Tiny rooms with two beds and closet, lit with white neon lights on army base near city of Tuzla are now home for 92 people who lost everything in record-breaking floods that hit Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Armina, a 17-month-old, will never remember the home her family so lovingly built. Her childhood could be defined by growing up in collective centre with other children whose families also lost their homes in the floods and subsequent landslides. “We had it all. Now, we have nothing,” says her mother Alma, 28, Armina’s mother. “I cried and cried. [Now], I have no more tears to cry,” she added.
Just two weeks ago, Alma sat down to have dinner with her children when her husband came in and said that a small landslide had hit their garage. Heavy rainfalls that pounded the country during previous days activated thousands of landslides all across the county. Alma’s village was one of the first hit. As a precaution, the family decided to spend the night at a cousin’s house nearby. But, they could not sleep. Baby Armina was nervous and cried the whole night. The men spent the night outside watching for new landslides and trying to make channels to direct floods that were streaming down the hill.
Then, around 6:30 a.m., Alma heard crackling and neighbour yelling: “‘The hill is coming down!’ Our main thought was to escape,” she remembers. “We left the house and started running, but we didn’t know where to go. There was water everywhere. Wherever we stepped, there was water,” Alma remembers, recalling the morning she lost everything, as she cradles playful Armina in her arms. “I never thought this could happen. I had never seen a landslide before,” she says.
Zekira, 45, is also one of the residents of collective centre. She is from the same village as Alma and her family. According to reports, 80 per cent of the houses in that village were completely destroyed that night.
“When the landslide started, our neighbours started calling us, banging on our doors, telling us to come out immediately. We panicked so much that we didn’t even know where to run. We were so confused that we forgot to put on our shoes,” remembers Zekira. “We couldn’t save anything,” she added.
Zekira and her family made their living from agriculture. “We took [out] loans, invested in our house. It was hard life, but we fought. We managed. We were never in a position to wait for help like we are now,” says Zekira who shares her tiny room in collective centre with her 7-year-old daughter, Dinela, and 72-year-old grandmother, Aleja.
Two days ago, Dinela was enrolled in nearby school. Despite the shock she lived through, she has already managed to get three A’s which she proudly flaunts, showing her notebook with the good grades, while wearing bright red hat she received from someone. She loves the hat.
Zekira says that Dinela cried when she learned that she would not be able to go back to her old school in their village. She also says that they need clothes, shoes and textbooks, as landslide left them with nothing
Living in the collective centre reminds these families of war horrors they survived less than 20 years ago. “I was refugee during the war and now again. Will I ever find peace?” asks Zekira. She doesn’t know what is next for her family. She now has only questions without answers in her head.
Alma, Zekira and their families are just some of approximately 40,000 people displaced in Bosnia and Herzegovina following the worst floods the country has seen in more than 120 years. Of these 40,000, 3,000 have been accommodated in collective centres as they have nowhere else to go and nowhere to return. Experts agree that it will take years for the country, who was still fully recovering from the 92-95 war, to be rebuilt.
Meris, 8, just wants to go home. “They told me that we would stay here until Saturday. But Saturday passed, and Sunday passed, and again they passed, and we are still here.”
World Vision has been working in Bosnia and Herzegovina for 20 years. In the wake of the floods and landslides, World Vision has distributed emergency food and hygiene kits to those whose homes were affected. World Vision is also planning to establish Child Friendly Spaces to provide children with safe places to go and process what they have been through as well as provide structure for those who can no longer return to school