Flood affected communities taking more active role in emergency situations

FloodFlood in the municipality of Berane in 2012

Seribona Berishaj is a refugee from Kosovo. She lives on the bank of the river Lim, in the settlement Riversajd which is a part of the northern municipality of Berane. The whole settlement, as well as Talum on the other side of the river was most affected during severe floods that struck Montenegro late in 2010.

Harsh winters are common in the north of the country. However, over the past couple of years weather conditions seem to have taken extreme shape.

“We had no idea how big the flood attack was going to be. Before the water rushed into the house we just had enough time to grab personal documents, some medicines and a few things for my little niece and nephew. We then stood in the water up to our knees not knowing where to go. We just waited until people from the Protection and Rescue Services, Red Cross and UNHCR came,” Seribona recalls.

Seribona’s family found shelter in the town’s sport hall and waited there until the river retrieved. Another 150 families from Berane fled their homes due to flood and found refuge in the sport hall or surrounding villages. They were not able to return to their homes for almost ten days.

“The water was pouring through the windows for days. When we came back home we found the entire house soaking wet. The furniture, appliances and floor were ruined and covered with mud and garbage. We spent days cleaning,” Seribona explains.

Total damages to households and livelihoods in Berane amounted to € 210,500 according to the report ‘Post-Disaster Needs Assessment following the November – December 2010 Flood Disaster in Montenegro’. On the national level, the estimated total damages and losses are approximately € 44 million, or 1.49% of the 2009 GDP.

In June 2012, UNDP started a pilot disaster preparedness community based initiative, in partnership with the UNHCR, NGO Help, Red Cross of Montenegro, Protection and Rescue Services of the Municipality of Berane and the Sector of Emergency Management under the Ministry of the Interior.

Seribona was among eight women and ten men from the Riversajd and Talum communities who volunteered to attend basic trainings on first aid, search and rescue and early warning. They were trained through practical demonstrations and instructions on what to do in case of floods, fires and earthquakes. One of the important outcomes of the training was strengthening direct communication between community members and responsible authorities. Now the authorities are connected with all volunteers via mobile phones. The participants welcomed this initiative, which certainly represents a good basis for further cooperation.

Through UNDP, the two communities will also receive basic lifesaving equipment comprising first aid kits, hand held loud speakers and dynamo sirens. The Protection and Rescue Services will get a rubber life raft and a pair of diving suits.

“Every year when the winter comes we are afraid that our house will be flooded again. It is important for us to know what to do in similar situations in the future,” says Seribona.

The trainings and the equipment are just one element of a wider and more complex story about preparedness for floods. On a broader level, UNDP along with the Sector of Emergency Management has supported 12 hazard prone municipalities in developing Flood Assessments and Preparedness Plans. These municipalities are Bar, Ulcinj, Podgorica, Cetinje, Danilovgrad, Nikšić, Mojkovac, Kolašin, Bijelo Polje, Berane, Plav and Andrijevica.

With UNDP’s technical support these municipalities have developed Geographic Information System (GIS) databases that geographically display data regarding affected households, commercial objects and infrastructure during floods in 2010.  The database contains a considerable level of detail. For instance, the data for households at risk include numbers of children, elderlies, family members with disabilities, etc. An important outcome from the GIS database are maps for flood preparedness plans that locate all important infrastructures such as roads for intervention, evacuation routes, medical facilities, schools.

Trained members of the community complete the chain of actors in emergency situations. This new approach to emergency situations ensures a faster and better response in communities and facilitates Protection and Rescue Services’s efforts in reducing losses and damages. Active participation of members of communities exposed to natural hazard is of crucial importance, and further action needs to be taken to replicate this practice in other vulnerable areas.

Written by Jovana Jovović, United Nations Volunteer, Disaster Risk Reduction and Second National Communication Assistant at the UNDP Montenegro

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