Magazine article Forced Migration Review

The Compound Effects of Conflict and Disaster Displacement in Bosnia and Herzegovina

Magazine article Forced Migration Review

The Compound Effects of Conflict and Disaster Displacement in Bosnia and Herzegovina

Article excerpt

Over a few days in May 2014, Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) experienced the heaviest rainfall reported in 120 years. The deluge led to the flooding of the rivers Bosna, Drina, Una, Sava and Vrbas and their tributaries, damaging 43,000 homes and triggering landslides that destroyed a further 1,952 homes in 81 municipalities.1 The floods affected more than 1.5 million people (nearly 39% of the population) and displaced around 90,000 people.

Many of those displaced by the floods were IDP returnees, formerly displaced persons who had integrated locally, and IDPs still living in protracted displacement following the conflict, and already vulnerable groups such as victims of wartime sexual violence and landmine victims. Once again they were forced to flee their homes, having to find refuge with family or friends or in temporary accommodation facilities.

IDPs in hazard-prone areas

The prioritisation of return - by the state and the international community - between 1999 and 2005 exacerbated the vulnerability of some IDPs, especially Roma IDPs. Those who did not want to return and did not benefit from financial assistance often settled in atrisk areas near riverbanks prone to flooding or on hillsides that were susceptible to landslides, simply building on vacant land. Without ownership or other rights to their property, many such IDPs are under constant threat of eviction by authorities. In addition, the use of cheap construction materials and unskilled craftsmen has meant that it is the most vulnerable IDPs and returnees from the conflict 20 years ago who are again prone to displacement, this time by natural hazards.2

The National Action Plan on Roma Housing calls for the legalising of informal settlements and illegally built houses and a more favourable legislative framework but has yet to be fully implemented3 and there is still no state-level regulation on the legalisation of informally built housing units. Resolution of property disputes for the land on which such houses are built remains the responsibility of the two 'entities' and Brcko District at the municipal/cantonal level.

At the same time, newly displaced Roma continue to face discrimination in accessing assistance. In interviews conducted with 373 displaced Roma families in 20 municipalities, 45% said their homes had been destroyed by flooding or landslides in 2014.4 Those who had built on public land without permission or building permits are not eligible for reconstruction assistance due to the legal requirement to provide proof of ownership of a destroyed property. It is not clear what housing assistance, if any, there will be for informal settlers and other non-owners.

Prioritise according to need, not cause of displacement

BiH received aid from bilateral donors, international organisations and the European Union (EU) to respond to the floodinginduced displacement in 2014. As part of this, facilities to house those who were unable to remain in their homes were identified. Here, in the context of another programme (CEBIT3) funded by the Council of Europe Development Bank to close all collective centres, it became important to distinguish between shelter for IDPs displaced by the conflict and those displaced by the floods and landslides. The new shelters became known as 'temporary accommodation facilities' (TAFs) so as not to confuse them with the 'collective centres' which continue to house IDPs from the conflict. …

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