Istanbul floods expose risks of mega-projects

Istanbul floods expose risks of mega-projects
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Experts say building in water basins increases vulnerability to disasters.

Severe flooding in Istanbul's northern districts has highlighted the environmental risks of mega-construction projects in the region's forests and water basins. Experts say unchecked development is making the city more vulnerable to disasters.

Heavy rains on Sept. 5 overwhelmed drainage systems and caused floods in Arnavutkoy, Basaksehir, and Kucukcekmece. State hospitals, transportation infrastructure, homes, and businesses were flooded.

The worst affected areas were riverbeds and streams where massive development projects have been built recently, such as Istanbul Airport and numerous housing complexes. Environmental groups had warned of such risks but were ignored.

Esin Koymen, head of the Istanbul Chamber of Architects, said they warned that building in the northern forests and watersheds was dangerous. Nevertheless, endless building permits were issued, including projects such as the Cam and Sakura State Hospitals, built along the Menekse and Hasanoglu creeks.

Köymen explained that constructing impervious surfaces prevents rainwater from being absorbed into the soil and groundwater. Uncontrolled runoff then overflows the "rehabilitated" streams and floods surrounding neighborhoods built in flood zones.

She emphasized that projects must consider the impact of the site. Even robust structures built with the best technology cannot withstand being placed in high-risk locations. Urban planning requires cooperation with science and technology, not excluding expert judgment.

Pınar Giritlioglu, head of the Istanbul Chamber of Urban Planners, agreed that Istanbul's increasing concrete coverage makes it more vulnerable to flooding, especially for mega-projects in reservoir areas. Past disasters, such as the 2009 Basın Expressway flood that killed 32 people, will recur on a larger scale without comprehensive planning.

According to Giritlioglu, the city is being viewed narrowly as a shrinking area with little regard for nature. Streams are "rehabilitated" in a primitive way, expecting the waterways to obey an unrealistic containment. Building rashly and counting on character to change is risky and impractical.

Environmental groups have filed lawsuits against many development projects in northern Istanbul. But legal victories have been overturned and construction continues unabated. Critics argue that profit motives and political interests take precedence over public safety and ecological impacts.