Sunday, May 25, 2014

Privatisation, floods and destruction in the Balkans

This week  a friend and colleague was telling me that her hometown in Serbia is under water as a result of the flooding and landslides devastating large parts of Serbia, Bosnia Herzegovina and Croatia.

The heaviest rainfall and landslides in living memory are causing destruction on a scale unseen since the terrible Balkan wars of 199o-99.

Forty nine people have died and dozens of towns along the Sava and Danube Rivers have been evacuated. An estimated 2000 landslides have caused damage estimated to be worth $1.4 billion. The flooding has also unearthed landmines left over from the Balkan wars.

Photos of the scale of the flooding and the resulting devastation are here and here.

Reports about the flooding are here, here and here

As Streck Hovat writes in the Guardian, this is not just a natural disaster. 

It is in fact and a social and economic disaster, in which the natural disaster is enabled by social, political and economic factors.

Horvat identities the destruction of the social safety net, which means that people have to look after themselves in a time of crises, and the privatization of water infrastructure, with the resultant de-investment in public infrastructure, which intensified the risk of flooding due to failure to construct and maintain drainage, embankments and dams in high risk areas, as major contributing factors.

An important question is whether the disasters have the potential to lead an ethnically divided region to see the value of putting aside cultural, ethnic and political differences. There is hope that the terrible destruction resulting from the floods can lead to regional and civil solidarity unable to be achieved through civic and political means.

This is an issue Rebecca Solnit has written about in her book A Paradise Built in Hell. Solnit argues that disasters don't just destroy, they also create anew.

Solnit argues that disasters expose the failings and inadequacy of the current political order (think how the response to Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans exposed the incompetence and cruelty of the Bush administration).

Solinit shows that disasters can also open possibilities for popular solidarity and new ways for people to act together. She writes:
“In its place appears a reversion to improvised, collaborative, cooperative and local society.... These “disaster communities” represent something akin to the role William James claimed for “the utopian dreams” of social justice: They help to break the general reign of hardness, and are slow leavens of a better order.”
Co-incidentally, I am currently reading Misha Glenny's book the Balkans 1804-2012: Nationalism, War and the Great Powers, which tells the history of the Balkans and dispels many of the myths through which the history of the Balkans is viewed.

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