In May 2014, Serbia experienced the heaviest rain it had seen in a century, according to UNICEF data. This caused flooding that affected 1.6 million people and significantly damaged 1,800 buildings, while also significantly affecting the water quality in Serbia. It took UNICEF 10 days to assess the damages caused by the flooding and in the wake of the emergency it provided 5,000 blankets and hygiene kits and worked with the Serbian government to determine how to rebuild the country after the floods.

The mass flooding has affected the drinking water so greatly that it will take years for Serbia to recover from the damage. According to Water and Wastewater International (WWI), only 37 percent of the total Serbian population has access to a sewage system.

In cities, 75 percent of people have access to sewer systems, which is 25 percent less than the average for European cities. In rural areas of Serbia, the data is even less promising. WWI estimates that there are 5,000 public water systems in rural areas that are not controlled for water quality and that there are many wells and other systems that are probably not documented at all. There are 300,000 private wells and only about 10 percent of them have sanitary protection, according to WWI.

The Ministry of Agriculture and Environmental Protection Agency in Serbia have set new standards for water quality and have implemented monitoring techniques. The agency samples the ground and surface water and then analyses it chemically, preparing data which will be added to a database on water quality that is updated periodically.

According to WWI, this action from the Serbian government will lead to great changes in the water quality in the country. WWI says that this change is already underway because although there are only 19 water treatment plants in Serbia, 11 more are going to be constructed. The U.N. has also become involved in preserving water quality in Serbia. It is working to create new regulations for the planning and execution of wastewater management by building on the Law on Water from 1991. The original law includes a plan for maintaining water quality but was never put into action.

Helen Barker

Photo: Flickr

Ikea_SerbiaA new e-permit system in Serbia, created with the help of USAID, has shortened the process for obtaining a construction permit from 240 to 28 days. It cut out the 50-plus interactions between the investor and the government. One can register for an e-permit through the Business Register’s Agency website, the Minister of Construction website, or other government websites.

The new e-permit system will help develop Serbia’s important infrastructure as well, particularly transportation. Serbia has been called the “gateway to Europe” as it is the crossroads between Western Europe and the Middle East. The Serbian parliament is looking for private investment in this sector, and the e-permits system has made this process more efficient. In addition, the new e-permit system is allowing the Clinical Center of Serbia to build new healthcare facilities. New jobs in the construction sector lead to new jobs in other sectors. The new e-permit system has not only helped construction in Serbia, it has increased the nation’s GDP by 3.5 percent in the first quarter of 2016.

One company already taking advantage of the new system is IKEA, and its investment is expected to bring 700 million euros and 300 new jobs to the nation. IKEA took advantage of the new permit process to build a new store in Belgrade. This new store is expected to open in July 2017. IKEA will be the first international business to invest in Serbia after the introduction of the country’s new construction e-permit system. The store in Belgrade is only the first store IKEA is building in Serbia, and the company is planning to invest 300 million euros in five stores across the nation.

IKEA will hopefully pave the way for more investment in Serbia, whether through creating new businesses or encouraging domestic construction in Serbia.

Jennifer Taggart

Photo: Flickr

 Serbia Refugees
From 2015 through March 2016 refugees from countries including Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and more traveled through Serbia on their way to Hungary and Croatia. The closing of the border led many people to think that the refugee crisis was over, but refugees from Bulgaria and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia continue to arrive in Serbia daily. Below are 10 facts about Serbia refugees and the unprecedented crisis.

