OTHER LOCAL THEMES
culture and customs
introducing the area
quotes about water
key testimonies featuring water
Water has a special significance in the region, with several of the springs believed to have healing properties. Before the war there was a flourishing Spa, and there were local songs about rivers in the Klodzko Valley. Many narrators remarked, however, that water systems have become polluted in recent years. Although the smaller streams higher up in the mountains are still clean and "those that flow from forests are in the first class of purity", the lower streams flowing through the villages show some contamination with biological and chemical waste.
In the early morning of July 7, 1997, water became a force of massive and sudden destruction, in which many lost their homes and livelihoods. The first flood - greeted with absolute disbelief - was followed by a second a couple of days later. A few believed the flood was divine punishment; others speculated that the Czechs had caused it by opening some of their dams. Most, however, agreed it resulted from a combination of heavy rainfall on neglected mountain slopes which failed to retain the volume of water, exacerbated by lack of preparation, poor organisation and inadequate communication between the authorities responsible. In this sense, it was a warning: to treat the environment with greater respect, or as one man put it: "God's finger being waved at us, so that we changed our ways" (Poland 7).
For some, the aftermath was almost more traumatic than the actual flood. At first, people were generous in their support for the victims: lending clothes, cooking meals, and offering places to stay. But as the official assistance (including the "famous 3000 zlotys") became available, an element of greed and envy began to surface. It is said that some people claimed assistance who were not entitled to it, leading to resentment and suspicion that the authorities were not distributing it fairly. Some narrators also felt the official help engendered a culture of dependence, and "attitudes of requirement, people saying, 'give us, we are entitled, you have to.' ". Many of those affected by the flood were disturbed for some time afterwards. Children and old people in particular showed long-term signs of stress and needed counselling and psychological support.
quotes about water
""Visit any household in Pisary, I know only two that have waste collectors, all the others throw their waste directly into the river. In the past, when they had those dry toilets, they would take that to the fields and scatter the waste there. They didn't throw it to the river, but to the fields, as a fertiliser." "
Wladyslaw, M/72, pensioner/beekeeper, Poland 24
""There was no water contamination the way it is [now]. People knew that it was the source of life.... Now people throw everything they don't need into the river - litter, old tyres. I once touched [upon] the subject at a meeting, and I got punished for my remark. I was summoned by Civil Defence to clean the river.""
Adolf, M/65, carpenter/pensioner, Poland 17
""[Damage from the flood?] It was just awful what I saw, just awful. Lots of stones, pieces of rock on the road, people were crying, houses were flooded. they were trying to salvage their animals.... when the water dropped, it left such a battlefield behind.you could say there had been a war. Everything, trees uprooted, electricity broken, mud-filled yards, cellars.full of mud.... bridges had been broken, and [people] were totally cut off, they didn't have water, electricity, gas.""
Maria, F/53, works in the bakery, Poland 14
"".this flood showed us how fragile everything is, everything that man can gather for themselves. How little it is against nature's elements.""
Zbigniew, M/52, district council member, Poland 7