Turkey’s forest fires expose forest workers’ precarious situation

The precarious working condition of Turkey’s forest workers and rangers took center stage after more than 200 forest fires burnt 1,600 square kilometres of the country’s forests, including villages in its Mediterranean region. The wildfires which started from July to August 24, 2021 have reportedly killed 8 people.  

The BWI-affiliated Civil Servants’ Union of Agriculture, Forestry, Husbandry and Environment (TARIM ORMAN-IS) said that it visited 21 affected areas wherein it observed that forest workers battling the fires lacked fire-resistant protective clothing and shoes to protect them during wildfire operations. 

“The lack of aerial tools, trained personnel and efficient coordination between institutions caused an irreversible harm on nature and people’s lives. Forest workers and rangers were left without proper resources while battling fires day and night,” TARIM ORMAN-IS President Sukru Durmus said.

TARIM ORMAN-IS also assailed the country’s deforestation policy and the General Directorate of Forestry’s poor use of its resources to response to forest fires. 

“We are paying the price for the massacre that we have done to our forests due to years of implementing policies that are detrimental to the environment. We have been cutting trees at an unacceptable level to meet the demands of big companies,” Durmus said. 

“And instead of procuring essential equipment, such as water-bombing aircrafts, to better control wildfires, the General Directorate of Forestry purchased luxurious cars for its 28 managers. It also set aside essential fire-fighting trainings to workers, particularly to the more than two thousand new recruits who were sent to wildfire areas without any trainings,” he added. 

The union said that is preparing to release a comprehensive observation report on the forest fires to address workers’ issues and environmental concerns, address policy gaps and seek accountability from public officials.