New homes, highways boost flood risk on Turkey’s northern coast

A residential area partially submerged by floodwaters in the province of Giresun in northern Turkey, where seven people died and others remain missing. (AFP)
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Updated 16 September 2020

New homes, highways boost flood risk on Turkey’s northern coast

  • Cheap building on streambeds and lowlands sees devastation along Black Sea

ISTANBUL: When Mahmut Talic left his small hardware shop one summer evening, its displays of tools, insulation supplies and window frames were all neatly in their places.

One hour later, floodwaters rampaged through the shop in the town of Dereli, near Turkey’s Black Sea coast, smashing the storefront, filling it with mud and sweeping its contents into the street.

“Everything is gone,” Talic, 28, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. “I couldn’t get back to the shop that night because the rain was so heavy. But it’s a good thing I didn’t, or I’d be dead now.”

At least 11 people were killed when heavy rain, followed by flash floods and landslides, hit the province of Giresun last month.

Environmentalists and engineers have warned for years about poor urban development in the Black Sea’s coastal cities and the thickly forested mountains that rise up steeply behind them.

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.

Four people are still missing after the storm in Dereli, which wrecked dozens of roads and hundreds of buildings.

“This is the first time I’ve seen such a flood,” Turkish Agriculture and Forestry Minister Bekir Pakdemirli said while visiting the area after the disaster.

Just a month earlier, six people had died in two days of storms further east in Rize and Artvin.

“These kinds of disasters cannot occur because of one mistake,” said Mikdat Kadioglu, a meteorological engineer and disaster management expert at Istanbul Technical University.

“All the activities that destroy the area’s natural structure play a role.”

When Kadioglu was growing up in Macka, a mountain town in the Black Sea 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,” he recalled. “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.” 

The Black Sea region began changing rapidly in the 1980s, a period of economic liberalization in Turkey. State subsidies were eliminated for agriculture and livestock husbandry, encouraging migration to lowland urban centers.

In 1987, construction began on a new 540 kilometer (336 mile) coastal highway from the city of Samsun to the border with Georgia.

Completed two decades later, it cut off access to the sea and facilitated more development along the coast as well as on the streambeds leading up into the mountains.




Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu inspects the damage after flash floods in Dereli. (Reuters)

“Apartment buildings have been built in the yaylalar (upland mountain plateaus), with highways built up to them, covering the river valleys with asphalt and cement,” said Onder Algedik, a mechanical engineer and independent climate consultant.

While visiting Dereli after the floods in August, Forestry Minister Pakdemirli asserted that the government has “always said that we need to avoid building houses on streambeds.”

But Algedik said in a phone interview that “if people are still constructing buildings in the streambeds, that means there is no regulation, no monitoring, no effective government policy.”

One zoning amnesty for illegal construction announced prior to the country’s 2018 general election drew more than 10 million applications nationwide, according to government data.

“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,” said Algedik.

According to a report by environmental group 350 Ankara, 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 each year nationwide more than doubled.

Recent deluges in Turkey’s two largest cities, Istanbul and Ankara, have created surreal scenes over the past few years of water-logged subways, floating cars and people swimming across the street.

In the Black Sea region, environmental experts say the risks are compounded by the mountainous topography and the hundreds of dams and hydropower stations, quarries, mines and roads built there.

A project to connect the region’s ecologically fragile highlands with a 2,600-km (4,184-mile) highway has continued to move forward despite court rulings against it on environmental grounds, activists and local officials say.

Environmentalists have spoken out against the highway, saying such projects cause deforestation and soil erosion, contributing to the destructiveness of floods and landslides.

Trees help to soak up rainwater, shield the land from heavy rainfall and hold soil in place, they note.

Government officials, including President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, have promised to help Dereli and other affected communities rebuild in a more sustainable way.

A week after the floods, the government announced it would relocate homes and businesses away from the streambed. It also pledged to build 250 houses in a traditional regional style incorporating high stone foundations as part of a province-wide recovery and redevelopment effort that also includes cash grants to residents.

