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06.11.2008

Turkey, the secret weapon against desertification

Çınar Kiper


Turkey is a major world player in desertification-prevention, not only succeeding in its own struggle against encroaching deserts, but also providing training and expertise to some of the countries most at risk, according to one prominent Environment Ministry official.

With 110 countries facing the risk of desertification, the United Nations established the Convention to Combat Desertification, or UNCCD, which is currently holding its seventh official meeting in Istanbul.

Turkey was an initial signatory of the UNCCD in 1994 and ratified it in 1998. In 2005, it released a national action plan after it consulted with relevant experts and academics.

Erdoğan Özevren, the director of the Ministry of the Environment and Forestry, foreign relations and desertification prevention departments, as well as being the focal figure for Turkey in the UNCCD, talked with the Hürriyet Daily News and Economic Review about Turkey's contributions in the struggle against desertification. "Regarding Turkey's role in the convention against desertification, we are one of the convention's most active countries," he said.

Turkey has recently prepared a 5-year national action plan on tree-planting and erosion control to increase carbon sequestration and biodiversity enhancement. Özevren said, "This has garnered a lot of attention internationally, because we are one of the countries that allocates the largest budget and have the most programs on this topic."

Anatolian-based approach

Regarding desertification, Turkey has a very basic strategy that it has been encouraging the UN to adopt. Part of Turkey's 10 year plan, it is called the "basin rehabilitation approach." He added, "This approach deals with human resources, the rehabilitation of natural resources, and an approach we scientifically refer to as ‘anthroscape,' or a human-centered, basin-based approach."

The anthroscape approach was invented in Turkey, some even call it the Anatolian-approach, and Turkey plans on sharing it with the world. Özevren said they had even prepared an education plan based on this novel approach. Turkey might be a country affected by desertification, but it is also one that produces much research on the topic, with the UN even classifing Turkey as an "educating country."

Last year, Turkey trained eight countries to deal with desertification: Iran, Pakistan, Azerbaijan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan. "Africa and Central Asia are the main priority regions in our own ten year plan. We might have focused on Central Asia, but starting next year, we are going to be starting programs in 20 countries, including several throughout Africa," he added.

Course curriculum

The education programs last four years, but can be extended if needed, and should begin around next summer. The programs are intensive and begin after an extensive analysis of the topography of the affected region. The first year of training includes basin-rehabilitation approaches and later years will include tree-planting techniques, erosion-control techniques, and sapling raising.

The programs will also try to discuss the best way to incorporate NGOs into the process. Towards this end, the Ministry is currently working with Turkish NGOs and said, "As a Ministry, we have a very different approach, for example we have a national coordination committee with 3 NGO members, which is the highest in the world."

The Turkish Foundation for Combating Soil Erosion, for Reforestation and the Protection of Natural Habitats, or TEMA, the Chamber of Forestry Engineers, and the Society of Earth Sciences, as well as the semi-governmental Regional Environmental Center all work closely with the Ministry to develop programs and education topics. Özevren says the Ministry also hopes to include the private sector more in the near future.

Financial aid

The Ministry also provides project and financial support for 22 countries from Central Asia, Africa, and the Balkans through the Turkish International Cooperation and Development Agency, or TIKA. Some examples include portable water facilities in Afghanistan, Sudan, as well as one that was recently finished in Mauritania.

In the end, Özevren stresses that desertification has to be addressed because it plays a significant role in climate change by preserving biodiversity and carbon retention. "The easiest way to add to a society's productivity while preventing climate change is by preventing desertification, as the alternative risks hindering employment."