In these recent years, wildfires have been a prominent part of the news. The Australian bushfires during 2019-2020 resulted in 10 million hectares of land burned and the death of over a billion animals. It is estimated that those bushfires pumped large quantities of smoke into our atmosphere, just as much as a strong volcanic eruption. This could affect the ocean's region temperatures in the future. This last week, fires have been tearing up apart Turkey's forests. But they are not alone in this, as Italy and Greece also have their hands full with their own fire outbreaks.
Wildfires have especially been ravaging Turkey's Mediterranean and Aegean coasts, popular tourists regions. The southwestern cities of Marmaris and Koycegiz have been the hotspot of fire outbreaks. Fire planes, helicopters, and manpower has been allocated to fight fires in that area. The town of Manavgat had 7 victims, meanwhile in another town, Bodrum, three hotels were evacuated. It is reported that these fires are part of more than 100 blazes spread throughout 30 Turkish regions. On the one hand, experts state that these fires are the cause of climate change. The rising temperatures and the reduced rainfall during summer especially help feed these fires. This extreme heatwave leads to easy ignition. On the other hand, it is assumed that some of these fires may have been started by individuals, given that the common cause of fires is picnickers, who sometimes are not careful. Another reason that leads people to assume the fires were arson, is their huge number of sources all across Turkey. Although the extreme weather has fed the fires, making them spread and grow into this inferno, the human altercation is being investigated, as the main focus is to stop the fires from starting. There have also been reports that these fires are terrorist acts. The statement speculated arson from Kurdish separatists, but no evidence was yet attached to it. Known as the PKK (the Kürdistan İşçi Partisi or Party of Kurdish Workers), their involvement is being investigated. One group affiliated with PKK declared: " We salute the holy fire." Their social media followers, who take pleasure in the fire consumption of human life, animals, and destruction of land, points to their fault. The PKK has a history of using arson as a tactic to enact vengeance against Turkey.
Planet Labs Inc. (2021, August 2). Turkey wildfires [Illustration]. BBC. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-58057081
The government was caught shorthanded by the fire's spread. It consumed everything in its path. Even so, rescue boats were waiting on the shores of Marmaris. The fires seemed to be cutting off the escape route, so the boats were ready to evacuate the civilians. The government has promised to do everything in its power to help the affected people, in rebuilding their homes and help them to get back on their feet. In Bodrum, around 1,140 people were evacuated by 12 boats, stated by the president of Bodrum Maritime Chamber. The mayor of Bodrum stated that another 1,000 people were evacuated by 20 boats on Saturday. The Agriculture and Forestry Minister, Bekir Pakdemirli stated that at least 13 planes, 45 helicopters, drones, and 828 fire-fighting vehicles are involved in fighting the fires. 4,000 personnel are in the midst of all this chaos, trying to extinguish the fires. The Turkish Foreign Minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu thanked the European Union for the three fire planes, they sent to help them. Bekir Pakdemirli, the Agriculture and Forestry Minister also addressed that the sources of the fires being investigated. Strong suspicion hangs over the PKK party, as they are being pointed as the culprits. The Foreign Minister, the President, and the justice minister Abdülhamit Gül stated that they are investigating the wildfires. The accusations of arson are not being ignored and they will get to the bottom of this incident. On the other side, the government has been criticized for the lack of fighting aircraft vessels. The president himself stated that: "The main reason for these issues with planes is that the Turkish Aeronautical Association has not been able to update its fleet and technology".
Soyturk, K. S. (2021, July 28). Plumes of black smoke rise from the forest around Manavgat [Photograph]. Reuters. https://www.reuters.com/world/middle-east/death-toll-turkish-wildfires-rises-four-blazes-rage-2021-07-30/
Other countries also helped Turkey in handling the wildfires crisis. Azerbaijan, Iran, Russia, and Ukraine have contributed with aircraft vessels to help fight the fires. The European Union has also aided Turkey, even without being a part of the organization itself. One plane was sent from Croatia and two others from Spain. International help was needed and despite each other's differences, the aid was given. While Southwestern Europe is struggling with wildfires at the moment, unity makes the best defense. Both Italy and Greece are having their own crisis with wildfires, and other countries of the same region are plagued by the same issue.
