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Bosnian Women Recover from Floods
“This was a completely unexpected blow for us,” says Seherzada Ahmic, a graduate of our programme as she looks out at her fields of mint and balm that were destroyed by floods in Ahmici, Bosnia and Herzegovina in recent weeks. “We have invested all of our savings into this business. We counted on the money from this year’s sale of crops.” Seherzada does not know when she will be able to replant, as her fields are still covered in water and sludge. With the sowing season coming to an end in a few days, she and many others will likely miss out on the opportunity to earn income through farming this year.
In a Skype briefing, Bosnia Country Director Seida Saric shared updates from country staff visiting Seherzada and other graduates impacted by the widespread flooding. “With more than 40,000 people internally displaced and persons still missing, the scale of rebuilding will be extensive as nearly 40 percent of the country has been covered by muddy waters,” notes Saric. Communities where Women for Women InternationaI has worked for years, including Maglaj, Doboj, Zavidovici, and Olovo, have been severely damaged by the disaster.
“We need the global community to step up and provide emergency humanitarian relief to help the 1.5 million people in Bosnia who need assistance to sustain them through this crisis and to support their recovery,” says Saric. “Many of the most marginalized women we have served were just starting to fully recover from the war, rebuilding their homes and creating successful businesses. This catastrophe has taken away everything they have worked for over the past 20 years, and the devastation in many areas is even greater than the war.”
Saric anticipates the effects will be long-lasting as the women and their families seek to rebuild after the worst flooding in over 100 years. She is calling for urgent humanitarian assistance to help Seherzada and the tens of thousands affected across the country, including many of the 61,000 women we have served since 1993.
The damage in Bosnia goes beyond flood waters. The rainfall has triggered over 2,000 landslides, and over 300 square miles of landmine fields left from the war have been affected, causing many of the devices to move and several to explode. Electricity and phone connections are not available in the flood-affected areas, making it nearly impossible for those in the greatest need to obtain assistance. As each day passes, the risk of water-borne diseases grows.
Assessing the Damage and Providing Support: Women's Associations Create a Link
Local women’s associations, formed by graduates of the programme, have been essential to assessing the areas of greatest need and helping women remove mud and debris from their homes. Saric confirmed that at least 30 current women participants live in regions that have been flooded or hit by landslides, and the fields where seven participants grow medicinal and aromatic plants for income have been completely destroyed.
An Immediate Crisis with Long-term Impact
In Republika Srpska, graduate Mina Mujic and her daughter Nermina have lost everything.
This year, they managed to plant nearly 1.5 acres of medicinal herbs, parsley, and marigolds for income, as well as potatoes, corn, and other vegetables. All of that has been destroyed. Flood waters reached the 2nd floor of their home, and ruined both of their greenhouses, their stable, agricultural machines, and food supplies. The devastation reminds Mina of the struggles she faced rebuilding her life after the Bosnian War, when she was unable to return to her home for seven years. This time, however, she has no home to return to.
The progress many graduates like Mina have made in rebuilding their lives has been literally washed away, especially true for those who rely on agriculture for income. As the flood waters recede, the long-term economic impact on our programme participants and graduates will be serious. Before the flood, graduates earned on average $2.14 per day. Now that source of income is gone, as many have seen their fields, greenhouses, and livestock destroyed. There is uncertainty.
Committed to Helping Women Recover and Rebuild Anew
Our staff in Bosnia and Herzegovina continues to work to gather information about the impact of this disaster on the women we have served, and to connect women affected by the disaster with local resources for emergency aid and assistance. One thing is clear – the women are strong and resilient.
“I’m not giving up,” says Hanka Džebo of Brjesnica, whose parsley and mint fields were destroyed by the flood. “[This work] is where I see my future. My friends from my women’s association are not giving up either. We will all succeed together.”
Over the past two decades, we have witnessed the power of women in Bosnia and Herzegovina to rebuild their country and transform their lives in the aftermath of war. Today, we see that same spirit in women like Hanka, Mina, and Seherzada. As we stand with them during this terrible tragedy and support their efforts to restore what has been destroyed, we honor their strength, resilience, and tenacity and call for global support to help them rebuild once again.
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