In Poland, Instead of a Wrenching End

February 12, 2015


World Bank Group

Waclaw Blaszczok has spent all of his 47 years in Nieboczowy, a small farming village near the Odra River in southwest Poland. He raised his three sons here, and was an altar boy at St Joseph the Laborer, the church down the road from his house. This is home. But not for long. “We’re going to be regretful when we leave, we’ve spent our lives here, we have a real commitment to the place,” he says. “But we’re going to something new. A new house, a new future, and we’re optimistic.”

Nieboczowy lies near Raciborz, not far from the source of the Odra River. Since 2005, the Polish government has been planning to relocate the entire village, and another nearby. The move is supported by the World Bank and follows the Bank’s resettlement policy. The aim is to create a dry polder, or a reservoir to hold floodwater if and when the Odra spills its banks again, as it did in 2010 and 1997.


" We’ve spent our lives here, we have a real commitment to the place. But we’re going to something new. A new house, a new future, and we’re optimistic. "

Waclaw Blaszczok

Nieboczowy resident

Image

Creating the space for the polder: residents of Nieboczowy decided to relocate in a group -"new Nieboczowy” is nine kilometers away from the old village.


Plaques marking the water levels in ‘97 dot the area, but the worst damage was to Wroclaw, downstream, Poland’s fourth biggest city. All told, 54 people died, 700,000 houses were destroyed, and the flooding did over a billion US dollars’ worth of damage. Now, to create the space for the polder, all human structures must go, including the village of Nieboczowy. “We are a very strong community, we do things together, we do cultural events in the village, we were fighting the whole time to be together and that’s why its taken a long time, explains Stefania Wardega, a Nieboczowy resident. “We want to be together.”

… A New Start

The polder will be vast, built to hold 185 million cubic meters of water. Residents will be able to farm in the space, but not live in it. So, to make way for it, the people of Nieboczowy are moving. Together. But it took a long time and a lot of consultation to get them to agree to go. “The consultations and the meetings helped us to understand we had to move, but we knew we wanted to have the same village in another place and see the same faces everyday,” Alina Mandera, another Nieboczowy resident.  

At first, people did not want to go. They formed a group, “Citizens for the Defense of Nieboczowy” to fight the idea. But, gradually, after many talks and many meetings and much input from villagers, most of them agreed, and the name of the anti-resettlement committee changed to “Committee for the Establishment of the New Nieboczowy.” Outings and picnics to the site of the new village, as well as much discussion over its location, helped change minds.


" The consultations helped us to understand we had to move, but we knew we wanted to have the same village in another place and see the same faces everyday. "

Alina Mandera

Nieboczowy resident


Nieboczowy is an interesting case for resettlement; it is prosperous, mostly made up of retirees, farmers and miners, and it has a strong sense of communal identity. In its heyday, it boasted six local shops and a vibrant community life of sports, lectures and theater shows. “At first, people were used to being flooded, even after ’97, they were against moving out, but you’ve got to be persistent, and the important thing is that people wanted to go together in a mass resettlement, and we had to listen to what they wanted,” says Czeslaw Burek, the mayor of gmina Lubomia, who is credited with working hard to change minds in the village.

The key, officials say, was communications, information, and more communications and information. The government opened a hotline to answer residents’ questions, staffed an office two days a week in Nieboczowy, put ads for meetings in local newspapers, put fliers up in town and in parish offices, and held weekly community meetings and consultations. Augustyn Bombala, who runs the project, says, “If I were to do it again, one key thing to remember is respect for the people, to understand people’s feelings, expectations and wants, and to understand their motivation.”

The new Nieboczowy, for now simply called “new Nieboczowy,” is nine kilometers away from the old village. Workers have almost finished putting in water and sewage; electricity is halfway done. About 200 of Nieboczowy’s 700 residents are coming here; the rest couldn’t handle the uncertainty over negotiations and moved away; they sold their property to the government at replacement value—the cost of new house in another place. People in Nieboczowy could get a replacement house of equal value plus a plot in the new village, or they could get money or a combination of money and land.

“People Are Enthusiastic”

“People are enthusiastic about the new houses,” says Krzysztof Szcztok, a Nieboczowy resident. “People are looking to the future, they will be sad when they leave but they will take some part of the old village with them in their hearts.” And the old village will go not just in their hearts. While the church, St Joseph the Laborer, will be demolished, all the altar pieces, pictures, baptismal font and even the plaques in the pews, with family names on them, will move. The new village will have bike lanes, parks, a town center and a community center. It will have 19 apartments for the elderly and vulnerable.


" We realize that there is a greater cause here. The cities downstream will be affected, we know the new polder will hold the water. "

Gerard Drobny

Ligota Tworkowska resident

Image

Residents of Nieboczowy have a strong sense of communal identity.


Gerard Drobny lives in Ligota Tworkowska, another small village in the polder area. Residents there are being relocated, as well, but not in a group. Still, Drobny says, he and his fellow Ligota Tworkowskans know they have to go. “We realize that there is a greater cause here. The cities downstream will be affected, we know the new polder will hold water and that it is for a good cause.”

Nieboczowy’s residents can move into their new houses by the end of 2015, and they have to be out of the old village by the end of 2016. But they won’t be going alone. The social fabric and sense of community that make Nieboczowy special is coming with them—as is the past. Even the cemetery, where Waclaw Blaszczok’s ancestors lie, is moving to the new village.




project map