The bridge over the River Bregalnica between the village of Razlovci and the town of Delcevo won’t win any prizes for design or architecture, but for the villagers of Razlovci it is a vital connection to the rest of the country. Around a thousand people depend on the bridge to get to Delcevo for work and school, healthcare and shopping.
Built in 1977, the bridge suffered serious structural damage during last year’s floods. The damage was so severe that the bridge is now deemed at risk of complete collapse. Although officially closed until it can be reconstructed, many local residents disregard the ban because the alternate route to Delcevo is poorly maintained and time-consuming.
“With every day that passes we are exposed to greater danger from the bridge,” explains Spasevski Vanco – Charlie, a local primary schoolteacher and president of the local community of Razlovci.
“People do not respect the ban on vehicles passing over the bridge because they need to go to work and take their children to school, or to get to the hospital and the shops. There is no other way because the alternative road is in very bad condition. So they take a risk with their own lives, and every day the damage to the bridge gets worse. It urgently needs to be reconstructed, especially to provide safe access for emergency vehicles and fire trucks.”
To make matters worse, the bridge is not only the main link between Razlovci and Delchevo but also carries the main water pipeline that supplies Delcevo municipality with drinking water. The water supply for the whole town could be interrupted unless the bridge is soon restored.
What happened to the bridge shows how human neglect can combine with extreme weather to make the impact of natural disasters far worse than it has to be.
Many local people argue that the bridge could have been saved if sufficient care had been taken to remove debris from the river, including sand and branches. Others point out that the flood damage was exacerbated by illegal excavation of sand from the riverbed.
"Due to heavy rains last year, the river changed its direction toward Razlovci,” explains Gorgi Donevski, a retired professor of Physical Education and the president of the local community of Trabotivishte, a village of some 500 people located on the opposite site of the bridge. “This undermined the pillars of the bridge. So it’s not just the bridge that needs reconstructing—the riverbed also needs to be cleaned if we’re ever going to have a lasting solution to the floods.”
“For the last two years there’s been a ban on excavating sand,” says Slavka Hadzismileva, whose family is one of many whose farm fields were flooded last year. “So what we see now are the consequences of previous unplanned excavation, including the change in the course of the river.”
The costs and scale of reconstruction are well beyond the means of the local municipality.
Fortunately, however, the European Union has now approved a multi-million-euro Flood Recovery Programme to help the country rebuild critical transport infrastructure in the regions most affected by floods, including the Trabotivishte–Razlovci bridge.
The bridge will be rebuilt in 2016. What’s more, the new structure will incorporate improved design standards in line with the concept of ‘building back better’, which will make the new bridge much more resilient to flooding. Once rehabilitated, the improved bridge will restore connectivity for the local population, reducing travel time and transport expenses.
There is still some inconvenience ahead for local residents, but the risk that the bridge could collapse completely in the event of high waters and new flooding is too high to allow for further delay.
“During the reconstruction period the old ten-kilometre road linking the village of Razlovci with Delcevo will be put in use,” says the Mayor of Delcevo, Darko Shehtanski, “though most of this road is not suitable for light vehicles. For now the bridge structure is still dangerous and there is further risk of collapse even when the water level is low. Finally there is an end in sight, however, thanks to the EU Flood Recovery Programme, and we are hoping everything will be finished in time.”
The reconstruction of the bridge is one of eight transportation-related projects being funded by the EU Flood Recovery Programme. The projects will all be implemented by UNDP in partnership with the Secretariat for European Integration, the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Water Economy, the Ministry of Transport and Communications, the Public Enterprise for State Roads and the local governments of the affected municipalities.