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In Poland: Securing Homes and Lives Against Floods

March 19, 2014

Poland’s Odra River has flooded its banks more than 16 times in 200 years – causing death and destruction. A World Bank-supported project is now in place to prevent future flooding, and protect the thousands of homes – and millions of residents – located around the Odra River Basin.
PROJECT MAP

Residents of the Village of Nieboczowy in Poland say it is difficult to forget the hardships of 1997 – the year flood waters tore through the region, killing over 50 people, and destroying 700,000 homes.

“We have always had floods, and we had gotten used to them, but 1997 was totally beyond what we expected.  Our residents were eventually able to recover, but the fears remained on our minds,” says Nieboczowy Village Head, Krystian Szczotok.

Such fears of flooding are finally being put to rest, says Szczotok, thanks to a government-run project now underway in the flood-prone areas of Poland’s Odra River Basin, in the country’s southwest.

Under the Odra River Flood Protection Project, flood-prevention structures are being built in the basin area.

They include a “dry polder” – a reservoir made to trap dangerous overflow from surrounding rivers, which peak during heavy rains.

“When there is a risk of flood coming up, this dry reservoir will be filled with water. It has a double purpose; it will reduce the peak flow of the Odra River, and will prevent it from merging with that of the Nysa Klodzka River,” explains Augustyn Bombala, who is overseeing project construction.

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We have always had floods, and we had gotten used to them, but 1997 was totally beyond what we expected. Our residents were eventually able to recover, but the fears remained on our minds Close Quotes

Krystian Szczotok
Nieboczowy Village Head

In addition to the reservoir, he says, the World Bank-supported project is improving embankments and dikes along the Odra River Basin, and reconstructing river beds.

And new homes and neighborhoods are being built in safe, flood-free areas, at government expense.

“We were able to reconcile two interests – those of the state, which wants to protect 2.5 million people with the dry polder, and the interests of the villagers who will be relocated to a new village,” says Czeslaw Burek, a local government official. A total of 202 households (approximately 689 people) from the villages of Nieboczowy and Ligota Tworkowska had to be relocated to flood-safe areas following the WB involuntary resettlement safeguard policy to give way to the development of the dry polder at Raciborz.

Upon its completion in 2017, the flood protection project will ensure long-term safety of the Odra River Basin’s millions of residents and their properties through flood defense measures worth EUR 505 million.

Marena Mrok-Utulak, an elementary school teacher and mother, remembers the floods of 1997, and the havoc they wreaked on the Odra River Basin town of Raciborz, where she lives.

“We lived in the area that was most affected.  I was pregnant, and we had to move out of our house.  Good people helped us and gave us food, but we have lived since then always cautious, with bags packed,” she says.

Mrok-Utulak says the region’s flood protection project means her family and other Raciborz residents can now rest easy, free from flooding fears of the past.

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We were able to reconcile two interests – those of the state, which wants to protect 2.5 million people with the dry polder, and the interests of the villagers who will be relocated to a new village Close Quotes

Czeslaw Burek
Local government official