Urbanization Brings Environmental Problems for Turkey

by Jessica Stone

As with other developing countries, Turkey faces the problem of advancing socially and economically while still protecting its natural resources.  Rapid urbanization and industrialization in Turkey have caused several environmental issues, one being air pollution.  According to Turkish news sources, air pollution is the biggest environmental issue in 33 cities in Turkey, and is primarily attributed to urban transformation and industrial developments in Turkey’s most populated cities.  “Air pollution, which threatens 79 of Turkey’s 81 provinces, is largely caused by fuel usage in homes,” according to the Hürriyet Daily News.

Smog at dusk in Istanbul due to traffic. Source: Google Images.
Smog at dusk in Istanbul due to traffic. Source: Google Images.

According to the World Development Indicators 2012 report published by the World Bank, which includes data on pollution in cities around the world, “air pollution in Ankara and İstanbul exceeds the maximum acceptable limit set by the World Health Organization (WHO).”  The air pollution consists mostly of sulfur dioxide concentration, a pollution caused by the consumption of coal, diesel fuel and gasoline containing sulfur.  Also according to the report, “Turkey’s two largest cities, Istanbul and Ankara, are placed rather high on the list of most polluted cities: Istanbul is ranked seventh and Ankara 26th out of 97 cities.”

Traffic in Turkey's capital, Ankara, is one factor that contributes to its air pollution problem.  Source: Google Images
Traffic in Turkey’s capital, Ankara, is one factor that contributes to its air pollution problem. Source: Google Images

Turkey’s urban growth has strengthened its industrial sector, which in effect has improved its economy.  According to a Carnegie Europe article,  “There has been a major influx of European direct investment in Turkey.  The country has emerged as an integrated production platform for European manufacturing industries.”  The article also says the economic boom from such investments has contributed to major improvements in “Turkey’s public services and infrastructure, including airports, roads and highways, high-speed railroads, utilities, hospitals, universities, and museums.”  While beneficial to the economy, such improvements require more energy consumption, fuel, and expendable land.  Expanding the industrialized sector also means more deforestation, air pollution and water pollution in coastal areas.   

The government’s involvement with this urban transformation has received criticism, according to Carnegie Europe:

“However, the Turkish government is implementing urban transformation through sudden, top-down decisions that do not sufficiently account for environmental protection or consultations with citizens. In the process, the population’s leanings are largely ignored, making it impossible to nurture civic consensus on the pace and nature of economic development.”

Rapid population and industrial growth has extended to suburbs of Turkey’s largest cities, thus placing more pressure on the government’s sustainable development task. With specific environmental problems in each province, there is no simple solution to eradicate multiple issues.

The next post on environmental issues in Turkey will cover the country’s renewable energy plan.

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