Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Winter and wartime

Yesterday as we we walking through the slush to the supermarket to buy water I had a thought. Having survived twelve days with just one tap in the house this had been turned off at 4pm. This was to enable repairs to start on whatever it was that needed fixing so we would get water back to the rest of the house. Our urgent requirement now was enough bottled water for essential washing and teeth cleaning. But this was not what was foremost in my mind.


I was suddenly struck with the similarity between an unusually heavy winter and wartime. Several local people we know who have had a hard time over the last few weeks have said it reminded them of the early nineties. I have no first-hand experience of war so I'll take their word for it. I do know that the last thirteen days have been the first time in my life I have lived in a house without working sanitation. Washing has happened with a bucket and a bottle of water and we'll not talk about the toilet situation.


Two weeks ago the worst days of the winter crisis in the Balkans were making the news in the UK. Then silence. The weather in the UK was warming up and the chatter on Facebook turned to signs of spring. Yesterday the BBC did post a story about the thaw on the Danube damaging boats in Serbia but, barring a snowbound Swede, winter was largely last week's news. While we were walking to the supermarket it started to snow again. Winter had not, and as I type has not, finished yet. And even if the weather turns mild this week, like we hope it will, the effects will continue to be felt.


Bosnia is now bracing itself for flooding as snow turns to meltwater. In Jajce, where we are, many homes are still without water because workers for the water company are overstretched repairing ice-damaged pipes and water meters. As the ice disappears many places will get more messy before order is restored. Little of this is likely to make anything other than the local news.


Perhaps it's obvious to draw the comparison to how the media covers conflicts. I'll draw it anyway. It's too easy to think that once a story slips from the headlines the issues that have eaten up column inches are suddenly resolved. There are not and they are unlikely to get a quick fix. Disrupted or destroyed infrastructure doesn't magically mend itself. Less still does society simply forget the tensions and move on. That is the news editor's job!

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