Across Turkey’s sprawling breadbasket, the Konya Basin, wheat withered and fields lay parched this year under the stress of the lowest rainfall in decades. In July, thousands of baby flamingos perished for lack of drinkable water, their corpses entombed in the dried, cracked mud.
This summer, Turkey endured a blistering heat wave with the fiercest temperatures in 60 years. Wildfires raged for nearly two months along its southwestern coast, known to tourists as the Turkish Riviera for its turquoise waters and unspoiled beaches. Market towns and villages emptied as more than 2,000 fires scorched five times more land than usual — close to 200,000 hectares (770 square miles). At least eight lives were lost and delicate pine forests decimated, taking a tragic toll on natural life, including the ecosystem of the unique pine honey bees.
At the center of Turkey’s woes are severe drought conditions and diminished groundwater levels — caused by a combination of climate change and water management policies — that have taxed water supplies as never before. Power plant reservoirs, freshwater sources, and potable water supplies dwindled to all-time lows this summer, threatening the drinking water supplies of major cities. Meanwhile, on the country’s northern borders, flash flooding near the Black Sea claimed nearly 100 lives.
According to the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), 60 percent of Turkey’s land area is prone to desertification. Continuing climate and land-use changes could wipe away its soils and turn it into “a terrain not dissimilar from Badlands National Park in South Dakota,” says Karim Elgendy, a sustainability expert concentrating on the Mediterranean at Chatham House, a London-based policy institute.
This, say climate scientists, is the new normal in Turkey and the surrounding eastern Mediterranean region.