Drought threatens life in Turkey

Thousands of farmers in Turkey have faced repeated droughts due to climate change with very low rainfall for two years, eliminating their only source of livelihood.
Hawa Kalech looks with great sadness at the rows of rotting tomatoes and their withered leaves in her field, which was previously teeming with delicious seeds, considered one of Turkey's most important exports.
"I lost my crops of tomatoes, cowpeas and peppers," says the 58-year-old farmer in the middle of a barren field in Akuzulu, north of Ankara. As for the watermelon, it did not grow at all while the cucumber seedlings withered.”
This situation is attributed in particular to climate change and successive droughts. But experts say this is also due to the policy of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who in the past two decades has ignored environmental emergencies and based his popularity on a prosperity based on rapid city development.
From the podium of the United Nations General Assembly at the end of September, Erdogan recently promised to ratify the 2015 Paris climate agreement, which Turkey signed in 2016 before the vital COP26 climate conference at the end of October in Glasgow under the auspices of the United Nations.
The climate issue imposed itself in the country during the summer after a series of extreme weather events, including deadly forest fires on the Mediterranean coast and floods in the north.
Many farmers, such as Eve, say it is too late. But the farmer is determined not to give up.
“My husband advises me to give up [agriculture], but I put in a lot of sweat here,” Hawa says, also referring to the accumulated debt of thousands of Turkish liras.
This summer, along with other farmers, she was forced to supply water from large reservoirs after the aquifers in their fields depleted.
More than half of Turkey's regions are facing a major drought, while agriculture is a major sector in the country's economy, providing 6% of GDP and 18% of job opportunities.
Turkey, which was once self-sufficient in food, exports everything from tomatoes to grapes, olives and hazelnuts. It is the seventh agricultural producer in the world.
But its import of wheat rose dramatically in two decades, and its value increased from $150 million to $2.3 billion in 2019, according to the Ministry of Agriculture.
It is feared that this trend will lead Turkey, the producing and exporting country, to dependence on the outside to secure its food needs.
“Turkey has to make a huge adaptation effort,” warned Lewent Murnaz, director of the Center for Studies on Climate Change at Boğaziçi University in Istanbul. What we have seen so far is not much.”
Drought is now forcing some producers to abandon their fields and others to choose other crops that consume less water.
But relying on imports at a time when the exchange rate of the lira has collapsed is very costly for the population. Last August, the prices of basic commodities increased by 29% over a year, forcing the Turkish president to cancel customs duties on wheat, chickpeas and lentils to ease the suffering.
Farmers are already suffering from the declining water reserves in the main Turkish dams, but now the entire population is affected by the scarcity of water.
Experts believe that the absence of a policy to manage water resources in this country has exacerbated the problems, as drought affects the country's lakes, the largest of which is Lake Wan in the east.
"If we do not take appropriate measures, we will have difficult days in the coming years," said Jehun Ozclik, a professor at the Water Resources Department at Sitki Kodjman University in Mugla, in the southwest of the country.
The olive groves on the Mugla highlands on the Aegean coast, which produce oil known for its quality, are also under threat.
Not a single drop of rain fell in 2021, according to Ismail Atchi, head of the local Chamber of Agriculture, explaining, "If the situation continues for two more months like this, the trees will not be able to feed their growing fruits."
Production prices have also skyrocketed, according to Fron Schenguiz, 41, a dairy cow breeder who feeds them with his own seed.
"I lose 35 to 40 thousand Turkish liras a month," he says, surrounded by his cows in a barren field.
It is expected to lose 50% of its revenues during the current year due to drought.
As for the farmers who used to produce cotton, which needed very large amounts of water, they turned to planting corn, which needs a good amount of water as well.
"If I can't irrigate the crops that I need to feed the animals, they will starve," says the cow breeder.
"The transformation affects the entire economy and people's lifestyle" and not just farmers' income, said Ali Tekaya, head of water management in Mugla province.


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