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Amidst "Apocalyptic" Floods, People of the Balkans Use Facebook for Relief and Rescue

BY Jessica McKenzie | Friday, May 30 2014

One of the many photos flagged as fake.

The floods that have ravaged the Balkans this month have been called “apocalyptic” and the resulting damage, officials say, is likely worse than the damage incurred during the three year conflict between Bosniaks, Serbs and Croats in the 1990s. At least 74 people died because of the flooding and nearly 900,000 were forced from their homes. The governments in Serbia and Bosnia, as well as foreign media, have been criticized for failing victims and the region as a whole. Meanwhile, social media, and Facebook in particular, has been heralded as a tool for “information-sharing, social activism, voluntary work, and even a watchdog mechanism.”

Global Voices reported last week that people were using social networks and sites like Poplave.rs (Floods) and Nestali.rs (Missing) to disseminate information and coordinate relief efforts.

A post earlier this week on Balkanalysis.com filled in a few more details. From Sarajevo, Lana Pasic reported that Facebook was one of the most useful platforms, and that in addition to facilitating relief and rescue operations it also provided information to victims of corruption and aid mismanagement.

Pasic also reports that fake photos and misinformation spread on Twitter and Facebook (here is an entire photo gallery, mostly of cute animals). For actual pictures of the damage, might we suggest this Buzzfeed listicle, which sourced most of its photographs from Getty or the Associated Press.

Finally, an excerpt from a visceral first hand account of the flooding:

Two hours later, I see the first image of our house on the Internet. The water has reached the ground floor. I manage to get through to my friend Marko who is a photographer. He is in the deserted streets with his camera. He says it's getting worse by the minute.

I keep trying to phone people. Without success. Hours of silence.

At 18:30 I finally get an SMS from my sister. Rescue teams have evacuated children and their mothers from our building. There aren't enough boats. I want to tell her to be patient but my message doesn't get through.

Calls for help with addresses of trapped people show up on my phone, Facebook and Twitter. I share them with the few people that are in contact with the rescue teams and with volunteers who came with their boats to support the police and army.

I kept on sharing this information for days, until most people were evacuated. It is such a relief to hear that someone is safe, even if all you know is their address and maybe that they are pregnant, children, ill or hungry.

The full piece is at The Ecologist.

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