Directive allows construction in Turkey’s forests

ISTANBUL (CIHAN)- A new directive published in the Official Gazette on Friday allowing commercial activity in forested areas has caused concern among environmentalist groups.

The directive allows the laying of pipelines, the construction of energy plants, warehouses, communication facilities as well as educational and sports complexes, roads, service areas for ports, airports, tracks, tunnels and similar transportation structures as well as drilling for natural gas and oil in Turkey’s forests. The directives also allow mining activities in forested areas.

Deniz Bayram, a lawyer for Greenpeace, said the directives violate Article 56 of the Constitution, which ensures the right to live in a healthy environment. Bayram said Article 17 of the current Forests Law already allows opening forest land to investments to “benefit the public.” She said officials usually defined “public benefit” in terms of industrialization and development, without paying any heed to the common good. She recalled that another directive that was passed recently had allowed developments in National Parks. “Protection of the environment is directly linked to right to life,” Bayram said, noting that that is where the public benefit lies. She said the directive will make it easier to implement Article 17.

“Natural and cultural assets cannot be unconditionally transferred to investors without research and authorization procedures. Obviously, this move is a part of the [government’s] energy and growth strategy. The regulation will spell the end of forests.” She said another draft bill on nature was also drafted to allow an oil and gas search in forests.

“This development makes it possible for extremely dangerous mining activities such as searching for oil or shale gas,” Bayram said, noting that such attempts by other governments around the world have drawn widespread backlash and anger.

Oya Ayman, from the BuIday [Wheat] Support for Ecological Life Association, said it is by now well understood that human intervention in ecosystems always backfires at humans themselves, which is the opposition of public benefit. “We all know that policies that violate ecosystems only to benefit humans produce results such as climate change,” she said.

Turkey performs poorly in protecting critical habitats and its performance has been getting worse, according to the Environmental Performance Index (EPI)ompiled by Yale University. In the 2014 report, Turkey is ranked 66th out of 178 countries on the index that measures the environmental performance of countries. In 2010, the country was ranked in the 60th place.

In addition to passing directives that will speed up deforestation, the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip ErdoIan has introduced three mega-projects to be built in Istanbul’s only forested area in the north. These include a bridge over the Bosporus, for which hundreds of thousands of trees have been cut already. The government will also build an international airport in the area, which is located along the routes of many migratory bird species. A third project, which will connect the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara via a waterway through the west of Istanbul, is also being planned. ErdoIan has, on many occasions, accused individuals or organizations raising environmental concerns of treason and being against Turkey’s development, and even of being foreign agents.

Sixteen scientists recently wrote a report for the Turkish Foundation for Combating Soil Erosion and the Reforestation and the Protection of Natural Habitats (TEMA) filled with warnings on the third bridge, the third airport and the planned waterway, Kanal Istanbul. The report underscores that Istanbul is at great risk from these large projects.

The report is the result of seven months of research and study by 16 scientists.

Although there had been hope the Ministry of Forestry and Water Affairs would consider the content of the report in regards to the ongoing projects, the release of the report was met with accusations from the ministry, which alleged that the report had been prepared with “political intentions.”