Cablegate: Air Pollution in the Turkish Capital. Ankara Back

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

041614Z Mar 05





E.O.12958: N/A

Sensitive But Unclassified.

1. (SBU) Summary. Cleaning up Ankara's smoke-filled skies
was an important environmental success story of the 1990s
made possible by the introduction of natural gas to replace
soft coal for home heating. But this winter, the acrid
stench of sulphur from burning soft coal and fumes from
vehicle emissions was much more noticeable than in recent
years -- although it is unfortunately not possible to
scientifically quantify what our eyes and noses tell us
because of Turkey's inadequate pollution monitoring system.
The city of Ankara's predicament is emblematic of the
challenges Turkey faces in reducing environmental pollution,
which will require overcoming government apathy and
accommodating the demands of a growing population eager to
reap the rewards of economic growth. End Summary.

Progress in the 1990s
2. (U) Ankara, which sits in a bowl-like mountain valley at
850 meters, was once choked by a dense layer of air
pollution. Into the 1980s, the city's rapidly-growing
population relied on Turkish lignite and low-quality fuel
oil for heating. In 1988, Turkey began an ambitious program
to replace these dirty fuels with natural gas purchased from
the Soviet Union. Ankara and Istanbul were the first large
cities to receive natural gas, and most businesses and
residents quickly switched. The result was a dramatic
improvement in air quality. Average sulphur dioxide levels
in Ankara's air have dropped from 218 parts per million
(ppm) in 1990 to 56 ppm in 2002.

Lignite and Vehicle Emissions Main Sources of Air Pollution
--------------------------------------------- --------------
3. (U) However, progress has stalled in recent years. The
2001 financial crisis led to the relegation of environmental
programs to the bottom of the government's agenda. Although
Ankara's air pollution is far from as severe as it was in
the 70s and 80s, a return of dirty air in Ankara appears to
come primarily from two sources: the increased use of
lignite and higher vehicle emissions -- especially from low-
quality diesel fuel.

4. (SBU) Turkey's most abundant domestic fuel resource is
high-sulphur lignite. Most Turks grew up in households
heated with the smelly fuel. Especially in poorer
neighborhoods, the smell of lignite is strong on cold days.
The doubling of sulphur dioxide (SO2) levels in the winter
confirms anecdotal evidence that many of the city's poorer
residents, faced with the rising cost of natural gas, are
turning back to cheap lignite to heat their homes. The
Ankara Municipality is supposed to ensure that residents do
not burn lignite, but the press reports that it has not
effectively controlled the sale and use of lignite in
Ankara. In fact, the government may be contributing to the
problem. Some local journalists report that much of the
free coal distributed by the municipality to poor families
is lignite.

5. (U) Ankara's population increased from 3.2 million in
1990 to over 4 million in 2000 (an average of over 200 new
residents per day), but that rapid population growth is far
outstripped by the boom in cars and trucks on the streets.
There are 925,000 cars registered in Ankara, and that figure
increases by about 600-700 per day. Gasoline quality has
improved in recent years; however, Turkey's diesel fuel is
of especially low quality -- with sulphur content of 7,000
parts per million (ppm); the EU standard is 50 ppm. Since
diesel is sold at lower prices than gasoline, new car buyers
opt for diesel cars that despite being new burn low-quality
diesel and spew black smoke. As a result, diesel cars,
trucks and buses are a serious cause of air pollution.
Ankara has 1,190 city busses; most of them are old and all
but a few burn diesel.

