Is Bulgaria Culpable in Flooding Hazard?

Views on BG | January 15, 2011, Saturday // 18:02|  views

Pictured: a flooding in European Turkey in the fall of 2009. Photo by EPA/BGNES

From Today's Zaman

By Abdullah Bozkurt

Turkey and Bulgaria are set to start a high level strategic cooperation council this year that will hopefully fast track many long-deferred joint projects into action by involving senior-cabinet level ministers and headed by prime ministers on both sides.

This mechanism would offer the opportunity to cut red tape in cumbersome and slow-paced bureaucracies and help eliminate many troublesome issues on the spot with the political commitment of the leaders.

One of the most significant problems challenging both neighbors is the overflow of rivers on the border that often flood low-lying areas, crippling agricultural production and blocking major transit routes between Turkey and Bulgaria. Past floods have had a devastating impact on the economies of the region on both sides of the border. Yet we have not seen any real action that actually offered a comprehensive solution to the flooding problem that would put the minds of millions of Turks and Bulgarians populating the area at ease during heavy torrential rains and flash floods.

In recent years the frequency and the magnitude of floods have noticeably increased, the last one being in February 2010. The early warning system in Turkey simply does not work because of the short length of river in Turkish territory. Hence, it is absolutely essential that Bulgaria cooperate with Turkey in installing sensors along the riverbed in its own territory. Unfortunately, cooperation on real-time information sharing and flood-warning sensors was started only after 2003 with EU-funded projects.

Though the early warning system helped local residents get heads-up information in case of emergencies, it did not really solve the core problem, which is to halt flooding in residential centers and agricultural land. There is an urgent need for an action plan to build new dams to hold more water in the event of heavy rains and another plan to improve river basins in order to increase water flow capacity. Unfortunately, this is where we see the Bulgarian side has been dragging its feet since 2006, when both countries agreed to build a dam on the Tunca River. The dam is to be built three kilometers northwest of the village of Suakaca?? in the province of Edirne, and together with the river, will form a natural border between the two countries

It has yet to be started, even though the Turkish side has completed all preparations with a target date of 2009-2013. Even if the construction of this dam is completed, it will not completely solve all the problems because most flooding occurs from the overflowing of two other rivers -- called Meri? and Arda -- both of which flow from Bulgaria. Again Turkey needs the cooperation of the Bulgarian side, as they are the ones who control the floodgates in dams built on these rivers in their part of the territory. A combination of good management of existing Bulgarian dams and construction of a new one along the border may offer the best available option for tackling the flooding problem in the area.

Turkish officials tell me the fractured coalition government and the current composition of parliament in Bulgaria constitute the major impediments blocking close cooperation on issues like these. Finding consensus on projects like building a friendship dam along the common border proved to be difficult for the Bulgarian side. That left the State Waterworks Authority (DS?) -- a body charged with overseeing hydro resources in Turkey -- with the temporary solution of taking unilateral measures on Turkish soil in a bid to mitigate the drastic impacts of flooding. Hopefully, a new high-level strategic mechanism will be able to pull Sofia into a discussion of how to go about doing these joint projects, which will ultimately benefit both countries.

Turkish members of Parliament from the border province of Edirne, under pressure from their own constituencies, keep bringing the issue to the floor of Parliament and continue to ask the government to take urgent action to solve residents' problems from floods. Regional deputies also advise residents to take legal action in domestic and international courts to claim compensation from the negligent Bulgarian government that is the main party responsible for the overflowing rivers. EU member Bulgaria could be held accountable under Directive 2007/60/EC, which requires member states to map the flood extent and assets and humans at risk in flood-risk areas and order them to take adequate and coordinated measures to reduce this flood risk.

The directive mandates member states to coordinate their flood risk management practices in shared river basins, including with third counties, and asks them to refrain from taking measures that would increase the flood risk in neighboring countries. This applies to Bulgaria, an EU member, and Turkey, candidate member, as well. Per this directive, Bulgaria needs to finish a preliminary assessment by 2011 to identify the river basins at risk of flooding and come up with risk maps by 2013 and establish flood-risk management plans focused on prevention, protection and preparedness by 2015.

As time is running out, Bulgaria needs to get its act together and commit to a fruitful working relationship with Turkey on this urgent issue.

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Tags: Maritsa, Tundzha, Arda, floods, flooding, river, turkey, European Turkey, Edirne, Today's Zaman


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