Living in safety
Review of 25 years of emergency aid and reconstruction in South East Europe
People hardly want to talk about the past crises in South East Europe anymore. They would rather look positively towards a future that promises economic security and peace. But just as the crises form part of the history of the Western Balkan states, they also influence Help’s work because it was the response to the dramatic events that led to our first aid projects in South East Europe 25 years ago.
But even though our activities have focused on economic and social stability for the past 15 years, we still find ourselves time after time in situations where we “have to” provide emergency aid and support with reconstruction. Poverty is still widespread in the Western Balkans. Many young people have no prospects due to the lack of job opportunities. Every crisis, every natural disaster poses the risk of destroying successes – whether they are floods, such as the 100-year flood in 2014, the refugee crisis, the earthquake in Albania last year, or the current coronavirus pandemic. In situations such as these, Help quickly provides targeted assistance based on its principle of self-reliance so that people are able to return to leading self-determined lives as soon as possible.
Emergency aid and reconstruction dominated the first decade of Help’s activities in the Western Balkan countries. The conflicts of the 1990s left great need behind them: there were shortages of food, firewood and hygiene products. Houses had to be rebuilt, and social institutions needed urgent support.
Added to this, mines and scattered unexploded ordnance posed a grave danger. Countless people were severely injured or killed. Often children playing were the victims. Informing the population and mine clearance therefore formed a key area of Help’s activities in Bosnia and Herzegovina and in Kosovo.
The conflicts also led to the expulsion of ethnic minorities, flight and economic collapse. In Montenegro, our attention focused on the large numbers of people from Kosovo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Croatia who had sought refuge there. In Serbia, we primarily supported pensioners and social institutions, which were especially hard hit by the economy’s collapse.
Within the first ten years, Help provided 38 million euros’ worth of emergency and reconstruction aid. More than two million square metres of land was cleared of mines. Together with the beneficiaries, we built 5,678 housing units. This gave around 19,000 people not just a roof over their heads, but also a new home and, in some cases, a new home in a home country.
The people in the Western Balkan states have had to face floods time after time. The 100-year flood in 2014 posed a particular challenge for the people in Serbia and in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Some 525,000 people lost their homes. The economic damage amounted to two billion euros. Harvests were destroyed, cattle were swept away by the masses of water, and businesses were flooded. The water reached up to the first floor in many cases. It was a question of minimising the economic damage so that people could provide for themselves again as quickly as possible. After completing the first emergency aid measures for more than 32,000 people and work to dry and restore living space, Help therefore supported 510 small entrepreneurs with rebuilding their livelihoods. Farmers received vouchers to procure agricultural equipment and seeds, and business owners received support to restore their flooded premises.
At 3:54 a.m. on 26 November 2019, a devastating earthquake shook Albania. It measured 6.3 on the Richter scale. The earthquake affected a total of 202,291 people in the country and killed 51. Around 17,000 people lost their homes. Help provided emergency aid immediately after the disaster and distributed blankets, sleeping bags, mattresses and hygiene supplies. As part of our reconstruction efforts, a kindergarten for 200 children was rebuilt, and the first measures to support small-scale enterprises were taken.
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In 2015 and 2016, we faced the challenge of providing for the hundreds of thousands of refugees on the Balkan route. This situation called for solidarity from aid organisations and other states. Help supplied more than one million people in the Serbian border region with food and hygiene supplies. We also furnished 17 temporary shelters.
Despite the closure of the Balkan route, approximately 10,000 refugees still pass through Serbia and North Macedonia each year. But not only that: the many people who joined those fleeing war on their route revealed the economic need and lack of prospects in the Balkan states.
The coronavirus pandemic is now the latest event that has called on us to act as part of our emergency aid. The health catastrophe is accompanied by severe economic consequences. The positive economic growth that most of the states were experiencing has fallen abruptly with the coronavirus pandemic. All the indicators suggest that poverty could return to the level last seen some years ago. This would completely destroy all the progress achieved in this field.
Economically vulnerable people need support to protect their health and feed their families. People in care homes for the elderly and correctional facilities are suffering in particular from the lack of contact with their relatives and friends. Children and young people from low-income families are affected by unequal opportunities because they do not have access to online educational resources. Help has therefore supplied the relevant institutions and affected families with smartphones, tablets and laptops, and provided Internet access. This enables children to learn and means old people and prison inmates can stay in touch with their families, which gives them social stability and hence courage, security and hope. In addition, we are supporting institutions and people in need with hygiene supplies, protective clothing and food.
Education: When her school introduced online classrooms, it did not take long for 13-yearold Jasmina to get worried. Jasmina and her three younger siblings had to share the family’s only smartphone – which her father needed during the day for work. She had only the evenings to get the required information from the online classrooms and hand in her work. With the additional smartphone that Help has supplied, Jasmina can finally complete all her homework on time again and keep up her good grades.
Social security: Rosa, a care home resident in Montenegro, sees her family in Serbia for the first time in six months thanks to the donation of a Help tablet. A total of 39 facilities have been supported with tablets and laptops.
Solidarity: Women’s initiatives supported by Help as part of its income-generation activities sew face masks for those in need.
What we achieved:
- More than two million square metres of land have been demined
- Around 38 million euros’ worth of emergency aid supplies, building materials and reconstruction measures were provided in the first ten years after the crisis
- Over 6,000 housing units have been built and renovated as part of our reconstruction work after crises and natural disasters. This has given more than 20,000 people a home
- 510 small entrepreneurs have been supported to rebuild their businesses after the flooding in 2014
- One million refugees have been provided with food on the Balkan route
- The coronavirus pandemic:
- 7,500 children and young people have access to education with the smartphones, tablets and laptops that Help has provided
- Around 6,000 families have been supported with hygiene supplies and food
- 36 institutions have received hardware for education and communication as well as hygiene materials
“The Corona Pandemic showed us how fast everything can change and that we are often more needed than we thought – so we must be prepared for old and new challenges.”
Biljana Jovićević, Project Assistant Media & PR Montenegro
Support people in need in South East Europe.
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