Troughton, J. T. (2021, August 4). Spanish firefighter [Photograph]. Bay Radio. https://www.bayradio.fm/2021/08/04/spanish-firefighters-join-wildfire-battle-in-turkey-international-response-steps-up-after-appeal-for-help/
There were wildfires reported in Manavgat (Antalya) on July 28th and soon after 17 Turkish provinces were on fire in the same week. They raised fast and strong: Around 130 wildfires have been registered since the first one, mostly south and western Turkey, being Mugla’s and Antalaya’s the hardest to control. The consequences have been terrible. By Saturday 31st, 8 people had been reported dead, 2 of them were firefighters. Also, since the wildfires started, at least 800 people have been reported to have received medical assistance; with this amount of fire, air pollution increases, provoking from eye and respiratory tract irritation to more serious long-term consequences. Along with the loss of forest and farmland, around 2,000 farm animals died, many of them in front of their caregivers.
What is happening in Turkey has no precedents. Seasonal fires occur: According to the report conducted by Cerrahpasa Faculty of Forestry from Istanbul University, during the “fire season”, that lasts 6 months, 10,000 hectares are burnt, a figure taken looking at the last 20 years. But what is happening right now is not something that has been seen before, in 8 years (between 2012 and 2020) there were 13,000 hectares burnt during seasonal fires (from May to October). But this time, and in only one year, nearly 100,000 hectares (250,000 acres) burnt in less than 2 weeks. The operation to fight these forest fires has included 38 helicopters, more than 400 water tenders, 600 bulldozers, and most importantly, 4,000 firefighters. Unfortunately, the international cooperation was not enough to cover all the fires, resulting in many fires still being out of control.
Source: Akengin, I., (2021, July 29). Turkey battles wildfires in south on the third day, launches investigation [Photograph]. https://www.trtworld.com/turkey/turkey-battles-wildfires-in-south-for-third-day-launches investigation-48797
The consequences of the wildfires will not be known until the long-term analysis has been carried out. So far, the people who live near forests and especially those whose main income is farming, will not only suffer the loss of their farmland, their animals, and their houses but also will find it very hard to recover their livelihood, as reforestation plans are already being turned down by experts. It is a vicious circle due to the fact that forests help to cool down the temperatures, but the weather is getting so dry that it is going to be hard to replant under future weather conditions, without the help of the now burnt forests. In the words of Associate Professor Canan Acar of Bahçeşehir University: "Trees cool the areas where they exist, and losing them means more heat in those regions. In other words, forest fires generate heat, and this heat, in turn, accelerates forest fires in a vicious cycle.” Another consequence that also comes with the wildfires is the interruption in tourism, another source of income for the country, that has been hit hard by the pandemic as well. Most of the news about the Turkish wildfires has centered on the fact that tourists had to leave because of the emergency. The economic reactivation will be long and hard without the expected boost to the economy hoped for from this year’s tourists.
Source: Guzel, M., (2021, Auhust 2). Turkey’s Erdogan faces mounting criticism over wildfires [Photograph]. https://apnews.com/article/lifestyle-middle-east-travel-fires-environment-and-nature-8e50a4c831818f4b25e4d345092bcff0
Could all this be avoided? A publication released by the Faculty of Forestry, İstanbul University-Cerrahpaşa, in April 2021 revealed that the Turkish Government legislation on forest fires follows only 78.1% of the recommendations given by the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization) in its guide named “Forest Fires and the Law”, and that the most determinant guidelines in regard to forest fire response are given by the Turkish Government itself. That is the problem when the legislation is not under constant revision: No matter how many international agreements are articulated with it, in the end, international recommendations do not have a real impact if the internal policies are not updated.
“Our fire-extinguishing helicopters were insufficient (…) If there was a firefighting crew in our neighborhood, this wouldn’t have happened.”
The biggest weakness of this legislation is the lack of socialization, specifically in “participatory and community-based approaches to fire management” (Elvan et al, 2.021). As a result of those organizational failures, comes the deficiency in administrative measures and a lack of public awareness. The same publication puts an emphasis on how vulnerable the Mediterranean and Aegean regions are to forest fires. All was said, observed, and checked by academics, giving advice but no changes have been applied, and what is happening right now is exactly what they predicted, not only the risk of forest fires due to global warming, also due to the structural mistakes in the organization of response to these fires. It should be a public policy, not a last-minute improvisation. There is a lot to learn about his situation, but actions must be taken now.
Instructive lessons can be learned from these wildfires. Turkey did not have sufficient firefighting aircraft. Nature sends us warning signals: Nations must be better equipped to forecast such eventualities, prepare contingency plans, and have the necessary health, safety, emergency (HSE) equipment, and aerial resources.
Elvan, O. D., Birben, Ü., Özkan, U. Y., Yıldırım, H. T., & Türker, Y. Ö. (2021). Forest fire and law: An analysis of Turkish forest fire legislation based on Food and Agriculture Organization criteria. Fire Ecology, 17(1), 12. https://doi.org/10.1186/s42408-021-00102-7
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