Unchecked construction causes flood damage in Turkey’s Black Sea region

Flash floods in the Black Sea province of Ordu last week destroyed seven bridges, burst riverbanks, and swept away crops vital to the region’s economy.

According to an official statement on August 9, torrential rains destroyed 66 houses and 264 shops. The flash floods destroyed an estimated 30 tonnes of walnuts and 700 tonnes of hazelnuts.

The floods also impacted half a million people across seven districts, the secularist daily Cumhuriyet reported.

The state’s official stance is that floods from heavy rains caused the damage. However, local residents who spoke to Ahval had a different take. Many said unfettered development had exacerbated the effects of heavy rainfall, causing millions of dollars of damage to coal and textile companies.

Many cited the narrowing of creek beds during various development projects as the main reason for flooding.

Ordu’s Cevizdere was one of the city’s hardest hit areas. Two bridges that crossed a stream there were destroyed, including one that was built by a German firm and was able to support the weight of load-carrying trucks.

Mahmut Yıldırım, who works at Simge Coal, said the municipality was indifferent to what happened in Ordu.

“The municipality narrowed the stream bed without our permission. As it was narrowed, the flood and rains came and hit the feet of the bridge. I fled when the bridge started swaying,” he said.

Because the stream was unable to hold as much water, the flood and the debris that came with it overran the culvert, and the bridge collapsed under the pressure.

Gül Ersan, the president of the Ordu Environmental Association, said that soil was dumped into streambeds during several projects, such as the construction of coastal roads.

“When these roads are being built, earth from the excavations goes into the creek beds. It was the same with the Green Road project,” she said. The Green Road Project is a 1,600-mile highway that will connect major cities in the Black Sea region expected to be completed this year.

Land reclamation during coastal road construction, according to Ersan, was also a contributing factor to flooding. Turning river and seabeds into usable land, Ersan said, means, “the water cannot reach the sea easily, and no precautions [to prevent flooding] are being taken.”

Another project type that results in constricting creek beds, according to Ersan, is hydroelectric power plants (HES).

“There are 50 HES projects in Ordu. Twenty are in the construction or production phase. As these are built, [debris from] excavations are constantly poured into the streambeds. They need roads to lay tunnels. As they are making these roads, there are dedicated excavation depo sites in their projects. But this is not where they are depositing the soil but straight down, flooding creek beds.”

This, in combination with the rapid development of concrete structures, Ersan said, was considered destruction, not a natural disaster.

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan visited the Cevizlidere neighbourhood on August 11 after government officials assessed the damage left by the floods. Erdoğan said the bridge would be rebuilt and reassured hazelnut producers they should not worry.

The government’s reaction is not new, according to writer and activist Çoşkun Özbuçak, who is known for his environmental activism. "This is not the first or last flood in Ordu. This is the same as previous disasters. The authorities always say they will 'provide relief',” he said.

The Black Sea region experiences the most rainfall in Turkey throughout the year.

Hüseyin Şener, owner of Işık Ticaret, complained authorities had not listened to the concerns of locals.

“Nobody comes here and does anything about it. Years ago, we tried to establish a connection with authorities, but no one was interested. The mayor wouldn't even schedule an appointment with us," he said.

But it does not seem make a difference even when locals are able to make their voices heard. Ordu resident Ertuğrul Gönül said that even though people protested a project that involved land reclamation, the project went ahead anyway.

“A project, which had no legal grounds, was carried out here. We protested. We were taken into custody. We were released. But works on the project continued. The municipality described it as a project to take space from the sea,” he said.

According to Özbuçak, the current administration might gloss over mistakes in overdevelopment and say it is the “work of Allah”, hindering a real discussion about how to prevent future disasters. This lends itself to more destruction.  

“Previously, a bridge over Akçaova was destroyed and then rebuilt. Now, another was destroyed in Ünye. It'll be built again. Because rent enters into the equation. Rent-seeking companies are thinking about profits, not nature," he said.


However, Gönül said, responsibility also fell on the shoulders of the people, and a lack of education was problematic.

“The country is going backwards because we don't talk about science. For instance, Melet is the largest brook. In the past, it caused flood disasters. There were deaths. The stream that is part of the project won't be able to carry its alluvium," he said.

Even though similar disasters have happened before, locals continue to build houses on the sides of the stream.

“We haven't learned anything. Those who are governing the country are moving toward their own interests. Because education and science are being abolished, we'll go through the same thing again. We will continue to ascribe everything to God, because we haven’t learned anything," he said.

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Ahval.