The River Sava begins in Slovenia and flows southeast for 584 miles through Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Serbia until it empties into the Danube in Belgrade (Encyclopedia Britannica). It is formed from two mountain streams, the Sava Dolinka and the Sava Bohinjka and has a number of tributaries including the Kokra, Kaniška Bistrica, Savinja, Sora, Ljubljanica, Krka, Vrbas, Ukrina, Bosna, Brka, Tinja, Kulubara, and Topčiderska (International Sava River Basin Commission 2014).
The river is named for the Roman god Savus, but the association with a deity dates back at least to the second century B.C. when the region was inhabited by a Celtic people known as the Taurisci. The Taurisci worshipped the river goddess Adsalluta, and after the Romanization of the region in the first century B.C., the Celts invoked both Savus and Adsalluta. The alter of Savus and Adsalluta, excavated near Podkraj, Slovenia, is located above dangerous rapids that likely impeded the traffic of merchants using the waterway to transport their goods (Knezović 2010 and Šašel Kos 1994). Travel along the river was often dangerous, particularly in the summer months when the water levels were low, and passing through the rapids was often impossible (Knezović 2010).
Nonetheless, since prehistory, the River Sava has been one of the most economically important water routes in the Balkans (Knezović 2010, Milkovic and Zeljko 2011). In the 18th and 19th centuries, the river saw an increase in traffic as grain exports from Hungary and Slavonia intensified (Knezović 2010). Other important trade items included coffee, sugar, and manufactured products (Knezović 2010).
The river connects what are today three capital cities, Ljubljana, Zagreb, and Belgrade, as well as a number of smaller cities, towns, and villages including Sisak, Slavonski Brod, Županja, Gunja, and Brčko.
The River Sava has flooded fairly regularly. One of the worst floods in recent memory occurred in October of 1964 when the water spilled into Zagreb, Zaprešić, Samobor, Dugo Selo, and Velika Gorica, killing seventeen people and forcing the evacuation of 150,000 others (ISRBC 2014). It flooded again in 1970, 74, 90, 98, 2006, 07, 09, 10, and again this year in 2014 (ISRBC 2014).
Beginning in mid-May, three months worth of rain fell in a span of only three days, the heaviest rainfall in the Sava River Basin in recorded history (ISRBC 2014). The fast inflow from the numerous tributaries then caused a rapid rise in water levels, and on May 17th, the Sava breeched her levees, causing extensive flooding in eastern Croatia and into Serbia (ISRBC 2014). That same day, the levees on the other side of the river began to break, causing additional flooding in Croatia into Bosnia-Herzegovina (ISRBC 2014). Two days later, on May 19th, yet another levee broke, this time in Serbia near Obrenovac, which had already been submerged in several meters of water (ISRBC 2014).
When it was done, 18,000 people had been evacuated from Croatia, 32,000 from Serbia, and 35,000 from Bosnia-Herzegovina (ISRBC 2014). Fifty-five people had died, countless homes had been destroyed, and numerous families had been displaced (ISRBC 2014). The flooding is also thought to have had less immediate affects such as landslides, disturbance of landmines, and an increase in waterborne illnesses (ISRBC 2014).
One night in Vrbanja I met a librarian. She loves her job, but she doesn’t have a library anymore. She doesn’t know what she will do now.
We meet a man in a pub in Županja. He is drunk and speaks in a unique combination of Croatian, German, and English. He tells me that he comes to Županja to find work. He used to have a job, but now he is unemployed because of the floods. He tells me that he used to have a car, but now he has nothing. He tells me about his dogs. He had two of them, he says, but he had to leave them behind with his birds. He wasn’t allowed to bring them when they were evacuated.
He knows they didn’t drown, he says. They starved to death.
He must not feel guilty, he says, because it is not his fault.
It is fate.
He pours us rakija.
International Sava River Basin Commission. July 2014. Preliminary Flood Risk Assessment in the Sava River Basin.
Knezović I. 2010. The Worship of Savus and Nemisis in Andautonia. Arhaeološki Vestnik 61:187-202
Milkovic and Zeljko. 2011. Sava river basin-inland waterway regulatory framework and infrastructure. Annals of Maritime Studies 46(1):51-60
Šašel Kos M. 1994. Savus and Adalluta. Arhaeološki Vestnik 45:99-122