Turkey accused of failing to prepare for forest fires

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Turkey scrambled for foreign planes to fight fires.

ISTANBUL, Aug 6 - Turkish authorities accused of failing to prepare for the threat after modest data showed they only a fraction of the official funds budgeted to prevent forest fires this year.

Eight people have been killed by the fires which swept through Turkish's southwestern coastal regions, threatening evacuation of tens of thousands of people including tourists and briefly engulfing a power plant.

Tayyip Erdogan's government has faced criticism that its response has been slow and inadequate - with opponents zeroing in on a lack of firefighting planes, which forced Ankara to scramble to procure them from abroad.

In the past two weeks, fires in Turkey have burned more than three times the area https: graphics.reuters.com TURKEY-Wilfi myvmnmqaqpr turkey-fires.jpg affected in an average year, a European fire agency said. Neighbouring countries have also battled blazes fanned by heatwaves and strong winds.

The state forestry agency in Turkey said that it spent less than 2% of the 200 million lira it set aside this year for building, projects and equipment used to fight forest fires in the first half of the year.

This year, Portugal and Spain budgeted 224 million euros to prevent and combat forest fires. The central government of Portugal budgeted 65 million euros.

Although countries may measure allocations differently, opposition politicians said data published by Turkey's General Directorate of Forestry showed Erdogan's government disregarded a predictable danger.

The OGM budget was formulated as though there wouldn't be any fires, according to the Republican People's Party deputy Bekir Pakdemirli who filed parliamentary questions on Tuesday to agriculture and forestry minister Murat Emir.

These figures show why there has not been effective intervention against the fires, Emir said, adding the ministry had been caught unprepared.

The ministry did not immediately answer to Reuters questions about the spending, and it was not clear if other resources were allocated for forest fire protection apart from the forestry directorate budget.

The government blames the lack of resources on the Turkish Aeronautical Association saying it failed to maintain a fleet of firefighting planes despite generous funding.

They say 'We can't renew the planes because of material difficulties, while they could have used this money to renew the planes rather than spending it elsewhere, Pakdemirli was quoted as saying Haberturk news website.

Among the 16 planes and 51 helicopters in the current operation are aircraft from Russia, Spain, Ukraine, Croatia, Iran and Azerbaijan.

Emir, the opposition politician, noted that OGM report showed the purchase of 26 helicopters for which spending plans laid aside a nominal sum of only 1,000 lira for the forest fire related expenditure plans.

He asked the minister why resources for helicopter purchases had not been allocated if the ministry did not have enough planes or helicopters.

The report budgeted 40 million lira to buy airplane and helicopter hangar and 15 million lira to buy walkie-talkies, but showed that no funds were spent on these in the first half.

It also completed 192 km of fire safety road planned, with just 34 km completed so far.

In a television interview on Wednesday, Erdogan said the opposition was spreading a terrorism of lies concerning the fire-fighting operation and its government had handled natural disasters professionally during its 19 years in power.

The pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party requested an investigation, alleging fire preparations and responses were late and inadequate.

The non-ratification of this agreement is a reflection of the government policies which have led to mass massacres of nature, said HDP, parliament's third-largest political force.