The Strumica River Basin is the country’s main agricultural centre, producing over 180,000 tonnes of vegetables each year. The soil is fertile, nourished by the Strumica River, and the local farmers have a reputation as hard workers.
But agriculture has become an ever more risky way to make a living in recent years as the weather becomes increasingly unpredictable, with intensive rains causing the Strumica River to flood thousands of hectares of farmland in February 2015.
“The river is our lifeline,” says Ilija, a farmer from the village of Dabile. “But it can also be our downfall. The floods in 2015 were a disaster. When the river burst its banks there was nothing we could do but evacuate with our families as the water flooded our homes and destroyed our crops.”
Ilija and other local farmers have been steadily rebuilding their lives since the floods. But what they need most of all now is some sense of security that flooding won’t happen on such a scale again.
“Of course we can’t control the weather,” says Ilija, “but that doesn’t mean there aren’t things we can do to prevent or limit the damage. For a start, we all know that the floods were made even worse because the river was clogged up with debris, and the existing drainage canals were out of use for decades. That’s something we can change.”
Dragan Gonev, who works with the water management enterprise in Strumica, agrees with local farmers on the role of waste in reducing the river’s capacity to cope with heavy rains.
“The canals were choked with dense vegetation,” he explains. “The normal flow was blocked by branches that created blockages and collected waste. When this waste accumulated the river overflowed onto surrounding agricultural areas and settlements.”
Amongst local citizens there is a sense of frustration that such blockage was allowed to build up and exacerbate the effects of the rains. But there is now also a growing sense of relief – relief that something is now finally being done to address the problem.
Efforts to clear the river of waste began a few months ago, funded by the EU and implemented by UNDP in cooperation with government at national and local level.
Already the EUR 800,000 project has cleared 23 kilometres of regulated canals and repaired damaged embankments that were built decades ago, significantly reducing the blockage and the risk of overflow.
The project includes interventions in the main flood control canals and drainage network that run through several municipalities in the region of Strumica, in line with priorities identified by a UNDP-supported study.
The estimated average annual damages and loses caused by floods due to dysfunctional flood control systems amount to over EUR 500,000. The completed and anticipated additional interventions by the end of the project will help reduce these adverse economic consequences by over 80%.
These efforts are components of the EU Flood Recovery Programme, which is supporting the reconstruction of EUR 10 million worth of damaged road infrastructure and priority flood risk-mitigation structures in the country’s most affected river basins.
The interventions are concentrated on improving the discharge capacities of regulated river sections and drainage networks in the Strumica River and Crna Reka Basins, as well as reconstruction and better management of four dams that were damaged by the floods.
The ‘building back better’ approach is being applied to maximize resilience to future floods and mitigate the risk of floods in the most vulnerable regions of the country.
The Programme is implemented by UNDP in close partnership with the Secretariat for European Integration, the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Water Economy, the Ministry of Environment and Physical Planning, the Water Management Organization, local governments of the affected municipalities, as well as the key entities in the disaster risk management system in the country.