FEW things are certain in the former Yugoslavia, but the promise of a bitterly cold winter has never been broken. Even if the miracle of a negotiated peace comes soon to the embattled Balkans, the return of cold weather means that the 2.5 million refugees and displaced persons in Bosnia, created by years of war, will have an urgent need for shelter, warm clothing, wood-burning stoves for heating and cooking, food, and medicine. Without redoubled efforts to provide humanitarian relief, stockpiles will dwindle as the weather cuts supply routes, and the peace talks slated to begin Nov. 1 in Dayton, Ohio, could take place against a background of human suffering unmatched in Europe since the end of World War II.
In the last three months, more than 500,000 people have become refugees. Unlike earlier refugee movements in Bosnia, the majority are not Muslims but ethnic Serbs. More than 200,000 Croatian Serbs have fled the Krajina region for the Serb-controlled Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Another 130,000 Bosnian Serbs have been displaced by recent fighting and have fled to Serb-held areas of Bosnia. Meanwhile, some 36,000 Bosnian Muslims have been driven from the "safe areas" of Srebrenica and Zepa, and the ethnic cleansing of Muslims in the Banja Luca area goes on. The result is a complex series of refugee waves overlapping and cross-cutting one another. And, through television, these and other consequences of war are there for all to see.
In parts of Bosnia, 60 percent of the homes have been destroyed. Across the landscape, homes and businesses, schools, villages, farms, and houses of worship lie in rubble and ruin, byproducts of ethnic cleansing and retaliation. Overall, some 80 percent of the refugees are women and children; the rest are primarily older men. But while their leaders may regard each other as implacable enemies, the victims of war all face a common enemy with the inexorable approach of winter.
The people of Bosnia will need a massive infusion of outside help to make it through another winter. The United Nations must keep supply lines open to the most needy and ensure adequate stockpiles before ice and snow close the routes. Private international relief agencies must continue their life-saving work, and marshall their supporters to continue donations of supplies as well as funds. The American people, who have always responded with generosity to the needs of those struggling for survival, must turn their attention to helping the victims of war, even as the generals and diplomats warily circle the negotiating table.
Snow has already started to fall in the mountains that help divide the Balkans into ethnic enclaves. The women and children, the elderly, the sick and infirm will need the help of the international community soon.
We must not stand by, waiting for war to stop and peace to come, if we want to be considered compassionate, civilized human beings. The survival of hundreds of thousands of people depends upon men and women of good will fulfilling a moral commitment to charitable giving in times of greatest need. Put in simpler and more direct words, helping all Bosnians survive another brutal winter is the right thing to do.