The Turkish olive farmer is fighting to save her country from the coal mine
YATAGAN, Turkey – Behind the olive groves of Tayyibe Demirel in southwestern Turkey lies a wide, gray area exposed by a coal mine that eats into the rolling hills. On the horizon, heavy smoke billows from three huge chimneys of the Yatagan city power station.
Determined to save her land and village, Demirel, a 64-year-old grandmother, has single-handedly taken over the operators who are expanding the mine to power one of Turkey’s largest power plants.
Last month she won a lawsuit against the expansion of the mine towards her village and, armed with information she herself had uncovered from a previous court ruling that olive groves must be protected, won an appeal to the Supreme Court.
Her win in court halted plans to expand the mine, but Demirel fears that her six-acre property will be encircled.
“The whole land is being dug and looted, and the olive grove will get stuck in the middle,” she said. “I object. I will continue my fight and seek my rights. How should I get to my field? Land here in a helicopter from the sky?”
Activists say pollution from coal mined and burned in Yatagan, 40 km from some Turkish beach resorts in the Mediterranean and Aegean Sea, has caused significant health and environmental damage.
Five villages have already disappeared when the Yatagan power plant mines expanded, and Demirel’s village of Turgut is now threatened. In the entire province of Mugla, 5,000 hectares – the equivalent of almost 8,000 soccer fields – have been lost to mining in the past four decades, activists say.
When asked about the plans to expand the mine, the Yatagan power plant told Reuters that it has planted more than 1.5 million trees in the area and that its activities respect the environment and are carried out under the supervision of the relevant Turkish ministries.
Limak, which operates another plant in the region, told Reuters that its production covers 5% of Turkey’s electricity needs with an installed capacity of 1,050 mW. The company added that its land purchase practices were compliant with laws and regulations.
Authorities across Turkey are pushing plans to more than double coal-fired capacity. The government says it needs to reduce the high dependency on imports for energy, which accounts for one fifth of the total value of Turkish imports and is a major contributor to year-long current account deficits.
The Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL), a European non-profit organization that measures the effects of environmental pollution, estimates the health costs of coal production in Turkey at up to 5.9 billion euros per year.
Deniz Gumusel, environmental activist who co-authored a report on Turkish coal-fired power for HEAL, said three coal-fired power plants in the region have killed 45,000 people in the more than 40 years since the first plant went into operation, mainly from cardiovascular disease – and cardiovascular problems respiratory diseases.
“It’s like a war against humans and against forests and ecosystems,” she said.
But the determination of villagers and women like Demirel means there is still room for optimism, she pointed out.
“Women are waging an incredible battle against this unjust coal business. They have been very successful in stopping or slowing the progress of the mines. “
Demirel looks at the open pit mine from her olive fields and says that the area had been covered with tulips, poppies and daisies a few years earlier. “Which is better, a hell pit or nature?” She said.
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