Turkey: Hell of the Climate Crisis- First the Fires, Then the Deadly Floods

Ecehan Balta (Socialist Alternative, Turkey)

Capital’s greed for profit affects our everyday lives, both on a macroscopic level, with the ongoing climate crisis, and on an everyday level, by destroying our surrounding environment. As of 2020, Turkey’s ecological footprint exceeds its national biological capacity by 100 percent. That means, that the country is consuming twice the number of natural resources it can generate. (see more here). According to 2018 data, Turkey is 15th among 196 countries that pollute the atmosphere with carbon dioxide.

Fires

270 forest fires broke out in 53 provinces in the last month. The fires burnt a forest area of ​​177.467 hectares. 8 people and thousands of animals died, 12.000 buildings were damaged. Between 2008 and 2020, the average number of forest fires by August each year was 59; this year the number jumped to 270.

As in the rest of the world, the climate crisis increases the number of disasters such as floods and fires every year. Climate change causes the increase in temperature in the Mediterranean basin, the frequency of heat waves and the decrease in humidity, thus increasing dry air and resulting in droughts. This is one of the main factors that triggered the fires. 

At the same time though, the speed of the fires and the amount of burned areas are also linked with the policies of the governments. The forests are not treated as areas that can bring profit, so they are not taken care of. They are seen by the capitalists as terrain to develop “investments” such as mines, Geothermal Power Plants, Hydroelectric Power Plants, etc.

The government remained largely idle in the face of the wildfires that started in July and August, and engulfed the entire Mediterranean. The absence of firefighting planes made it especially difficult to intervene from the air and left people helpless to watch the fires spread. At this point, the AKP government did not allow the Turkish Aeronautical Association (THK) to fly the 4 planes it had available and could help with the firefighting, just because there is a row between them (see more here). While Erdogan is reported to have 13 private jets, Turkey does not own a single firefighting plane! So, the government decided to rent a firefighting plane for 1.2 million dollars a day from Russia. 

It should be noted that there was serious mismanagement that resulted in the grave plane crash and the loss of 8 firefighters, since they did not know enough about the terrain they were operating on. On the other hand, from the first day of the fires, civil organizations and volunteers tried to intervene by coordinating firefighting efforts among themselves. As anger against the government grew, the government devoted most of its energies to disband these initiatives that came together to put out the fires, rather than focusing in the actual firefighting effort.

Moreover, the pro-AKP company LİMAK actually took advantage of the fire, and entered the Akbelen forest under the pretext of “preventing the fire from reaching the thermal power plant”. They started cutting down trees not to prevent the fire but to move forward with their chrome mine project. This way they tried to deceive the local people who were on guard to prevent the chrome mine works. Actually, this event sums up the viewpoint of AKP and big capital on the fires.

The AKP government held the municipalities responsible for the fires, although the Ministry of Forestry was the primary responsible institution in these regions. They did this for political reasons, as the municipalities where the fire was located where predominantly controlled by the oppositionist Social Democratic Party. The government also imposed a broadcast ban on news about the fires. They even detained some of those who shared news on social media about the issue!

Fires also fueled racism

Not only did the fires cause serious damage to the forest and the animals and plants that live in it (some of which are endemic species), it has also been instrumental in the hands of government and nationalists to provoke anti-Kurdish propaganda. 

At the beginning of the fires, rumors spread that they were started by “terrorists” (PKK members). This situation escalated with the widespread use of lynching calls on social media, and the assaulting of Kurds who worked as seasonal agricultural or tourism workers in the Mediterranian region, who voluntarily participated in efforts of extinguishing the fire. In some cases, they had been detained from their workplaces without any justification or explanation. However, it did not stop here. As Turkey burned, hostility against the Kurds flared up. In Manavgat, racist groups started to block the road with weapons, stopped all the cars and tried to detect Kurdish people to lynch them. Not surprisingly, no security forces stopped them.

On the other hand, fires in Kurdish provinces were not extinguished on the grounds that they are “special security zones” (military zones). For example, volunteers were not allowed to intervene in the fire that broke out in Hozat (Dersim) on August 1.

Floods

Likewise, 297 flood events occurred in Turkey in 2020. In the last 10 years, approximately 100 or more floods have occurred each year. Until now, 71 dead and 47 missing persons were reported in the floods in the Western Black Sea region. The actual figure is known to be much higher than this.

The recent floods have irreversibly affected the daily life in the region. We were faced with a situation where the Bozkurt district of Kastamonu was almost erased from the map. The river Ezine, whose bed is claimed to have narrowed from 400 meters to 15 meters, covered the district with up to three meters of water.

The Minister of Agriculture made a statement in the first moments of the disaster and said “The hydroelectric power plant is the biggest victim of the flood”. However, it is quite the opposite. There are serious reasons to believe that one of the main reasons that caused the flood was the Hydroelectric Power Plant along with deforestation and logging. As a matter of fact, it is claimed that the Hydroelectric Power Plant construction, which is also the subject of a lawsuit, covers an area more than planned. Moreover, the mountain slopes are cleared more than is necessary, in order to increase the flow of water that fuels the plant. 

Efforts to rescue people from the air continue. Volunteers organize to meet their needs. However, Bozkurt has not been declared a disaster area yet! The government contented itself with “appointing a district governor with flood experience” to Bozkurt. Only one building contractor has been detained so far.

Let’s change the system to stop the climate crisis!

Destroying natural habitats for investments with the ambition of profit and rent as well as the brutal destruction caused by mining operations, hydroelectric and geothermal power plants, serves to deepen the extent of these disasters.

The government and the capitalists are just watching these disasters happen. They prefer to invest in unmanned aerial vehicles for the military instead of buying firefighting aircraft. Instead of protecting the poor people’s right to a shelter, they prefer the profits of the contractors and entrepreneurs who build the power plants and mines. Human life and ecosystems are ignored in order to enrich the construction and energy sector. Agricultural lands are donated to mining companies. The construction of buildings that are not resistant to earthquakes are actually encouraged by giving legal amnesty to the constructors. Instead of taking responsibility for the mitigation of the climate crisis, they refuse to even sign the Paris Agreement, which is actually a very modest and inadequate document.

Yes, let’s change the system to stop the climate crisis!

We are left with no other choice.

Until then we will continue to fight:

  • To increase public resources for the restoration of ecological balance, not military expenditure
  • To cover all the damages of those who saw their livelihoods destroyed by fires and floods from the public budget
  • For the conservation of burned forest areas for self-rehabilitation
  • For the building of national and international solidarity networks to combat disasters, using all resources which are the common property of humanity, into the service of all peoples without nationalism or hostility
  • Fight to end the domination of capital in natural habitats through mines and power plants 
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