Poorly planned urban development boosts flood risk in Turkey

Poorly planned urban development projects have increased the risk of flood disasters in Turkey, particularly along the Black Sea coast, Reuters said in a feature published on Tuesday.

Environmentalists and engineers have been warning for years about poorly planned urban development in the Black Sea’s coastal cities and in the thickly forested mountains that rise up steeply behind them, the news wire said. Combined with the effects of climate change, they say, this has left the rain-prone region with its population of more than 7 million highly vulnerable to floods, it said.

“We are seeing much bigger storms because of climate change, and worse floods because all the asphalt and cement prevents water from being absorbed into the soil,” Reuters cited Önder Algedik, a mechanical engineer and independent climate consultant, as saying.

Turkey experienced 328 flood disasters in 2018, a sharp rise from 25 in 2000. During that same period, the amount of asphalt and concrete poured for roads and highways each year nationwide more than doubled, it said, citing a report by environmental group 350 Ankara.

At least 10 people were killed when heavy rain, followed by flash floods and landslides, hit the Black Sea province of Giresun last month. Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu said the rains reached 137 kilograms of density in some districts.

“These kinds of disasters cannot occur because of one mistake,” said Mikdat Kadıoğlu, a meteorological engineer and disaster management expert at Istanbul Technical University. “All the activities that destroy the area’s natural structure play a role.”

Reuters said the Black Sea region began changing rapidly in the 1980s, when the government eliminated subsidies for rural activities, agriculture and livestock husbandry, encouraging migration to lowland urban centres.

The news agency cited the case in which the two-decade-long construction of a 540-kilometre coastal highway from the city of Samsun to the border with Georgia cut off access to the sea and facilitated additional development along the coast as well as on the streambeds leading inland up into the mountains.

Kadıoğlu told Reuters that when he was growing up in Maçka, a mountain town in the northeastern province of Trabzon, “the older people would tell the younger ones where to build their houses, the places where they would be safe from landslides or floods”.

“But, once the government began constructing roads through the streambeds, where it was cheaper and easier to build, people started putting their houses there too.”

Turkish Agriculture and Forestry Minister Bekir Pakdemirli said the government has “always said that we need to avoid building houses on streambeds”, when visiting Dereli, a town hit by flooding last month.

Climate consultant Algedik told Reuters that “if people are still constructing buildings in the streambeds, that means there is no regulation, no monitoring, no effective government policy”.