Lessons to be drawn from Turkey’s worst-ever wildfires

Lessons to be drawn from Turkey’s worst-ever wildfires

Although still cautious, Turkey can breathe a sigh of relief for now as almost all forest fires in Antalya and Muğla provinces have been put out. Rain brought relief to Antalya over the weekend while authorities are doing everything to extinguish the remaining fires in the province of Muğla’s Milas district and the province of Aydın’s Çine district.

Undoubtedly, what we lived through in the past two weeks were Turkey’s worst-ever wildfires. Naturally, the damage is consequently massive. According to a report by the Muğla Municipality, nearly 60,000 hectares of forest areas burned down in the province that covers Turkey’s most precious resort areas, such as Marmaris, Bodrum and Milas. In the Manavgat district, around 55,000 hectares were reduced to ashes according to experts who analyzed the satellite images before and after the disaster.

Obviously, we will need to wait for a detailed damage assessment by authorities to have a better picture of the consequences of the fires.

Along with the forests and olive groves, the fires ravaged the entire ecosystem, including stockbreeding, honey production and more that are the sources of livelihood of villagers living there. The damage assessment will therefore include the economic losses as well.

After such a difficult period, it’s necessary to discuss what went wrong and what needs to be done in the future. Some important lessons can be summarized as follows:

Action without delay: As this column emphasizes from time to time, Turkey is situated in a location that will be most affected by global warming and climate change. An action without delay to mitigate the negative impacts of climate change should be taken. The government has recently announced an action plan to this end with the creation of a committee, but it’s a must that this plan includes all the stakeholders in the country, including the private sector and civil society. In addition, a law on climate change should be discussed and voted at the parliament for a holistic fight against this evident phenomenon.

The green economy should be part of this entire fight. The transformation of Turkish industry in line with the EU’s regulations and adaptation of new trends by the corporate companies will be essential to keep our nature clean and economies competent with the rest of the world.

Plus, educating the people, starting from their childhood, on how to protect the environment should be considered. I was very sorry to hear that one of the forest fires in Manavgat was started by two teenagers.

The action at the national level should be endorsed by the participation in international cooperation. Turkey’s ratification of the Paris Climate Convention will surely be very significant.

Strong civil defense: It is equally important to have a strong civil defense system to respond to such a big disaster. Turkey has the Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency (AFAD), but it’s seen that it lacks an efficient tool to combat forest fires. According to environmental experts, even a centigrade above the average temperature can increase the risk of forest fires up to 40 percent, meaning Turkey can face more such disasters in the future.

Likewise, as we have seen in the recent period, floods can turn out to be severely devastating and fatal. For all these reasons, Turkey’s civil defense mechanisms should be more strengthened and equipped.

Coordination is essential: It was bitterly experienced that coordination between the central and local governments is a must in such disasters. Almost all the mayors of the wildfire-hit regions were from the opposition, and they complained that they were not sufficiently included in the efforts, although their fire departments and all of their means were deployed to the fire areas. Despite this, the entire Turkish people –particularly locals- have shown a great example of unity in both fighting the fires and healing the wounds. It brings us to the conclusion that politicians should avoid politicizing such natural disasters and engaging in a blame game.

Way ahead: Many Turks are concerned that the burnt forest areas will be opened to construction for tourist and economic reasons. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Aug. 6 sought to ensure that this would never happen, recalling Article 169 of the Turkish Constitution. But the skeptics reminded some bad experiences in the past. Thus, it would be better to announce a master plan for the reforestation of these areas after consulting the experts. It’s important to keep the genetic identity of these areas and that’s why the way ahead should be totally designed by the scientific experts. Reinstating the burnt ecosystem will take around 50 to 60 years, and we should allow nature to heal itself without the intervention of politicians.

Paris climate agreement,