  1. Between May 2015 and March 2016, over 920,000 refugees from Greece, Bulgaria, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq traveled through Serbia as they made their way to Hungary and Croatia.
  2. About 20.1 million euros in humanitarian aid from the EU helped provide emergency assistance at 16 government shelters. These shelters provide services including medical care, family-friendly shelter, clothing, food, water and security. Currently, aid is being used to improve living conditions at shelters. Previously, Serbia received 24.5 million euros in aid toward the refugee crisis.
  3. Winter weather and freezing temperatures as low as -20 degrees Celsius endanger the health and lives of as many as 1,500 refugees living in the streets or unheated temporary shelters. Sadly, 60 percent are unaccompanied minors. Many people are afraid to go to official shelters due to concerns that they will be deported.
  4. The Serbian government, the U.N. Refugee Agency, and other humanitarian agencies made room in heated shelters for 5,000 more beds.
  5. The Serbian government opened additional accommodations in mid-January enabling 400 refugees, including women and children, to move from unsanitary improvised shelters to a clean shelter – 85 percent of refugees are now living in one of 17 government shelters.
  6. Humanitarian organizations are prohibited from helping refugees outside official shelters. A group of international volunteers called “Hot Food Idomeni” has found a way to help. They serve a hot soup ensuring that refugees living outside official shelters get a least one meal a day.
  7. The EU civil protection mechanism along with 10 Member States provided 246,000 relief items to Serbia.
  8. The government registered 815,000 refugees in 2015. There was a dramatic drop in the number of refugees arriving in Serbia after the closure of the “Western Balkan migration route” in March 2016.
  9. Since the closure of the “Western Balkan migration route” refugees have been stranded in Serbia. Many have stayed in one of 16 reception centers located in the west and south. Refugees are free to travel around the country. They can even apply for asylum.
  10. After the closure of the migration route, a small number of refugees from Bulgaria and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia continued to arrive increasing the number of refugees from 2,000 in March 2016 to 7,550 in December 2016.

People flee war-torn countries hoping to find safe refuge within the borders of their neighbor. These 10 facts about Serbia refugees reveal what these brave refugees endure in their journey to find their safe refuge.

Mary Barringer

Photo: Flickr

Education in SerbiaSince Serbia transitioned to democracy in 2000, its education system has faced challenges in regard to access, equity, quality and financing. However, in recent years the country has made major efforts to rebuild and improve its education system.

  • Access
    The distribution of schools in Serbia does not correspond to its population. Although the gross enrolment rate (GER) for preschool education is 98 percent overall, the GER is as low as seven percent of children in rural areas.These children sometimes have to walk between three to 10 km on way to school.
    Serbia adopted the Law on Foundations of the Education System in 2009 to address this issue. This law was meant to provide opportunities for the marginalized, economically disadvantaged and internally displaced students in Serbia.
  • Equity
    A major inequity gap exists for children with special needs. According to a 2010 statistic, only one per cent of children with disabilities has access to pre-primary education. These children are also more likely than non-disabled peers to drop out of school. Resources are particularly scarce for students with physical impediments.
    In 2008, UNICEF signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy to address inequity. The goals in the Memorandum were to establish a foster care system for children with disabilities as well as establish new standards for accountability and protection of child rights.
  • Quality
    Serbia’s learning outcomes are below the region’s international average. This low performance is due in part to the school system’s failure to address the psychosocial needs of children emerging from conflict. School safety, drinking water and restroom sanitation also need improvement.
    A “School without Violence” (SwV) initiative has been implemented across the nation to improve school quality and yield safer school environments. It includes the development of plans for crisis situations, a parent’s manual and the promotion of fair play in sports.

  • Financing
    Although the level of government spending on education in Serbia (3.8 percent) is comparable to other European countries, its outcomes are poorer. This is due in part to Serbia’s inefficiently small classrooms.
    To increase efficiency, the World Bank suggests consolidating under-enrolled classes by shifting students to other classes in the same school. This would reduce education costs by 10 percent.

According to Minister of Education M. Srđan Verbić, education in Serbia needs to be broad and flexible with its curriculum. This will provide students with the skills necessary for any job in the global workforce.

The Education Reform Initiative of Southeast Europe (ERI SEE) has the potential to establish one such framework for educational qualifications. It will also better distribute funds for education in Serbia. This cooperation in the education sector will cumulatively optimize school networks and increase school readiness and quality, ensuring equal access and high-quality education to all children in Serbia.

Liliana Rehorn

Photo: Flickr