Chaos in the concept: flood control plans along the Danube in Budapest

The Budapest Municipality should urgently commit to the issue of flood control in the city. If the current trend continues, flood levels could rise high enough to cause serious problems in the Csillaghegy area. In spite of this, the debate is about building a temporary “summer dam”, rather than trying to find a permanent solution.

The majority of the buildings that have been flooded in the Római shore (Roman shore) section of the Danube earlier this year are illegally built investments, such as hotels, residential compounds, or expensive family homes with vacation property permits. Their owners have been lobbying the state for a long time now to protect their investments from floods, even though they built them on the floodplain. If the plans of building a mobile dam are forced through, the project would cost at least 6 billion HUF, all of which would come from public funds. Already this year during the floods in Budapest, the owners received plenty of help from the local government in the form of sandbags, not to mention the free labour of the many volunteers who thought they were protecting public property. Similarly, the proposed mobile dam would protect these private properties completely free of charge to their owners.

So far, the exact plans of the dam and its precise location have not been decided. The situation has been contested by a number of civil groups, but it does not seem like the municipality is willing to engage in any kind of conversation or negotiation with them. In fact, István Tarlós, the mayor of Budapest, said that he only considers the ‘local majority’ a legitimate civil grouping, and besides them, he would only consult with technology experts. This means that effectively Mr. Tarlós will handpick a civil organization to discuss the plans with, presumably the one in favor of the project, led by one of the hotel owners in the area.

However, the whole controversy around the mobile dam seems unimportant if we consider the fact that the mobile dam itself is not a viable solution to the issue of flood control. The mobile dam simply cannot guarantee the security of the people living in the Csillaghegy bay area, neither the protection of their properties. The passive attitude of the mayor regarding flood control efforts is quite puzzling, given that in the case of a disaster, the responsibility of the municipality – and especially the mayor’s – would be obvious: the Budapest Sewage Works has been warning the municipal government board about the dangerously dilapidated condition of the main dam for years now.

The text was translated by Orsolya Gulyás. Read atlatszo.hu’s Hungarian language coverage on the Római shore dam system published here on 13 June 2013, or read more about the story here in English.