Since last Friday, the Black Sea has been the center of attention for different reasons and events.
President Erdoğan announced the discovery of a new natural gas reserve in the west of the Black Sea region, which sparked a national hype. Yet this was soon to be overshadowed by a disaster. Heavy rainfall followed by flashflood and landslides in the middle and eastern parts of the Black Sea region led to heavy casualties.
The city of Giresun was hit the worst, with 9 deaths and 6 people still missing. Giresun is now buried in mud, buildings collapsed, roads were blocked and there were power outages.
As rescue operations carried on, government officials as well as the Head of Religious Affairs Ali Erbaş visited the disaster site. Erbaş invoked God’s will and the need to pray in such times. AKP Vice Chairman Nurettin Canikli stated that such a disastrous flood was unprecedented. And the Minister of Agriculture and Forestry Bekir Pakdemirli said that people had been warned not to build houses on risky streambeds.
Once again, people and nature were held responsible for the damage. Was it really the case? Or did shoddy infrastructure, urban sprawl, heavy deforestation and mining and energy investments play a role in amplifying the effects of the flood?
The Black Sea region of Turkey is a steep, rocky coastline with rivers cascading from high mountains to the sea. It has an oceanic climate and its driest season is in August. Due to its geography and climate, heavy rainfalls followed by floods happen every year. But the damage and exact locality of those floods vary.
Scientists say that the local rainfalls are getting heavier due to climate change. Last year, the AKP government announced an action plan for climate change in the Black Sea. According to it, thousands of people housed in riverbeds needed to be moved and the infrastructure should have been radically improved.
What happened? “Nothing. We don’t need an action plan, we need action” says Assistant Professor Oğuz Kurdoğlu of the Faculty of Forestry at the Black Sea Technical University.
A number of reasons multiply the damage of natural disasters in the Black Sea region.
First of all, the local municipalities (overwhelmingly ruled by the AKP) give permissions for constructions in risky parts of the region. Zoning amnesties are handed out just before elections. This is a huge problem all over Turkey, causing mass deforestation and loss of green spaces. As a result of this, Turkish cities are packed, lack robustness and aesthetics.
Every year, the Turkish Chamber of Engineers and Architects (TMMOB) warn that the urban sprawl is causing new disasters. Old and new buildings are not properly built and inspected which has consequences in the future.
Second, the sustained plundering of the Black Sea region has resulted in heavy deforestation, leading to more landslides on the coastal line. The government is building a highway that connects plateaus even high up in the mountains, which is causing a terrible loss biodiversity there. Some suspect the government is building the highway in order to facilitate transport to the hundreds of mining sites across the region, rather than for tourism. Except for 2 months in the summer, no one can travel safely in such a harsh environment.
Hundreds of hydroelectric power plants (HPP) block the region’s rivers and streams. There are 38 HPP in Giresun alone, and more are to be built. While most of these do not meet the criteria to limit the environmental impact, they are still being built thanks to the AKP’s “renewable energy” incentive. Some of the country’s largest conglomerates own HPPs.
Since rivers are blocked and cannot run freely, heavy rainfall can cause explosive spates. Riverbeds that appear to be dried out are at high risk.
Third, 1,427 km of the seacoast is completely blocked from the sea. Built in the 1990s, the “Karadeniz Sahil Yolu” (Black Sea Coast Line) was protested by activists and criticized by scientists. The infrastructure is poor, which in turn means the rivers cannot find a way to flow to the sea.
Another reason for the heavy landslides is the intensive hazelnut and tea farming which are not appropriate in this specific geography. Yet for years now, it has served as the main source of income for the locals.
Turkey’s Black Sea region harbors a dazzling geography, which much of its wildlife soon to be completely annihilated through ill-planned investments. Only a minority of local people protest and file legal cases. Some courts have ruled to halt the projects. But it is widely known that the government does not take the rule of law into account.
The majority of Black Sea people regard these investments and highways as necessary for prosperity. They might not be aware that big businesses are the only ones who prosper from this deal, which ultimately is financed by the treasury and the taxpayers.
The truth is tragic: the local people end up in mud.