Helen Clark: Statement at the International Donor Conference on the Floods in Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina

Jul 16, 2014

Helen Clark, UNDP Administrator
at the
International Donor Conference
on the
Floods in Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina
Brussels, Belgium

Thank you for the invitation to the United Nations to participate in this very important international donor conference in support of Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia following the disastrous floods of May this year.

The UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon has sent a message of solidarity to this meeting, expressing his hope that the conference will advance efforts to support people in the two countries to rebuild their lives and communities.

I have just come from two days in Serbia, where I have been able to see for myself the severe impact of the floods on people, municipalities, and the country.  Clearly there is a pressing need there and in Bosnia and Herzegovina to make rapid progress on meeting the needs of the most vulnerable for housing, incomes, and livelihoods, and for basic utilities and services before the harsh winter months set in. We are now just fifty days before children need to return to school and ninety days before the heating season begins.

In both countries, the United Nations was pleased to work with national partners and the European Union and other partners on the immediate humanitarian response.  Our work is ongoing now on early recovery from the crisis.  As well we have been pleased to work rapidly with the Governments of Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia and with the World Bank and the European Union to prepare the post disaster needs assessments which are before this conference today.  

These assessments paint a full picture of the work which needs to be done for human development, to rebuild infrastructure and productive capacities, and, very important, to build back better and create greater systemic resilience to such major weather events in future.

The geography and climate of the two countries make both very susceptible to flooding.  The May floods were exceptional, testing existing control systems beyond endurance.  Now, as the Secretary-General says in his message to this conference today, “severe and unpredictable weather patterns are leading to increased and often more extreme flooding throughout the world”.  It is vital therefore that disaster risk reduction measures are given a very high priority in the response to these floods, and that we also see this in the context of adaptation to climate change.

Yesterday I met people whose homes had been devastated by the floods, and not for the first time.  They are living between two water courses.  We can say without fear of contradiction that just rebuilding where they are without effective disaster risk reduction measures being put in place means that they will be flooded again.

The good news was that the municipality already has a plan for flood control.  The bad news was that, to date, it has lacked funding. Now it may need updating to take into account the severity of the flooding just experienced.

My key message today is: in the international response now to the needs of Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, we must prioritise the measures which will protect communities and vital infrastructure and productive capacities for the future.  Sustainable development requires sustained development which is not continually badly disrupted by setbacks which can be anticipated and mitigated.

Both countries now have the opportunity to build back better.  Both need international support to do that.  While both will dig deep into their own resources, both also have pre-existing fiscal and other challenges, and the impacts on the economy and society from this crisis are exacerbating those challenges.  This is a time for all friends to step forward.

For the United Nations, it is vital that the needs of people are prioritized in the international response.  In crises like this, the already vulnerable are usually the most affected – and evidence gathered for the two countries suggests that this holds true for the impact of these May floods.  Therefore, promoting social inclusion and support for the groups which are already disadvantaged will be important throughout the recovery.  In this, it will be important to integrate economic, social, labour, and environmental measures.  It is also an opportunity to rethink social protection schemes.

At the UN, we see particular value in mobilizing the communities impacted directly – both through decision making processes about the recovery and through the actual reconstruction.  Many reconstruction activities are labor-intensive.  They can become labor market measures, particularly when implemented in areas with high unemployment rates.

At the local level in both countries, UN development agencies have extensive experience through hundreds of projects in addressing local development and employment needs.  At UNDP, we can draw on our very wide global experience of implementing cash for work schemes, skills training, and micro credit to get people back to work quickly and revitalise local economies.  

Finally, this crisis reminds us how critical regional co-operation among the countries of the Western Balkans will be in strengthening well integrated and effective flood prevention and water management systems across countries, and how this can help prevent such devastation in the future.  Regional initiatives will also need to be matched by the appropriate level of financial resources.

In conclusion, the United Nations system stands ready to play its full part in support of the short, medium, and long term recovery needs of Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia.  Our particular focus will be on sustaining human development and on support for disaster risk reduction.  To both tasks, we bring very wide global experience and expertise, and our strong partnerships with both countries.  We look forward to working closely with both countries and all international partners to help Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina to build back better from the devastating events of May this year.

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