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Golubac: A Serbian Town Safe from Floods and Ready to Grow

April 7, 2014

1 Million

people in Serbia are safer from floods after improvements under the project

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Golubac is a small town in eastern Serbia that sits on the right bank of the Danube at its widest point, just before it flows into the narrow Kazan gorge. For most citizens here, the river represents a source of livelihood. Frequent floods also made this river a source of fear and anxiety. That is, until recently.

The only kindergarten in the Golubac municipality is often admired by those who visit it along the banks of the Danube, but these idyllic surroundings also pose the biggest threat to this building. Vesna Mijatovic, the principal here, still gets overwhelmed with emotion when she recalls the particularly devastating floods in 2006. The first thing hit by these floods was the school’s kindergarten. Employees here fought side by side members of the community as they tried in vain to contain the rising floodwaters with sandbags. In the end, the kindergarten had to be closed for weeks.

The renovated promenade along the Danube in Golubac – a cherished local landmark – means increased safety and protection from the river for residents and tourists alike.

“What to do without this kindergarten? For us it means jobs. For the kids and their parents it is a necessity, allowing the parents to go to work. Kids were crying because they couldn’t come to the kindergarten. Water was everywhere. We were struggling – organizing shifts around the clock. For five days and five nights all our employees were helping during this emergency.”

Fortunately, the kindergarten, along with the entire town of Golubac, is now safe from the Danube’s floodwaters. The embankment has been raised and reinforced, and a special underground foil has been installed that will prevent any underground flooding in the future. These improvements were made possible by the Irrigation and Drainage Rehabilitation Project financed by the World Bank, which has increased flood protection for more than one million people and over 440,000 hectares of land throughout Serbia.

Open Quotes

This is a big thing for us, because all of our development plans depend on the elimination of the biggest threat for us here – high water and underground water from the Danube. Close Quotes

Vesna Mijatovic
Principal, Lasta kindergarten, Golubac

Here, a “deep trencher” is being used for the first time in Serbia. The machine excavates trenches while laying impermeable foil that will prevent water from breaking through the sandy layers of the soil, as it did before.

“This is a big thing for us, because all of our development plans depend on the elimination of the biggest threat for us here – high water and underground water from the Danube. It is really terrible when you experience water coming from everywhere you look and you are powerless to do anything to stop it,” says Mijatovic.

Although similar to flood protection programs implemented elsewhere, one specific request by local authorities posed a particular challenge for this otherwise straightforward infrastructure project –to increase flood protection, but not diminish the view of the Danube from the town’s central promenade. This aspect was critical for local tourism development plans.

The response to this request was the introduction of mobile flood barriers that can easily be installed in a matter of hours should an emergency arise. To protect from underground flooding, a rupture-resistant foil was also installed up to 7 meters into the ground. This will prevent water from a swollen Danube from penetrating sandy and porous layers of soil and flooding the area.

Tapping into the potential of tourism in Golubac to boost local economic development is of paramount importance for the local authorities and the municipality plans to use IPA funds from the European Union to rehabilitate a nearby 14th-century fortress situated on the Danube just outside of town. This fortress stands as one of the most well-preserved medieval fortifications in this region and has the potential to become a major tourist attraction.

By increasing economic activity in the town through increased flood safety and improved tourism infrastructure, the authorities in Golubac are hoping to reverse the trends of a declining and aging population in the town. The population here now stands below 10,000 and the average wage is 40% lower than the national average. Zoran Pajkic, the ambitious mayor of Golubac, is optimistic about the municipality’s future prospects.

Under the World Bank-backed project, the walking and cycling promenade has been widened and resurfaced. New lights also mean the area is well lit at night. 

Golubac now boasts a beautiful, new promenade to walk or cycle along – newly paved and lined with new lamp posts and benches.

“I can say that last year the new promenade already attracted a lot of visitors from other places who came here for a walk. It has also created conditions suitable for opening other tourist facilities that we expect will attract a lot more visitors this year. I am very happy with this project and what Golubac is gaining from it,” says Pajkic.

“The old promenade was poorly lit, you couldn’t walk, jog or run – it was terrible,” says Zoran, a local resident.  “Now, one can walk, or cycle – it is beautiful. I like it a lot,” he concludes, as he strolls down the new promenade with his wife and their little baby.