Even from a distance, reading newspapers and watching television reports, it’s clear that the situation in the Balkans right now is serious. Early last week, torrential rain started falling in Serbia, on ground that was already saturated with water, causing riverbanks to burst and overflow. The areas worst hit are in the center and west of the country, as well as some parts of Bosnia.
At this stage, it is still hard to get a firm grasp on the situation and a clear map of the areas affected. What is certain however is that the flooding has hit both urban and rural areas. The town of Obrenovac for example, 15 kilometers from Belgrade, has been completed submerged by the waters of the Kolubara, a tributary of the Sava River. Here, rescuers have evacuated at least 4,200 people; the estimated number of deaths is still rising.
The countryside has also not been spared, representing a serious emergency for a country whose hopes for an economic and social renewal lie in agriculture. Local Slow Food Presidia and Terra Madre food communities are among those affected.
The Gledi Crvena Ranka Plum Rakija Presidium protects a spirit distilled from a variety of local plum, the Crvena Ranka (“early red”). The rakija is produced in the Gledić Mountains, in the municipalities of Rekovac, Knić and Trstenik, in a region that is naturally lush but struggling with the constant depopulation affecting much of the rural Balkans. Those who remain were living and working in complete harmony with nature, however it is likely that this relationship will be completely destroyed by the rising waters and mud. We managed to speak to Dragana Valjovic, who, together with her husband Dejan, coordinates a group of producers and started the “Crvena Ranka” association. Sounding shaken, she managed to recount the extent of the damage with clear precision: The people are safe, but the road has collapsed in several points. The production zones can now only be reached by walking through the forest. The storage and packaging facilities have also suffered significant damage, and the rakija bottles that did not break are completely covered in mud. The full magnitude of the damage will only be understood when the waters have completely receded.
More disheartening news came from the Velika Plana food community in the district of Podunavlje. Ivana Radic has been living in Montpellier for some time now, but is in constant contact with her family who live in the central Serbian town. She also reassured us that people were safe, but added: “Agricultural production has been demolished. Wheat production is completely ruined, with the same fate hitting many other vegetable crops. The farm that supported the work of our food community, with a collection of ancient varieties of fruits and vegetables has also suffered enormous losses. What was once a field of cabbages is now a lake.”
We are hearing similar stories from Bosnia. The Potkaozarje and Podgrmec Convivium has been particularly affected. An update came from Snjezana Duricic, who has gathered news from convivium members. “The emergency has been tackled promptly, with the arrival and distribution of humanitarian aid, the formation of a network of volunteers for the cleanup effort and provisions, at least temporarily, for the risks linked to drinking water. But we are worried about the coming days. We don’t have the equipment necessary for removing the excess water and there is a risk of infections developing, given that a sudden rise in temperature is forecast for the next few days.”
Hearing stories from these three women from Serbia and Bosnia makes it clear that we cannot remain idle, not least because they represent an important part of our network, fragile and in need of help, today more than ever before. All three – Dragana, Ivana and Snjezana – talk of courage and the desire to rebuild, but also of thanks to all those who have shown concern and offered support.