billion euros in Bosnia and Herzegovina alone. Over 85,000 people were evacuated to temporary accommodation facilities (TAFs) or moved in with family and friends. A second wave of flooding and landslides in early August affected areas flooded in May, destroying homes, businesses and infrastructure and displacing more families.

Many of those displaced by the floods were IDP returnees or displaced persons who had locally integrated, or, in the case of a collective centre in Doboj, people displaced by the conflict and were once again forced to leave their homes. The number of affected people totaled more than one million people of whom 80,000 have lost their homes. At the end of June, around 1,278 people were living in 37 TAFs. Most TAFs are public buildings, particularly schools which will need to be cleared before the start of the school year in September.

The exact number of those displaced by the floods is unknown. Those who seek shelter with families and friends have not been included in displacement estimates and the figures for those living in the TAFs fluctuate as family members return home. Community representatives told IDMC many feel compelled to return despite unsafe conditions, fearing exclusion from damage assessments and assistance programmes if they don’t.

The floods removed earth covering the sites of mass graves, personal arms stockpiles and landmines. In the village of Usora in the Doboj municipality a mass grave believed to contain remains of missing persons from Jablanica in Maglaj municipality was revealed. The Bosnia and Herzegovina Mine Action Centre (BHMAC) has reported 33 previously marked landmine localities as disturbed by the floods, resulting in landmines shifting to previously cleared areas. BHMAC has also recovered more than 50,000 munitions which include bullets, grenades and other weapons left over from the war.

Transparent allocation of funding is essential

A July 16 donor conference in Brussels led to pledges of 809.2 million euros for flood reconstruction and assistance for Bosnia and Herzegovina. Since 15 August, 43.52 million euros of EU assistance has been deployed to Maglaj and Samac with works to commence shortly in Doboj. The European Union and municipalities have determined eligibility criteria. Aid must be visible and transparent. Information on eligibility requirements must be provided not only to those in urban settings but also to those affected by floods in hard-to-reach rural areas. 

Heightened vulnerability of displaced Roma

The Tuzla municipality lacks capacity to shelter all those who lost their homes to landslides. Most of the Roma displaced by the floods and landslides have opted to live in tents on a parking zone primarily reserved for tourist buses. This has created tensions within the community. The municipality is tolerating their presence, but has indicated that the Roma will have to be relocated at some point. A Roma representative in Tuzla reported that many Roma are afraid that if they go too far from their damaged property they will be robbed of what remains of their belongings and that they believe conditions in the tents are better than in the TAFs.

Recovery Needs

The first wave of EU flood recovery assistance is enabling repairs to infrastructure and public buildings. It is important to:

  • prioritise provision of alternative accommodation for conflict IDPs living in collective centres impacted by the floods
  • prioritise reconstruction of properties
  • establish mechanisms to assist those currently ineligible for compensation as they were renting, occupying property or without title deeds to houses they had built informally
  • ensure that Roma – who often lack ID and land titles – are not further discriminated against during recovery
  • ensure all assistance providers take precautions that IDPs are not denied flood reconstruction assistance because they have previously received support though Annex VII
  • ensure that people do not return to areas where mines have been disturbed without receiving proper clearance.

For more information, visit IDMC’s page on Bosnia and Herzegovina, and follow our analyst on Twitter for real time updates on the situation @turner_wesli