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Spanish rebuild the earth's lifeline

By Cpl. Diego Bunuel
First published in
SFOR Informer #98, October 11, 2000

Gorica - Rocks seem to be earth's only fruit in the area around Mostar. But before the war ravaged this land, the small agricultural village of Gorica was an oasis of abundance where grapes, watermelons, cucumbers and tomatoes, sprang from the black earth in this small valley tucked between two mountain ridges.
Gorica fed most of the countryside. But today, its intricate maze of narrow water canals, the lifeline of this fertile land, that span 18 km over 100 hectares, has been shattered by grenade explosions. The ground is barren, and the earth is cracked and dusty.
The water from the river Bregava bleeds out of the broken concrete canals and at the same time dries up the hard-earned resources of the 160 families of the town's agricultural cooperative, that depend on the land to make a living.
For that reason, the Spanish Battle Group sent a team of 14 of their combat engineers to help the farmers rebuild.
"The locals didn't want to start rebuilding unless SFOR took part in the project,” said Maj. Rafael Alvarez. “They felt that if we didn't help their work would be sabotaged. It's a very important job because with such a large co-op it can feed everyone and teach them to work together.”
Unlike some other SFOR-sponsored projects, the locals provide the engineers with all the material necessary to rebuild, while they clear the canals of branches, weeds and dirt.
The job is a gruelling one. Built in 1947, the canals, which are shattered in various places, are also riddled with holes, forcing the engineers to build casings of various sizes.
"It would be easier if we just had to rebuild everything,” said Staff Sgt. Pablo Sanchez Ruiz. “Doing separate casings takes a lot of time."
There is no time frame set for this project, but Ruiz said he believed that before the winter is in the first 6 km should be completed.
"The good thing about this project is that it's helping hundreds of people from all ethnic backgrounds and not just a few," said Lt. Martin Quintero.
Ehver Zele, the co-operative's director, said this help came at a crucial moment as the town tries to pull out from years of economic depression.
"This is the best earth in the region and we have a lot of projects for the future and right now with SFOR all the conditions are reunited to make this land fertile again," Zele said. “And we all work together, Croats, Muslims and Serbs because nothing brings us together like making money."
But when the engineers started their work they soon realised that a full time interpreter needed to be with them.
"When the people in the region saw us working in the fields they all came down and started asking us if we could fix their driveway or their roof, but that's not our job and we couldn't do it anyway we're combat engineers,” said Ruiz, laughing. “But we have a great relationship with the people we work with and we know that our job is really making a difference."

Related links:
Nations of SFOR: Spain