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Risk society and planning: the case of flood disaster management in Turkish cities

Şenol Balaban, Meltem
Global warming and climate change is believed to increase the hydro-meteorological natural disasters. Floods, the most widespread of natural hazards, are expected to occur more frequently and severely in the near future. This means that urban areas of Turkey are likely to be under intensive threat of floods, the adverse impacts of which are already considered only next to that of earthquakes. The recent disaster policy of United Nations together with contemporary interpretations of risk society shifted to capacity building and risk management prior to hazards, rather than preparations for relief after disasters. This historical turn in policy demands a more comprehensive and integrated form of planning for the mitigation of risks in the riverain cities of Turkey than existing approaches. Turkey’s current flood protection structure seems to be based on the surveys and assessments of a central authority and on its limited powers of intervention. The local municipal administrations are under different interests and pressures for development and land-use. It seems essential to integrate flood risk mitigation efforts with the local planning system and to involve municipalities in their estimations of risks and its declaration on official duty, as contemporary international approaches indicate. This conviction is based on a sample survey of four cases of riverine cities in Turkey, and on a review of current approaches in a sample of international cases. Findings on four riverain case cities indicate that river floods turn into destructive disasters mainly due to tolerant land-use decisions. Inaccurate and discrete implementations and developments in and through the river basins are a second source of flood losses. Currently, neither urban development plans nor available flood plans are equipped with necessary measures to mitigate risks. Findings indicate that current vulnerabilities are greater in value than investments made to curb flood risks. Independent and discrete efforts of mitigation seem to generate illusory feelings of safety, which aggravates vulnerabilities. The compulsory declaration of flood vulnerabilities by municipalities themselves in their entitlement for special subsidies could raise the general level of awareness, could curb further vulnerabilities, and contribute to the articulation of planning methods in the more effective mitigation control.