By Burak Bir
ANKARA (AA) - Preventing deforestation should be key to fighting climate change as forests store carbon and provide oxygen and water, according to an official with a nonprofit environmental group.
"The forests play an important role in global carbon cycle as the most significant carbon sinks. Due to its important role in climate balance, afforestation should be prioritized to decrease the effects of global climate crisis," Hikmet Ozturk, associate director of The Turkish Foundation for Combating Soil Erosion, for Reforestation and the Protection of Natural Habitats (TEMA), told Anadolu Agency.
The foundation, which plants approximately 1 million trees annually, conducts training, afforestation, advocacy and communication activities to combat erosion and protect forest assets since its launch in 1992.
Speaking on the importance of forests for human life and the environment, Ozturk said in addition to oxygen and water supply, forests which covers 30% of the world's continental areas, are also a significant source of wood, food and medicine for the world’s poorest 350 million people, including 60 million natives.
"Beside providing the service for water supply, forests have important effects upon the water cycle and precipitation regime. For example, the reason why in summer being the excess of precipitation on land while in winter being in excess of it in the ocean and at sea is the forests," he said.
He went on to say that forests help to regulate hydrologic cycles, decrease threats and the effects of flood and drought as well as provide important plants that are used for 57 % of the most commonly-used pharmaceuticals.
Ozturk also said forests are hosting more than 80% of continental biological diversity in the world.
- Threats to forests
Touching on the threats forests face, Ozturk said due to the urbanization, forest fires, mining and gaining farming land, 8 million hectares (19.8 million acres) of forest are destructed around the world.
Mentioning fires are one of the biggest threats to forests, he highlighted that there are three conditions needed for fire.
"These are; flammable materials, ignition temperature and oxygen. Flammable materials and oxygen naturally exist in the forests, but flammability is caused by either humans or natural reasons such as thunderbolts."
Comparing the source of forest fires in Turkey, citing figures by General Directorate of Forestry (OGM), Ozturk stated that more than 47,000 fires occurred and 180,000 hectares (444.78 acres) of land burned in Turkey in 2000-2018.
He said: "11% of fires occurred intentionally. Most of the forest fires (78%) are the results of humans’ stubble burning, throwing away cigarettes, picnic fire etc; which means most fire outbreaks are a result of humans’ omission, fault or accident," and added that humans are the main reason for fires.
He went on to say that increasing extreme heat and its effect on climate change is another reason for the increase in the number of forest fires in Turkey, as studies show the number of fires increase on days when temperatures are above average.
"It is stated in many scientific studies that the risk of fire in Turkey's forests will increase further in the coming years due to climate change," he added.
Touching on the recent fires in Aegean’s Izmir province, where five occurred at the same time last month, he said arson as a possibility should also be kept in mind as a source of fire outbreaks.
Ozturk said although forest area is increasing in Turkey, there is also important loss of forest presence because of non-forestry usage such as tourism, mining, education and special afforestation.