Criticism mounts over lack of effective response to forest fire in SE Turkey

Criticism has been growing over the lack of an effective response to a forest fire in the Şemdinli district of Turkey’s southeastern Hakkari province, which has been burning since late Tuesday, Turkish Minute reported on Friday.

More and more people have taken to Twitter, sharing posts under the hashtag #ŞemdinliYanıyor (Şemdinli is on fire) and calling for a more effective response to the fire as it continues to burn for a fourth day despite efforts by firefighters and locals, according to Turkish media reports.

The social media posts, some including videos of the fire in Şemdinli, came after the General Directorate of Forestry announced in a statement on Wednesday that the fire had been brought under control and that cooling efforts were underway.

Muharrem Tekin, head of the Hakkari Union of Merchants and Craftsmen’s Chambers, on Wednesday tweeted that the fire that was brought under control in the morning had started again a few hours later, underlining that the response to it was “inadequate.”

“Please be our voice. … We’re in the fire area, waiting for urgent support,” Tekin added.

“We are short of breath due to the fires, we can’t breathe. The fire in Şemdinli has been going on for 3 days, urgent action is required!” Meral Danış Beştaş, parliamentary group deputy chair of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), said in a tweet on Thursday.

Musician and human rights activist Ferhat Tunç also said on Thursday that the locals were unable to extinguish the fire that restarted on Wednesday, calling on the authorities to respond to it with firefighting aircraft in addition to the extinguishing efforts on the ground.

“We are in the fire area in Şemdinli. The fire, to which there’s no response right now, is moving towards settlements,” Sait Dede, an HDP lawmaker from Hakkari, tweeted on Thursday.

Rıdvan Turan, another HDP lawmaker, also criticized the lack of efficient intervention to the fire, saying, “Does anyone know that Şemdinli has been burning for days?”

“It’s the fourth day. Şemdinli is on fire and the country is blind, deaf and dumb,” stage actor Orhan Aydın said on Friday.

“The forests burning in Şemdinli and in [the western province of] Muğla are the same. … There should be an effective intervention [to the fire in Şemdinli], and the locals shouldn’t be left alone [to deal with it],” said Greens of Turkey Party spokeswoman Emine Özkan.

Özkan was referring to a claim voiced by locals on social media that the poor response to the fire in Şemdinli, which is said by many to be due to negligence on the part of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government, was because it broke out in a Kurdish-majority province.

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his ruling AKP also faced widespread criticism over the poor response and inadequate preparedness for the large-scale wildfires that started on the country’s southern and western coasts on July 28 and claimed the lives of nine people, also destroying large swathes of forestland, until they were fully contained on Aug. 13.

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