Policy: Environment & Energy

Recovery from Balkan floods will cost billions

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Photo - Residents clean streets of mud and rubble after a landslide at the village of Topcic Polje, near the Bosnian town of Zenica, 90 kilometers north of Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Tuesday May 20, 2014. Bosnia, Serbia and Croatia have been hit by the worst flooding in more than 100 years, forcing half a million people out of their homes and leading to more than three dozen deaths. (AP Photo/Sulejman Omerbasic)
Residents clean streets of mud and rubble after a landslide at the village of Topcic Polje, near the Bosnian town of Zenica, 90 kilometers north of Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Tuesday May 20, 2014. Bosnia, Serbia and Croatia have been hit by the worst flooding in more than 100 years, forcing half a million people out of their homes and leading to more than three dozen deaths. (AP Photo/Sulejman Omerbasic)
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SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) — Recovering from the record flooding of the past week will cost Bosnia and Serbia billions that neither country has, officials said Wednesday.

Although there's no official total for flood damages, the Raiffeisen Investment Group said in a note to investors that preliminary estimates are nearly 1.3 billion euros ($1.8 billion) for Bosnia alone. Bosnian President Bakir Izetbegovic said the damage bill would reach the billions.

In neighboring Serbia, Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic said damages could reach 1.5 billion euros ($2 billion).

Both countries already have opened negotiations with the European Union to support reconstruction efforts. Separately, Bosnia's Serb region has opened talks with its ally Russia.

The flooding affected 40 percent of Bosnia, Foreign Minister Zlatko Lagumdzija said. It wrecked the main agriculture industry in the northern flatlands, wiping out infrastructure, farms, buildings and homes. One quarter of the country's 4 million people have been affected by the six days of floods and 2,100 landslides.

"This country has not experienced such a natural cataclysm ever," Lagumdzija said Wednesday.

The flooding has led to at least 51 deaths: 27 in Serbia, 22 in Bosnia, and two in Croatia.

Serbia's minister for construction, transportation and infrastructure, Zorana Mihajlovic, said 3,500 kilometers (2,200 miles) of roads have been destroyed or damaged and 30 percent of railway lines are closed.

"It's an enormous tragedy," said Kristalina Georgieva of the European Commission's International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response unit. The EU has deployed rescue workers, helicopters, boats, tents and other aid from 16 member countries and plans more help.

"Right now, we are at the emergency assistance phase," she said, suggesting a focus on saving lives and preventing the spread of disease. In the next phase, EU and local experts will assess the damage.

Bosnia has one of the weakest economies in Europe and an unemployment rate of up to 44 percent. Almost no one has property insurance, meaning many residents lost virtually everything.

On Wednesday, a mine exploded near the northern village of Cerik, where the flooding had moved one of the more than 9,000 minefields left over from Bosnia's 1992-95 war. Nobody was hurt.

Serbia, like much of the Balkans, is poor. The country's economy has failed to recover fully following the wars and international sanctions in the 1990s, and also is hobbled by mismanagement and corruption. The unemployment rate officially stands at 20 percent but is much higher in reality.

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Jovana Gec reported from Belgrade, Serbia. Associated Press reporter Irena Knezevic in Banja Luka, Bosnia, contributed to this report.

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