EBRD President Sir Suma Chakrabarti visits Serbia

By Viktorija Melohina

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EBRD President Sir Suma Chakrabarti has pledged the Bank's support to help deal with devastating floods in Serbia as part of a wider response to the disaster that extends to all affected countries.

In a meeting with Serbian Prime Minister Aleksander Vucic in Belgrade on Wednesday, Sir Suma said that responding to the crisis in the region was a major priority for the EBRD.

The Bank is aiming to swiftly reallocate existing funding in the Balkans so that it can be used to help finance immediate flood relief action.

It will place a priority on the rehabilitation of damaged roads and water systems as well as damaged power stations and transmission and distribution networks.

It also aims to respond rapidly to the immediate needs of any of the EBRD’s corporate partners in the private sector whose activities have been harmed by the flooding.

“One particular area that should not be neglected is agriculture and agribusiness,” Sir Suma said. “Obviously, many farms have been very badly hit, fields have been flooded, animals drowned, crops damaged.”

In addition to providing finance to help the farming sector, the EBRD will also place an important emphasis on working with authorities to develop improved flood protection systems and help reduce the risk of such widespread damage in the future.

"We will do as much as we can to help this region... The first thing is to have a good sense of needs in terms of reconstruction," Sir Suma said during his visit on Wednesday.

Even though sunny Belgrade looked calm and remote from the catastrophe as the President moved around town, sandbags walls constructed along the banks of the swirling brown Sava River – which runs through the city along with the slower-moving Danube and appeared on the point of overflowing - served a reminder of looming danger.

The river is expected to rise further.

Pointing at the sandbags, the city’s mayor, Sinisa Mali, told the President:

“Do you see these sandbags? These were all put there by volunteers! People who are willing to help to protect their city built this.”

Mali shared with the President the latest estimates of damage in Obrenovac, 40 km west of Belgrade – the place hardest hit by the floods, where 80 per cent of the town is still completely covered by water.

During an interview on Serbia’s main RTS channel in which President Chakrabarti emphasised EBRD support for Serbia’s government and people, TV presenter Vesna Damjanovic thanked the Bank for raising money at its London HQ to help victims of the Balkan floods.

Serbians are invited to make charitable donations through the boxes placed outside local administration buildings. Boxes in central Belgrade were full.

Elsewhere in the region, EBRD officials were holding similar discussions with the authorities to help establish quickly areas where the EBRD's financing can be put to most effective use.

The Bank was represented at donor coordination meetings in Serbia, Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina to plan first steps in response to the floods.

The EBRD will ensure that its activities are closely coordinated with other International Financial Institutions.

Speaking in Sarajevo, Libor Krkoska, the Head of the EBRD’s Office in Bosnia and Herzegovina, said: “We are ready to move swiftly and step up our activities independently and together with other IFIs.”

Meanwhile, in Zagreb the EBRD’s Country Director for Croatia, Vedrana Jelušić Kašić, met the Minister of Agriculture Tihomir Jakovina, whose department is coordinating the government’s response to the crisis. The Croatian cabinet of ministers is convening for an emergency session today in Zupanja, the town closest to the flooded areas.

President Chakrabarti was on a scheduled visit to Belgrade during which he also met Minister of Finance Lazar Krstic, Minister of Economy Dusan Vujovic, National Bank Governor Jorgovanka Tabakovic, the Mayor of Belgrade Sinisa Mali and representatives of the business community.

He will conclude his visit with a meeting with President Tomislav Nikolic on Friday.

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