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Cablegate: Turkey: Widespread Drought in Southeast Compounding Economic

VZCZCXRO4744
RR RUEHDA
DE RUEHDA #0026/01 2060550
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 240550Z JUL 08
FM AMCONSUL ADANA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 4660
INFO RUEHAK/AMEMBASSY ANKARA 1202
RUEHGB/AMEMBASSY BAGHDAD 0131
RUEHKB/AMEMBASSY BAKU 0013
RUEHRC/DEPT OF AGRICULTURE USD FAS WASHINGTON DC
RUCPDOC/DEPT OF COMMERCE WASHINGTON DC
RUEHIT/AMCONSUL ISTANBUL 1021
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHINGTON DC
RUEHYE/AMEMBASSY YEREVAN 0008
RUEHDA/AMCONSUL ADANA 1264

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 ADANA 000026

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: EAGR ECON SOCI TU PGOV
SUBJECT: TURKEY: WIDESPREAD DROUGHT IN SOUTHEAST COMPOUNDING ECONOMIC
HARDSHIPS

Summary

------------

1. (U) The Tigris and Euphrates basins in Turkey's heavily
Kurdish southeastern region are suffering from the worst drought
in a generation, pushing many poor farmers to abandon their
villages in desperation due to shortages of water and animal
feed. The agriculture minister recently announced a program to
assist affected farmers, but many fear that red tape and delays
will prolong the agony and compound already severe economic
problems in the region. The politically astute AKP government
will likely respond more generously as the planned 2009 local
elections approach, but in the meantime the crisis is adding to
the population of poor, disaffected migrant Kurds in the cities
of southeastern Turkey. End summary.

No Rain, No Gain

-----------------------

2. (U) The rolling hills and rocky plains of the
Tigris-Euphrates watershed produce olives, wheat, lentils,
cotton and livestock. Though large cities such as Diyarbakir
have some industry, agriculture and food processing remain the
backbone of the regional economy. Due to the region's
isolation, low education levels and chronic political
instability, the conditions in many villages remain primitive,
with peasants tilling small plots of land (owned or leased) just
above the subsistence level.

3. (U) The hardest hit region in this year's drought is between
the Tigris and Euphrates (including the provinces of Gaziantep,
Kilis, Sanliurfa, Mardin, Sirnak, Batman, Diyarbakir, Adiyaman
and Elazig), where precipitation is down by over 75%. Even some
crops under irrigation have been unable to grow because the soil
is too dry or the weather was so hot early in the season that
vegetation was scorched.

4. (SBU) Huseyin Arslan, the chairman of Turkey's largest legume
trading company, painted a dire picture of conditions in the
region. The red lentil crop, he told us, has declined from over
half a million tons in 2007 to just 60,000 tons this year,
causing the price to double. The price is likely to climb even
higher because lentils are a staple during Ramazan, which starts
in early September. Arslan said imports from North America will
not be harvested in time for the holiday. He added that the
trauma of this year's drought will continue for several years
because farmers will not have sufficient amounts of seed to
plant next year.

5. (SBU) Wheat and barley production in the region has also
declined by as much as 90%, leading to a spike in the price of
barley, which is a staple feed source for livestock. While
well-off farmers are able to survive from savings or loans,
press reports suggest that thousands of poor farmers -
especially those practicing animal husbandry - are being forced
to abandon their homes and move to the cities to live with
relatives and seek employment there. Nurcan Baysal, the
director of a rural development NGO that works with four
villages in Diyarbakir province, said many poor families are
heart-broken because they can't afford to feed their animals and
end up selling them off to move to the city. But, she added,
the money they have will run out in a few months and create more
unemployment and social problems in the urban centers. Arslan
echoed this, noting that when families are forced to sell their
milking cow because they can't feed her, times are truly
desperate.


ADANA 00000026 002 OF 002


6. (U) Media reports confirm that the hardest-hit regions are
seeing a mass exodus from dry villages, though overall figures
have not been published. All but four families have left a
50-family village in Mardin because of the poor harvest and
spiraling debts. In several villages in Batman province, people
are depending on trucked-in water because the wells are dry and
the water table is lower so drilling to reach it has become more
expensive, costing 100,000 to 200,000 YTL.

Government Response

----------------------------

7. (U) On July 19, the Agriculture ministry announced a relief
program for wheat, barley and pulse growers who have lost more
than 30% of their crop. The compensation is between 13 and 30
YTL per decare and is intended to provide farmers with
sufficient cash to purchase seeds for next season. There are
also provisions for debt postponement from the state-owned
Ziraat ("agriculture") Bank and agricultural cooperatives. The
head of an agricultural cooperative in Sanliurfa, however, was
quoted saying that the debt-relief provisions are inadequate
because about 80% of farmers' debt is with private banks, so
will not be deferred.

8. (SBU) Arslan complained that he had talked with Agriculture
Minister Eker and prepared a report for him in May, but the
government only announced an assistance program in mid-July.
Baysal agreed that the assistance is coming too late because
hundreds of people have already been forced to sell their
livestock and move to the city. She noted that her organization
is active in lobbying the local government authorities to
provide help and assists farmers in accessing aid. But she
noted that others don't have such assistance, "The villagers
need help, but in many of these areas the government is not
active and we are the only NGO doing rural development so there
is no other help."

9. (U) In May, PM Erdogan announced his plan to complete by 2012
the Southeast Anatolian Project (GAP) - which calls for
quadrupling the amount of land under irrigation and improving
other infrastructure - but that program will not provide any
short-term relief from the drought.

Comment

-------------

10. (SBU) The AKP government has been successful in courting
farmers in southeastern Turkey with its infrastructure
investments and anti-poverty programs, though its popularity
throughout the region has suffered in recent months due to its
perceived lack of sympathy on the Kurdish issue. The
government's late response to the drought probably resulted from
political distractions in Ankara and concerns about maintaining
budget discipline. As the local elections are scheduled for
March (but could be held sooner), many contacts expect that the
relief packages for farmers will be increased.

11. (SBU) The human cost of the drought, in the form of
thousands more people involuntarily moved from villages to the
cities, is a vivid reminder that the rural areas in southeastern
Turkey remain over-populated and under-developed. While the
recently announced initiative to re-energize the GAP will
improve agricultural productivity in the long term, the major
challenge is to generate employment opportunities for the
legions of job-seekers who will continue to move to the cities.
GREEN

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
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