UMCOR in Serbia: Reducing Risk


By David Tereshchuk, contributor to United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR)

February 11, 2016—Almost two years ago Serbia suffered its worst rainfall in more than a century. The floods that followed in its wake further devastated communities that had been left vulnerable by an earthquake just a few years earlier.

The immediate response of the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) was to help restore some sense of normalcy to people’s lives. Together with partners International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC) and GlobalMedic, UMCOR provided for water-purification and the distribution of kitchen-kits for those impacted by the flooding.

Since the early days of that emergency, UMCOR has been working with the affected communities to help them bolster their capacity to anticipate such hazards, confront their own vulnerability, and reduce the impact of such calamitous events as flooding.

Again working with IOCC, UMCOR provided funding support and logistical assistance to communities in the hard-hit municipality of Kraljevo, which was also the site of the 2010 earthquake, on the banks of the often threatening Ibar River, in the southern part of the country. The aim was to reduce the impact of seasonal flooding and minimize the effects of major flooding, like that of 2014. 

The area’s previously poorly-maintained drainage channels were to be repaired and, where necessary, completely retrofitted. And the local communities’ capacity for maintaining those vital channels would be significantly strengthened.

Achieving long-term sustainability


Workers clear the drainage canal in Kraljevo, Serbia. Photo: International Orthodox Christian Charities
Workers clear the drainage canal in Kraljevo, Serbia. Photo: International Orthodox Christian Charities

“What has been especially gratifying about this project is the way local organizations have been motivated to work together — which is how long-term sustainability can be achieved for a project that initially alleviates suffering and increases resilience,” said UMCOR’s executive secretary for Disaster Risk Reduction, Yovanna Troansky.

As well as physical remediation efforts, which have resulted, for instance, in an important drainage channel being cleaned out and made fully effective along its entire 2 kilometer length, a training program among community members also was set in progress.

Residents formed their own Community Disaster Risk Reduction Committee, assigned roles and functions to every individual involved, and collaboratively agreed on an action plan to be enacted by the Committee on a yearly basis.

The main task of the committee is to ensure regular maintenance and ongoing stewardship of the drainage channel. On that continuing effort depends the communities’ chances of surviving future heavy rains with minimal damage to homes and livelihoods.

Motivated communities are key to resilience

“The moment when local organizations and communities feel motivated, as here in Kraljevo, and decide to take full part in efforts initiated by external agents like IOCC and UMCOR is a tipping point for their own community development,” said Troansky. 

“If we want to change lives and increase communities’ resilience,” she added, “we need to become facilitators of the process and not try to do it ourselves.”

Rev Jack Amick, assistant general secretary for International Disaster Response, sees the Kraljevo project as part of UMCOR’s intentional engagement in disaster risk reduction efforts with communities throughout the world, encouraging early warning systems and effective response plans.

“These efforts won’t abolish disasters,” Amick pointed out, “since the mountains and valleys, and twisted roads of life will be always with us. But by working together, we can help make the mountains of disaster a little lower, the valleys of despair a little less steep, and the twisted paths to recovery a little bit straighter and easier.”

Your gift to UMCOR International Disaster Response, Advance #982450, supports UMCOR’s work to help communities respond to disasters and to take necessary steps to reduce their impact.