What Problem?
6. (SBU) By Turkish government standards, there isn't an
air pollution problem. Turkey's pollution standards are
much looser than those of the EU or WHO. Allowable levels
were set in 1986 and are three times higher than current WHO
standards. The Health Ministry, which is responsible for
monitoring air pollution levels, consistently tracks only
two pollutants (sulfur dioxide and particulate matter) at
seven sights in the city. The Chamber of Environmental
Engineers Ankara Section Head Cihan Dundar confirmed to us
what we have heard from other officials and NGOs -- that the
city's pollution monitoring equipment is inadequate to
scientifically evaluate Ankara's air quality. The EU
confirmed this conclusion in its 2004 Regular Report on
Turkey's progress towards accession: "In the field of air
quality, further legislation needs to be adopted and steps
taken to start implementation, including upgrading of air
quality monitoring."

7. (SBU) Nevertheless, the spotty data collected in the
city seems to verify a recent deterioration of air quality.
For example, average daily particulate levels in December
2004 (the most recent data available) were 95 ppm; the
December 2003 average was 86 ppm. In addition, there were
five days in December 2004 when particulate matter levels
exceeded the WHO maximum, compared to four days in December

8. (SBU) A combination of government apathy and poor data
means that very little is known about the health effects of
Ankara's air pollution. According to Professor Cagatay
Guler of the Haceteppe Medical School, there are no studies
in Turkey of the health effects of air pollution. A 2004
WHO study on the health effects of air pollution in European
cities linked air pollution to a number of serious health
effects, such as respiratory and pulmonary disease; the
report concluded that 100,000 people in Europe die each year
as a result of particulate matter in the air and noted that
particulate matter from diesel engines was among the most
harmful. Given the higher pollution levels in Ankara, it is
reasonable to expect that Ankara's citizens suffer a greater
degree of health problems, including avoidable deaths.

Improvements will Be Driven by the EU
9. (SBU) The Turkish government has shown little interest
in or capability for tackling many of the country's serious
environmental problems. The result has been a slow
deterioration of environmental standards. Reports written
in advance of the December 17 European council decision to
begin accession negotiations remarked on Turkey's
environmental shortcomings: "the administrative capacity to
deal with environmental issues is less developed that those
of the new Member States at a similar stage of the pre-
accession process." Reflecting the scope of the problem, EU
officials estimate that it will cost about Euro 50 billion
to bring Turkey into compliance with EU standards.

10. (U) The prospect of EU membership and the process of
adoption of the acquis has begun to force the GOT to start
putting environmental issues, including air quality, higher
on its list of priorities.

-- Improving air quality is listed as a priority in Turkey's
National Program for the Adaptation of the EU Acquis. The
National Program states that establishment of a sound air
quality monitoring station network, improvement of the
laboratory infrastructure, training on legislation and
technical issues for the staff involved in air quality and
strengthening of the system to inform the public on air
quality are the necessary institutional changes that should
be realized.

-- In June 2004, the government approved regulations to
improve the quality of vehicle fuels, in order to comply
with EU directives. The regulations mandate that sulphur
levels in diesel be reduced from 7,000 ppm to 50 ppm in 2007
and 10 ppm in 2009.

-- Sedat Kadioglu, DDG Environmental Management of MOEF,
told us the Ministry has been working on legislative
arrangements to extend fuel quality standards to heating
devices and enforce rules making natural gas heating
mandatory where it is available. He added that the MOEF
would actively participate in air pollution monitoring, and
will purchase new monitoring equipment and use on-line data

11. (SBU) Ankara's darkening skies are one of the most
visible -- and annoying -- signs of Turkey's environmental
problems. Other serious problems include the lack of clean
drinking water for much of the country and the widespread
fouling of the land and water with unregulated waste
disposal. Although we cannot quantify the health effects of
Turkey's environmental problems, we do know that they are
significant and will continue to exact considerable costs in
terms of public health and living standards for years to
come. Turkey's EU accession and adoption of Europe's higher
environmental standards, though estimated to cost Euro 50
billion, will result in long-term improvements in health,
life expectancy and Turkey's productivity. The EU estimated
that the Euro 80 - 120 billion it cost to bring the 10
newest members up to EU environmental standards will result
in tangible benefits of between Euro 134 and 681 billion.

© Scoop Media

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