Election day is approaching in Turkey. Unemployment, runaway inflation and eroding rule of law are top of mind for many. But one subject isn't getting the attention it deserves: the environment.
ISTANBUL — A recent report from the Turkish Foundation for Combating Soil Erosion (TEMA) paints a grim picture of the country's environmental situation, which is getting worse across the board.
Soil is extremely fragile in Turkey, with 78.7% of the country at risk of severe to moderate desertification, mostly due to erosion, which costs Turkey 642 million tons of fertile soil annually. Erosion effects 39% of agricultural land and 54% of pasture land. Erosion of the most fertile top layers pushes farmers to use more fertilizer, TEMA says, which can in turn threaten food safety.
Nearly all of Turkey's food is grown in the country, but agricultural areas have shrunk to 23.1 million hectares in 2022, down from 27.5 in 1992 — a loss of almost 20%.
Agricultural land is shrinking due to misuse as cultivable areas are being zoned for housing and industrial development that cause pollution by salinization and through urban or industrial waste. Overuse of synthetic fertilizer and pesticides, alongside unnecessary tillage of the soil, are also among the drivers of the decline in quality and quantity of agricultural land.
Pasture grounds: 70% are “spoiled”
Turkey has lost 40% of its pasture land since 1970, with the area shrinking from 21.7 million hectares to 13 million by 2022, according to the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry. Of the remaining land, 70% is considered spoiled, as they are unable to function as an ecosystem and cannot produce grass or hold onto soil or store carbons.
Forests: destruction by “the axe of law”
Not only depots of oxygen, forests also help to prevent erosion and floods and are crucial to the water cycle. In Turkey, forests house 80% of biological diversity on land, and 60% of streams flow from them.
According to Turkey's General Directorate of Forestry (OGM), forests spread across 23.1 million hectares of the country, or 29.4% of the total surface, compared to a global average of 31%. But 2020 data from the Food and Agriculture Organization suggest the real number is just 13.3 million hectares, which brings the percentage to 19 from 29.4. TEMA says that although the forests of Turkey are constitutionally protected, legal regulations described as the “axe of law” remain destructive.
Wildfire in Mugla, Istanbul, in August 2021.
Water: shortage is near but consumption increases
Turkey has below-average rainfall: 573.4 mm per year on average from 1991 to 2020, compared to the world average of 800. Already a country prone to drought, Turkey is among the countries most likely to be affected by climate change.
At the same time, TEMA says that water usage in the country is increasing due to wrong policies. The organization is calling for a comprehensive law on water usage which will recognize the ecosystem as one, by protecting water that is above and below the ground while taking all living beings into consideration. Discharging sewage and waste water into the seas and streams also remains a problem.
Natural preservation areas: 133 out of 177 countries
The percentage of natural preservation areas on land and in sea are 8.7% and 4% respectively, well below the world average (16%) and the EU average (25%). Turkey ranks at #133 among 177 countries.
TEMA believes the amount and size of the preservation areas in Turkey are not compatible with the ecosystem and biodiversity, and is asking the government to pass a law to protect nature and to establish a single institution to deal with preservation areas.
Climate: excessive heat and drought will increase
TEMA pointed that 2021 was 1.4 °C hotter in Turkey compared to the average of 13.5 °C from 1981 to 2010. This number has doubled in the past three years.
Turkey is increasingly affected by the affects of the climate change in terms of hotter temperatures, natural disasters and drought, but the country's planned growth will continue to drive increasing greenhouse gas emissions, TEMA says, which will could lead to excessive heat, drought and forest fires in the near future.