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Balkans: Online Platform Tracks Reports From Areas Hit by Record Snowfall

Since last week, the Balkans have been hit by massive snow storms, the likes of which have not been seen in over a decade, if not longer. After an unusually long period of nearly no real signs of a typical Balkan winter, last week brought what seems to be non-stop snowfall throughout the region, including the seaside areas around the Adriatic that seldom get any snow.

Men shoveling snow from a street in Sarajevo. Record snowfall has paralyzed transportation in the Bosnian capital, where a state of emergency has now been declared. Photo by Sulejman Omerbasic, copyright © Demotix (5/02/12).

Men shoveling snow from a street in Sarajevo. Record snowfall has paralyzed transportation in the Bosnian capital, where a state of emergency has now been declared. Photo by Sulejman Omerbasic, copyright © Demotix (5/02/12).

Serbia's national television network, RTS, and other media reported on Friday 3 February, 2012, that a state of emergency has been declared by the government, while citizens have been reporting critical situations throughout the country and that municipal services have been doing a poor job of tackling the snowfall in many urban areas.

In an article titled “Serbia Blocked by Snow, State of Emergency in 27 Municipalities, Recommendation to Call Off School Attendance” [sr], the Head of the State of Emergency Sector of the Serbian Ministry of Internal Affairs, Predrag Maric, is reported to have stated on Friday:

27 municipalities in Serbia have declared a state of emergency due to heavy snowfall. Maric has told Beta news agency that the most difficult situations are in Sjenica, Ivanjica, Prijepolje, Crna Trava and Surdulica, where the height of snow has reached approximately 2 meters. According to him, power supply is “relatively good,” outages are being fixed quickly and there have been no long power outages.

Maric also announced the possibility of declaring a full state of emergency nationwide, which the Government did on Sunday evening, cancelling school throughout Serbia at least until Friday, February 10, among other things.

Several actions have been organized by the online community in Serbia and the region to fend off the snow and to attempt to regain a functional state in urban areas at least, such as a #lopataup (“#shovelup”), organized by one online community leader, Zoran Torbica, and other local Twitter users.

In the meantime, Al Jazeera Balkans, the recently established regional office of Al Jazeera news network in the region, has joined forces with the team from Ushahidi to set up a platform for tracking verified information on everything from road blocks, power outages to other critical points and information in the entire region.

Ushahidi is an open-source platform for information collection, visualization and interactive mapping, which was also used in Serbia just after the earthquake in Kraljevo in November 2010 to map and track damage in the area.

Haris Alisic, who heads the New Media team for Al Jazeera Balkans, launched the platform on Sunday evening, and many members of the online community, including some of the region's GV authors, have joined the Al Jazeera-Ushahidi team in curating, tracking and verifying reports from the region.

The adapted Ushahidi platform can be located on Al Jazeera's official site, while reports can be sent in by anyone using the following channels:

- via SMS to +387644218661
- via Twitter by using the hashtags #kolaps #sneg #snijeg #lopataup #iskljucenje
- via email to oluja2012@aljazeera.net
- or by entering information directly into the form on the”pošaljite izvještaj” tab on the Al Jazeera page

If you would like to volunteer your time to help map critical areas and are familiar with using online tools, please contact the author of this article, or Haris Alisic via Twitter, or leave a comment here on Global Voices, and we will contact you for more information on what you can do to help. We also ask that you all begin reporting from your area on Twitter and using the above-mentioned hashtags on Twitter, which are automatically collected by the platform and then reviewed and verified by Al Jazeera and volunteers.

Bosnian men are trying to push a car away from the deep snow. Photo by Sulejman Omerbasic, copyright © Demotix (5/02/12).

Bosnian men are trying to push a car away from the deep snow. Photo by Sulejman Omerbasic, copyright © Demotix (5/02/12).

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