The Istanbul municipality recently started pulling down apartment blocks in the parts of town where heavy rain caused flooding and the deaths of 32 people last September. The apartment blocks were built in such a way that they blocked the natural run-off of rain to the Marmara Sea. By correcting these city planning mistakes, the municipality hopes to prevent more flooding and future deaths.
This weekend, it’s once again raining cats and dogs in Istanbul. Not as heavily as in September, but in my neighbourhood the steep streets turn into rivers, and I hear in other parts of town the rain is causing more trouble, and I’m afraid this autumn once again some people will not survive the rains. Not in scary flooding, not in big numbers and not all in one day, so it will not become international news, but now and then a house will collapse and some people will lose their lives under the rubble.
Well, ‘house’, in Turkish, these sorts of flimsy houses are called gecekondu, meaning ‘built overnight’. When you build a house with a roof on it in one night, you earn the right to use the house and the ground it is built on, so the government can’t just tear it down. In many cities where there are many newcomers from eastern villages, there are many gecekondu. Over time gecekondu areas are improved and the houses get electricity and water too, but that takes years, and in the meantime people are at the mercy of natural circumstances like rain and storms, or – one day – earthquake. I wonder how long it will be before the first gecekondu collapse and lives are lost.