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Burning forests

The forest fires that raged across the Mediterranean for the past few weeks have brought levels of devastation to the Southern coast of Turkey not seen in decades. With almost 300 blazes and a total scorched area that is nine times the average of previous years, the blazes initially overwhelmed Turkish firefighters, and offers of support came flooding in from near and far.

The heavy toll on local communities was evident to all. Eight lives were lost and tens of thousands were evacuated as the flames approached villages and cities in Antalya, Mugla, Ayd n, Isparta and Denizli. The economic impact on the tourism industry in places such as Manavgat, Marmaris and Bodrum only exacerbated the damages inflicted on this coastal paradise by the Covid-19 pandemic and global travel restrictions.

The environmental losses were no less heart-rending. In addition to the death of thousands of farm animals and countless trees, the delicate ecosystems that developed around pine forests and olive groves were also decimated. With the destruction of the habitats and ecosystem of the pine honey bees in Mugla, the bees may not return for decades.

The conditions that paved the way for these exceptional forest fires are all linked to climate change. Average temperatures in the northeastern Mediterranean have been rising steadily since the 1990s, opening the door for increasingly harsh heatwaves. Indeed, the recent heatwave is considered the hottest since the 1980s and featured Turkey’s highest temperature since 1961. The severe drought caused by reduced rainfall in the southern region of Turkey over the last two years has also left soils parched.

As the fires in the south of Turkey were extinguished, its north experienced a different climate disaster. Intense rainfall in the flood-prone Black Sea region has led to flash floods and landslides that killed tens of people in Kastamonu, Sinop and Bartin, left many unaccounted for, and destroyed buildings and bridges.

With climate change raising temperatures, decreasing rainfall and increasing rainfall variability around the Eastern Mediterranean, such heatwaves are forecast to increase further, the fire season is predicted to extend by two to six weeks, and the probability of intense rainfall events is expected to increase. As a result, both wildfires and flooding are likely to become more regular occurrences in Turkey.

Turkish officials are aware that their region is a climate change hotspot, and that the agriculture and tourism sectors are on the climate front line. The recent fires and flooding are likely to bring the issue into sharper focus still, stressing the need for investing in adaptive capacity and climate resilience.

However, Turkey has no access to international funding to support such investments. Despite having a GDP per capita below the world average, and despite being responsible for just 0.6 percent of historic carbon emissions, Turkey is not eligible for international climate finance.

Karim Elgendy, "Burning forests," The News. 2021-08-26.
Keywords: Environmental sciences , Environmental losses , Climate change , Global warming , Temperatures , Flooding , Rainfall , Turkey