“Thanks to our president, the state has said it will support us. If it doesn’t, I will have to close my business,” said Talic, who estimates that the shop he opened just six months ago has sustained up to $13,500 in damages.

But the country needs to start thinking longer term if it wants to protect its people from flooding in the future, said Kadioglu, the disaster management expert.

“Turkey is very good at response and recovery, but we need to shift from crisis management to risk management,” he said. “We can’t just clean up and keep going as if nothing happened.”


Indonesia turns focus to energy security and renewables amid pandemic

Updated 24 November 2020

Indonesia turns focus to energy security and renewables amid pandemic

  • Govt. aims to use of opportunity presented by COVID-19 outbreak to make transition

JAKARTA: The fallout from the coronavirus pandemic has presented Indonesia with the opportunity to work toward energy security and switch from conventional to renewable sources, officials have said.

“Indonesia has made various breakthroughs such as making use of biodiesel B30,” Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said during an online press conference on Sunday, quoting President Joko Widodo’s address during the G20 Summit.

“(We) will be conducting tests on green diesel D100 from palm oil – which will absorb 1 million tons of palm oil produced by farmers – and also install rooftop solar power plants in hundreds of thousands of households,” he added.

Widodo also made a reference to data from the World Economic Forum on the massive potential of the green economy, which could generate up to $10.1 trillion and create 395 million new jobs by 2030.

Earlier this month on Nov. 4, energy and mineral resources minister Arifin Tasrif said that the current difficulties posed by the pandemic had spurred Indonesia to accelerate the energy transition, by developing renewable energy, ensure efficiency and work toward maintaining energy security for lasting energy independence.

Energy security and its steady supply were some of the top concerns voiced by Tasrif during the G20 energy ministers’ meeting in September.

“COVID-19 has created an economic crisis and shrunk energy demands. All G20 members must work together to ensure that the energy market is stabilized and maintain supply affordability. These are a top priority for Indonesia,” Tasrif said at the meeting.

He also lauded Saudi Arabia, the summit host, for pushing ahead with the 4Rs issue – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Remove – in the circular carbon economy (CCE) concept, which was endorsed by the energy ministers after their meetings.

Tasrif said the issue was an “important part of reintroducing the role of biofuel and hydrogen in the CCE platform,” and in line with Indonesia’s adoption of the mandatory use of biodiesel – containing 30 percent palm oil and known as B30 – from January this year, specifically in the transport, power plant, industrial and commercial sectors.

Indonesia, the world’s largest palm oil producer, has set a target to use 23 percent of renewable energy by 2025 and 50 percent by 2050, as part of its national energy mix plan.

The government has listed provisions for renewable energy and its conservation among its seven priority programs for next year and allocated 16.7 billion rupiahs ($1.2 million) for environmental preservation efforts in the 2021 budget.

“Our state budget is very much pro-green ... The government is already on the right track with the implementation of energy transition policy,” Arif Budimanta, a special presidential staff on economic affairs, said during an online discussion recently.

He added that President Joko Widodo had been very “hands-on” with the implementation of the energy transition policy and was directly supervising the progress of the policy.

Government officials claimed that the adoption of B30’s mandatory use – the first in the world – has been successful.

However, its target this year had reduced from the initial 9.5 million kilolitres to 8.3 million kilolitres, with 6 million kilolitres realized so far.

Mandatory use is expected to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 16.9 million tons.

“The switch to a biodiesel program, which has been in place since 2015, has been able to replace almost 25 million liters of imported fossil fuel by June this year, and we have been able to save foreign exchange spending by roughly equivalent of 127 trillion rupiahs,” Eddy Abdurrachman, head of the Palm Oil Plantation Fund Management Agency said during a recent webinar.

Static tests on diesel engines for 1,000 hours of use of the biodiesel blend are underway at the Energy and Mineral Resources Ministry’s research and development lab.

The head of the research and development agency, Dadan Kusdiana, said on Aug. 26 that scientists had managed to conduct studies on the lab’s engine test bench after the COVID-19 outbreak restricted them from testing on the roads.

“We expect to wrap up the tests by the end of the year,” Kusdiana said.