The southern Bulgarian Black Sea coast was recently struck by its most ferocious storm for decades. It killed four people, destroyed property, and damaged 12 bridges and other infrastructure that will take months and at least BGN 20-30 million to repair, according to early estimates. It also cut short this year's summer season in the south.
The natural disaster hit the area south of Sozopol exactly a year after a similar deluge devastated several villages in Central Bulgaria and the same storm went on to decimate parts of Turkey and Greece. While not unprecedented, these sorts of climatic incidents are becoming more commonplace and we will all have to be ready to counter them.
The rainfall in the municipality of Tsarevo is 40% of the annual norm and according to climatologists can be compared to the monsoon rains in India. Although there is not one institution or community that can be expected to completely prepare for such an eventuality, a lot could be done to minimize the damage.
The problem is, we are not there yet. In KInsights, we often talk about corruption and intentional malevolence on behalf of the authorities, but very often these are exacerbated by simple incompetence in governance.
Let's give two examples. First, it turns out that Tsarevo and Lozenets are the only townships in the area that have a local Flood Risk Management Plan. The most severely affected campsites - Arapya and Nestinarka, as well as the villages of Varvara, Sinemorets and Ahtopol, don't have such, although the event proves they are among the highly vulnerable risk areas.
It is also debatable whether anything tangible follows from these plans. On paper, Bulgaria also has a (much overdue) National Climate Change Adaptation Strategy from 2019. But in practice, every natural disaster reveals only unfinished business and overlooked problems.
The second example is even more absurd: the tragedy in Tsarevo showed that Bulgaria simply does not have a working early warning system - something it is obliged to have under EU rules. "Sirens are only turned on on Botev Day and during school alerts and never in real disasters," former ecology minister Borislav Sandov told bTV. His words were confirmed by former disaster response department director Nikolay Nikolov who said that it is even not clear who should judge and decide under what conditions the population need be warned.
Mr Nikolov's heir, Commissioner Alexander Dzhartov, told the National TV that the system is in the works and will be ready by the end of the year, but it is unclear why it would take so much time (it took Ukraine precisely 8 days to develop, implement and distribute such a system after the start of the war in 2022) or if it would have an effect.
In conclusion, if we want to adapt to the more frequent climate events like the Black Sea storm - but also other, man-made catastrophes - we not only need to curb corruption, but also make this community of ours more governable. Nature won't take any excuses.
1. Politics this week:
Ramping up defense: better late than never?
After years of neglect, the Bulgarian army and navy might be finally getting some kudos from the authorities. This week saw hints of two long-awaited (and serially postponed) projects being expedited - the purchase of armored fighting vehicles (AFVs) for the land forces and the acquisition of anti-ship missiles.After the US State Department announced last Friday the approval of a possible export of 183 Stryker AFVs to Bulgaria worth up to USD 1.5 billion, on Monday the Ministry of Defense announced that a US delegation will arrive in Bulgaria this week to conduct negotiations for a quick conclusion of an interstate agreement for the purchase. The visit should have happened on Thursday and Friday, but the results - and the final price Sofia will have to pay for the US-made vehicles - might emerge later. It is suspected that there will be a discount over the BTRs Bulgaria should send to Ukraine, which will cut the price to USD 1 billion.
As for the anti-ship missiles, the news was broken by Prime Minister Nikolay Denkov himself during a televised Q&A on Facebook on Thursday, who said that the coast guard has to be armed ASAP "so that no one dares to approach our Black Sea cities", adding that "one has to respond with force to the threat of force." The parameters of this project are still unclear, but it is likely that - like the AFVs one - it won't go through a regular procurement process but rather via direct negotiation with a producer country.
State formally takes control of Rosenets oil port
Since we already are on the Black Sea topic, on Tuesday Minister of Transport Georgi Gvozdeykov announced that the state has taken control over the oil port of Rosenets near Burgas from the Bulgarian subsidiary of Lukoil - Neftochim. It will now be under the operational control of the Port Infrastructure state enterprise and Lukoil Neftochim will pay the state a port fee in the amount that is currently in place.
The move came soon after the MPs approved the nationalization earlier this summer. Mr Gvozdeykov assured the public that the state has the capacity to handle the management of the terminal and that no emergencies are expected. He also told bTV that he does not expect the state to pay penalties and lawsuits to the Russian company because the nationalization has been done within the framework of the EU sanctions against Russia.
Burying our heads in the sand no more: Bulgaria has to recognize same-sex unions
Despite the growing popularity of the annual Pride event in Sofia and acceptance of same-sex couples in polls, the Bulgarian state has repeatedly blocked any attempt to legalize - in one form or another - same sex relationships. This might have to change very soon after last Tuesday's ruling by the European Court of Human Rights' (ECHR) regarding the Koilova and Babulkova vs Bulgaria case. While the ruling does not actually force Sofia to recognize same-sex marriage, it obliges the state to create a legal framework to recognize and regulate the legal status of same-sex couples and provide legal protection for their privacy and family life. Denitsa Lyubenova, the lawyer for the same-sex couple, who got married in the UK in 2009, commented that "the decision is key and fundamental for the development of Bulgarian legislation in the field of equality and LGBTI rights."
GDP growth for April - June nearly 2%
In the period April - June the economy grew by 1.9%, according to preliminary data of the National Statistical Institute (NSI) published on Thursday. This is a slight improvement on the flash estimate announced in mid-August, which pointed to a 1.8% year-on-year increase. At the same time, growth continues to slow down. Compared to the first three months of the year, the estimate of a 0.4% increase in GDP is confirmed. The agricultural sector's relative share of the economy's value added is 4.2%, up 0.2 percentage points from the second quarter of 2022. The industrial sector decreased its relative share in the value added of the economy by 2 percentage points to 30%.
933 BGN - the monthly minimum wage will jump by a record-breaking 20% from January next year after the adoption of a mechanism earlier this year, which links the lower wage threshold to the average wage in the country.
3. Business:E-mobility ACEA
The number of new electric cars sold in Bulgaria between January and July this year is 1,039, which is 156% more than in the same period of 2022 according to data from the Association of European Automobile Manufacturers (ACEA). The overall automobile market in the country is up 20.8% after almost 21 new passenger cars were sold from January to July 2023.
One of the largest paper packaging companies in the world will acquire a third company in Bulgaria. After becoming the owner of plants in Kazanlak and Lukovit four years ago, the Irish group, which has a turnover of 12.8 billion euros for 2022, has now set its sights on part of the business of the bag-in-box manufacturer Artemis in Shumen.
Aluminum products manufacturer Alkomet will invest about BGN 137 million in its plant in Shumen over the next three years. Nearly half of the amount is for the expansion of the rolling mill, but funds are also earmarked for existing production facilities, the company confirmed.