Turkey has been shaken by a new coal disaster in the wake of Soma, where 301 people lost their lives in May. After Soma, this time it was in Ermenek where 18 workers were trapped under water. Neither Soma nor Ermenek will be the first or the last.
Turkey has been breaking records in recent years in terms of deaths in coal mines. It has exceeded the world’s biggest coal producers, the United States and China. According to a report prepared by Economic Policy Research Foundation of Turkey (TEPAV) in May, the number of deaths per 100 million tons of coal production is between 1 and 6 in the U.S. and 150 and 411 in China. In Turkey, this figure exceeds even 900, depending on the year.
The reality we have been experiencing in recent years is that deaths are increasing in private sector businesses because, again according to TEPAV’s data, there has been an increase in production with the opening of new coal mines since 2005.
This is because the government has set a very ambitious target for itself for 2023. We will be among the first 10 economies of the world. National income will be 2 trillion dollars.
How are we going to meet this target? We do not have oil or natural gas. If we exclude Turkish Airlines, Turkey does not even have a single global brand.
In order to meet the targets, Turkey has to grow at least 5 percent every year. It has to produce and consume. For this, it needs electric production, thus energy resources. Today, 73 percent of its energy resources are provided externally. At the top of the resources is natural gas, 44 percent of which comes from abroad. The rate of locally produced coal is around 25 percent.
In the strategic planning the government has made, it has decided to increase local resources in energy production. The local resource to be increased was chosen to be coal instead of renewable clean energies.
This is because Turkey’s coal reserves are around 12.5 billion tons. There has been a decision to use these reserves to the maximum level. This decision has facilitated the opening of new mines and privatization while bureaucratic procedures are being eased as laws are adapted.
Energy Minister Taner Yıldız said this at the groundbreaking ceremony of Kolin Energy’s mine in Soma, reflecting the government’s stance on coal: “The amount of coal produced in the U.S. is around 45 percent. Local coal almost provides half of electricity generation. In 2035, it is estimated that 35 percent of the world’s energy production will be met by coal. Now all foreign countries will burn coal but when it comes to Turkey, coal is dirty. Are we the village idiots? Others will produce electricity from coal and Turkey will not?”
If Taner Yıldız is saying this, then the bureaucracy will not take any environmental protection reports or the safety of workers seriously.
In fact, Turkey will increase the rate of coal resources in electricity production from 25 to 40 percent; it is quite determined on this.
Nobody has any intention of taking any measures because it will increase costs. It is apparent that we will be seeing many more deaths.
Of course, nobody would oppose the growth of Turkey and it becoming a strong economy. We all want Turkey to become rich and develop, but not within the rules of the 19th century.
We do not want any richness that comes through exposing workers to horrible deaths under the ground.