Catastrophe on our doorstep
Halfway into January and there are towns and cities in Turkey that have not seen a single inch or drop of snow this year. Having a mild winter may be good news for city dwellers but it is indeed a horrible beginning in terms of climate change.
According to Habertürk newspaper, the dams that provide water for Ankara are 15 to 20 percent full. It is the worst year in terms of drought for Ankara. The Keban Dam, the oldest in the east and one that provides water for agriculture and electricity, is only 30 percent full. And that means practically no water for crops, especially wheat.
Turkey has been experiencing climate change for the past five years. Severe weather conditions that rocked coastal provinces like Mersin and Antalya in the Mediterranean region and Samsun and Rize in the Black Sea region were signs of things to come. The Turkish governments’ choices of using water resources for electricity and growth depending solely on the construction business have brought us to the point of no return. We are now on the brink of becoming a Middle Eastern state in terms of climate as well. Unless we take necessary precaution, Turkey can lose much of its fertile soil within a decade.
Climate change is not just an environmental problem. Sadly, folks in the upper echelons of the bureaucracy or black motorcades have difficulty understanding this. A documentary on water that aired on National Geographic Channel three months ago opened my eyes to a bigger fact that happened in our neighbor. A Syrian refugee that had made it to a Greek island spoke about the civil war from a totally different perspective.
“Turks stopped giving us water. It was O.K. at first. But we lost crop, we stopped ploughing our soil and feeding our cattle because there was not enough grass anymore. Then we moved to bigger cities to become workers there. It was very hard to survive,” said the refugee. “Then came social unrest and we had to leave our country. If you cannot grow enough wheat to feed your home, you have to look for bread somewhere else.”
Alarmed? You should be. Take a long ride along the Anatolian landscape and you will see miles and miles of empty land. There is nobody to work in agriculture. Ask a farmer and you will hear this: “It is too costly to buy diesel fuel for tractors and fertilizers and plant and wait for your crop to grow. If it does not rain, your harvest is gone. If comes freezing cold (which happened a couple of times), your harvest is gone. If by any chance you managed to get a good season, then the middleman buys your produce at a low price only to sell it twice the price in bigger city supermarkets. Our towns are empty. Young people go to big cities to work as taxi drivers or construction workers. We are all alone here. After us, there will be no one.”
Istanbul Technical University’s Prof. Mikdat Kadıoğlu is openly warning that Turkey is having the second phase of drought. “Currently it is both meteorological and hydrological,” Kadıoğlu said. “The next phases will be agricultural and socio-economic drought. By the time we enter summer we may already be entering the fourth phase.”
One look at the map and you will see what Kadıoğlu means by “socio-economic drought.” The Fertile Crescent and the Euphrates and Tigris river areas are 65 percent dry now. If the east and southeast do not get enough rain or snow, social unrest may erupt in a way no one can foresee.