Fires are the number one threat to forested areas in Turkey, with human negligence as the main culprit. Over seven million people live in, or by forested areas, making it harder to protect forests in Turkey more than in any other country.
According to a European Commission report, over 2,135 forest fires occurred in Turkey last year. In all, more than 29,700ha of land was ravaged by fire, out of which 23,577ha was forestland.
The government has been taking steps. It has organised public awareness campaigns and sought to develop early warning systems as well as methods of quick suppression.
More than 700 fire detection towers have been built, and teams were set up to monitor forests 24 hours a day, as a preventive measure. Fire pools and ponds were constructed to help in areas where water supply is insufficient.
Since 2007, the Turkish General Directorate of Forestry has controlled the deployment of all bulldozers, fire trucks, helicopters and planes using a vehicle tracking system.
The General Directorate of Forestry, which is affiliated with the environment and forestry ministry, said that although Turkey suffers from severe forest fire damage, high among other European countries, it has also achieved success in forest fire prevention efforts.
“Statistical figures of the last five years reveal that Turkey also ranks first in the fight against forest fires,” the directorate’s press office said.
The Union of Forestry Co-operatives (OR-KOOP) is an NGO representing forestry villagers and workers. According to its president, Cafer Yüksel, forest villagers have an obligation to do their part in fighting the scourge.
“We must not forget what forests mean for to those living in or nearby; forests are their homes, their only legacy and only way of making money,” Yüksel said. “The state does not compensate their damage or provide aid to those villagers when their homelands burn down,” he added.
Partly filling the gap in state aid, OR-KOOP pays around 1,700 euros to those who lose their homes in a forest fire.
According to Yüksel, some are exploiting the destruction for profit, at the expense of villagers and their way of life.
“We saw unfortunate examples of the state allowing construction on deforested land, instead of reviving the area. Former forests became tourist centres and the villagers certainly are not the real owners of this land and do not profit from such tourist facilities’ income,” he said.
According to the State Statistics Institution’s figures, Turkey’s population has doubled since 1970, but the forest village population dropped by 11%.
Forest fires ravage mostly Antalya and the surrounding coastal region, a valuable tourist area.