‘This Is Worse Than War’: Balkans Flooding Is Latest In A String Of Severe Rainfall Events

CREDIT: A.P. Images

Bosnian residents from a nearby village film floods in the village of Domaljevac near the Bosnian town of Orasje along river Sava, 200 kms north of Bosnian capital of Sarajevo.

The epic floodwaters in the Balkans may be receding, but as they go, they are revealing the full scale of the destruction wrought.

The death toll across the affected area is nearing 50, about 100,000 homes have been destroyed, and more than half a million people have been forced to leave their homes. Thousands of landslides have added to the misery and devastation.

On Tuesday, Bosnia declared a day of mourning while Serbia said it would hold three days of mourning starting Wednesday.

One of the more gruesome and dangerous consequences of the flooding are the thousands of dead animals which are now being discovered. Piles of cows, pigs, sheep, and dogs which couldn’t be saved by their owners now pose a serious public health threat.

According to the Associated Press, 140 tons of drowned animals have already been destroyed. Another 1,900 sheep and lambs are known to have died elsewhere in the country.

While no outbreaks of disease have been reported so far, as temperatures rise into the 80s this week, conditions are perfect for the incubation of intestinal ailments, respiratory infections, hepatitis and even typhoid. Some of these diseases take as long as three weeks to show symptoms.

These floods, which dumped three months of rain in just three days, are the most severe in the 120 year record. And the unprecedented deluge is consistent with climate change predictions.

As the world’s oceans and air warm up, more water is transferred from the ocean into the atmosphere. That’s because warmer water (the world’s oceans have warmed 0.6 degrees Celsius since the 1970s) leads to more evaporation, and warmer air can hold more water.

Kevin Treberth of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado, told Public Radio International that a basic rule of thumb is that the air holds about 7 percent more moisture for every 1 degree Celsius increase in temperature. That moisture can then be concentrated in fronts, which unleash the rain when they encounter disturbances in the air or land.

While no single extreme weather event can be said to have been directly caused by climate change, there have been many recent examples of destructively heavy downpours around the world in recent months. There have been torrential rains in Florida this spring, and deadly flooding and mudslides in Afghanistan. Christchurch, New Zealand has seen epic flooding this spring as well, as have the Solomon Islands, and although currently drying out, the U.K. broke centuries of precipitation records this winter. Last year, severe flooding in Germany, Poland, and the Czech Republic caused $16 billion in damages.

Many people in the Balkans are no stranger to losing everything and being homeless. Ramiz Skopljak, a Bosnian, already lost his house once during the war. He rebuilt, but now even the land where his house used to be has been engulfed in one of the countless mudslides.

“This is worse than war,” he told the Weather Channel.