The EU, in co-operation with France and Romania, is funding a new flood prevention project in Turkey.
By Menekse Tokyay for Southeast European Times in Istanbul -- 09/10/12
Massive floods hit Istanbul in September 2009, causing widespread damage and the death of more than 20 people. [Reuters]
A two-year EU funded project, carried out with French and Romanian specialists, will work with Turkey's Ministry of Forestry and Water Affairs to decrease flood-related deaths and material damage by harmonising Turkey's technical and institutional capacity with EU standards.
"This particular project is important for the accession negotiations as the EU Flood Directive will lay the necessary foundation in Turkey to prepare and avoid possible tragic results of flooding events in future," Gurdogar Sarigul, sector manager for environment, sustainable development and climate change in the EU delegation to Turkey, told SETimes.
Through workshops, seminars and field visits, the project will promote co-operation and sharing of practices among the parties. The first pilot region for the project will in the western basin of Black Sea area.
Sarigul said co-operation between the EU and Turkey started in 2006, when the EU provided nearly 9.6 million euros following floods in southeastern Anatolia. The EU has also supported co-operation between Turkey and Bulgaria to develop an early warning system on the Martisa/Meriç River.
After earthquakes, floods are the second greatest natural disaster both in terms of human loss and economic costs. According to EU data, every year floods cause at least 80 million euros in damage in Turkey. Between 2002 and 2012, 484 floods occurred in Turkey resulting in the death of 229 people.
The Black Sea region, the Mediterranean, southeast Anatolia and Thrace are all prone to floods.
In July, a flash flood in the Black Sea province of Samsun killed nine and injured 21, inundating housing built by the government's Housing Development Administration of Turkey. Locals complained that they received no warning from the government and questioned the safety and flood preparedness of government housing.
Ismail Ozkanli, a resident from the eastern Black Sea city of Rize, witnessed several large floods in the region that caused damage to his pharmacy.
"I know very well the main reasons of those floods: over-precipitation, unplanned urbanisation diverting the flow of rivers, and the increased amount of fertilizer thrown on the soil, which decreases its permeability," Ozkanli told SETimes.
To increase Turkey's disaster response capacity, the aim of the EU-funded project is to transfer the experiences and good practices of member countries, in this case France and Romania, to candidates like Turkey.
The co-operation between Romania and Turkey is of particular importance as both countries, bordering the Black Sea, are vulnerable to flooding.
Romania witnessed severe floods in 2005, 2010 and 2012, with more than 50 people losing their lives. Two years ago, when a deluge struck northern Romania, the damage caused equaled about 0.6 percent of the country's GDP.
Dumitru Stanilescu, a pensioner living in the northern town of Dorohoi, said the floods were a wake-up call for the authorities and locals.
"Local authorities thought this would never happen to us," he told SETimes. "While we, the citizens, learned such an important life lesson: it can happen to us and do not count on authorities solely. Many of us had never even thought of insuring our homes before the floods. Well, at least we started considering that after the floods swept away what little we had."
As of last month, Romanians are required to insure their homes against natural disasters such as earthquakes, floods and landslides.
The Romanian Ministry of Environment told SETimes that Romania joined the EU project in Turkey because it has experience accessing EU funds for flood management, which resulted the modernisation Romania's flood mitigation and prevention systems.
"The project [with Turkey], which started on August 1st, and will deploy over a period of 24 months, envisages enhancing juridical capacity and improving technical and institutional capacity, implementation of the flood directive in a pilot basin and preparation of a National Implementation Plan for the Flood Directive. Romania, through its 10 experts, will be responsible for the second component of the project, but will take part in all the other activities," the Romanian Ministry of Environment said.
Turkey committed to harmonise its legislation with the EU since the opening of accession talks in October 2005, while the accession talks on the environment chapter started in December 2009.
According to Buket Bahar Divrak, conservation manager of the World Wildlife Fund's Ankara branch, one of the key components of accession talks has been centred on the EU's floods directive. The directive aims to reduce and manage the risks posed by floods on human health, cultural heritage, economic activity and the environment.
Divrak said that since Romania became an EU member in 2007, it has implemented the required changes according to the EU's flood directive, identifying flood risks throughout the country.
"Beyond the conventional methods being used up to now to prevent floods, authorities are now obliged to initiate a much more comprehensive analysis by preparing flood risk maps specific to each basin and to identify tailor-made preventive measures," Divrak said, adding that during the harmonisation process, Turkey will also learn how to efficiently plan land use and protect vegetation cover.
Southeast European Times correspondent Paul Ciocoiu in Bucharest contributed to this report.