As Turkey burns, we can no longer ignore climate change warnings

    19 Aug 2021

    For the past week, Turkey has been experiencing the worst and most painful wildfire crisis in the country’s history.

    At least nine people have died in blazes that have destroyed forests on the Aegean and Mediterranean coasts, which are major tourist hot spots. Homes have been destroyed, animals killed, and large sections of the country’s natural habitats have turned to ash in front of our eyes.

    Sinem Cengiz, a Turkish political analyst, writes for Arab News that this heartbreaking disaster has shown us that there is something seriously wrong in the ways we approach environmental issues. For years, experts have been warning that the climate crisis could lead to environmental disaster. Their calls fell on deaf ears.

    Climate change is a global concern that requires action from the international community. For example, Turkey is just one of several countries in the Mediterranean region, including Greece, Italy and Spain, that have been struggling with wildfires as summer temperatures soar.

    However Turkey has been worse-affected than other countries, and there are many reasons for this. It is prone to fires, floods and earthquakes. While forest fires are not uncommon in the country’s Mediterranean and Aegean regions, the most recent incidents have been particularly severe.

    The climate crisis is having other serious effects on the country. For example, it has recently been dealing with the largest-ever outbreak of marine mucilage, more colorfully known as “sea snot.” This brown and gray slime that floats on the surface of water is secreted by marine algae, and its elevated levels are blamed on rising sea temperatures and pollution.

    A sea snot outbreak recently took over the Sea of Marmara, stifling tourism, stripping local fishermen of their livelihoods — because it clogs boat engines — and threatening to kill coral, shellfish and other marine life.

    These are not the only signs of the severity of the climate problems Turkey faces. Several lakes have started to dry up, the most recent of which is Lake Tuz in the central province of Konya. Hundreds of baby and adult flamingos have been found dead in its dried-up areas, prompting a renewed focus on the effects of drought on the ecosystem.

    As temperatures have steadily risen in the country as a result of climate change, water levels have fallen significantly. This has prompted experts to warn of a looming water crisis within a decade.

    Such is the nature of the climate crisis, while one part of the country faces drought, other parts face deadly floods, such as those last month that killed at least six people in Rize province, in Turkey’s flood-prone Black Sea region. This latest tragedy occurred one month before the first anniversary of the previous such disaster.

    The current fires have been raging for eight days and people across the country are questioning how we got to this point and why the country has fallen short in efforts to counter threats to the environment.

    This and the increasingly severe wildfires in Turkey are the result of climate change caused by global warming. Although forest fires are a reality of life in some areas, it is up to the government to take action to address the escalating threat. Whether they are started deliberately, or the result of the effects of human activity on climate, the severity of the environmental threat cannot be ignored.

    The consequences of the climate crisis have become impossible to dismiss and all countries must be organized and prepared for similar disasters in the future. Turkey is one of the countries worst-affected by climate change and so it is important for policymakers to recognize the significance of the climate crisis and the need to counter it by any means necessary.

    The current fires have been raging for eight days and people across the country are questioning how we got to this point and why the country has fallen short in efforts to counter threats to the environment.

    Some have criticized the government for its handling of the disaster, in particular the lack of firefighting planes. Others accuse the opposition of politicizing the crisis.

    Unfortunately, the worst fire disaster in the country’s history has further divided Turkish society rather than uniting it. Yet, despite the deep political polarization in the country, great public solidarity is evident in the areas destroyed or damaged by the fires and this gives cause for hope.

    Many of the criticisms that have been made do have merit, but for the moment the environmental disaster should not become a political squabble.

    What is most important now is to focus on what can be done to help, as people work tirelessly to put out the fires across the country. The lack of coordination of efforts, a cohesive strategy and proper equipment, especially the aforementioned shortage of firefighting aircraft, has increased the pain people are feeling and is fueling their anger.

    So the first priority is to recognize the importance of planning for disasters and how to respond to them, before thinking about the reforestation of burned areas.

    The path to development, progress and enrichment depends on effective planning. As with the economy, education, health and the workforce, environmental issues also require proper short, medium and long-term planning. Turkey also needs to focus on obtaining water-bombing planes that can help to tackle fires quickly.

    Most important, though it has yet to sign the Paris Agreement on climate, Turkey also needs to raise public awareness of the looming environmental crisis. For example, workshops could be organized to educate residents about the risks.

    This painful crisis has once again proved, in the most bitter way possible, that ignoring or downplaying the importance of climate change, and delaying efforts to counter it, can be disastrous.

    Turkey needs effective tools to prepare itself for future environmental disasters so that the people of this country can be spared more pain.

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