2019-09-27

DILOVASI - The Toxic Valley project looks into the environmental consequences of industrialisation in Turkey, and reveals a pattern of chemical dumping and polluting that has led to a widespread health crisis in the Kocaeli region, the most heavily industrialised area of the country.

One small town in the Kocaeli region, Dilovası, home to around 45,000 residents, bears the most serious consequences of three decades of unbridled industrial development, with widespread health problems among the locals, filthy air, soil, and waters, caused by uncontrolled pollution.

In 2007, a Turkish parliamentary commission reported on the environmental effects of industrialisation in the area, recommending that Dilovasi be designated a “health disaster zone”. But rather than curbing the industrialisation of the region, the Turkish government has encouraged it, by dramatically expanding the number of industrial zones and providing incentives to domestic and foreign businesses in the area.

The Turkish state has, over the past decade since the commission report, provided generous tax incentives worth billions to businesses operating in the region, including to foreign-owned companies, whose role has remained largely unscrutinised. Our research shows that around 15% of the 2000 companies in Kocaeli have foreign capital. Most are from the EU – and Germany, specifically. 

Many companies also received support from international, public-owned financial institutions. The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, owned by EU member states, and the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation, have pumped hundreds of millions into companies in the Kocaeli region.

With key health data withheld by the Turkish government, we spoke instead with dozens of locals; adults and children with serious, chronic health problems, and with doctors and other professionals who are too scared to speak about an ongoing public health disaster. Independent studies have shown that even mother’s breast-milk and newborn babies are affected by unhealthy levels of contaminants. 

The Toxic Valley investigation also sought to measure the extent of pollution in the area. When official statistics proved vague or out of date, we took samples of Dilovası’s main river and had them analysed by experts. The samples revealed levels of metals and harmful chemicals such as mercury, iron and ammonia far in excess of legal limits. 

Zeynep Sentek

Zeynep Sentek is a Turkish academic and freelance journalist specialising in investigations, human rights, workers' rights, and military issues.

Craig Shaw

Craig Shaw is a British (based in Romania) journalist specialising in corruption, human rights, and cross-border investigations.

Petrut Calinescu

Petrut Calinescu is a documentary photographer and videographer based in Bucharest, Romania. He holds a bachelor degree in Journalism and Mass Communications.

Elif Alcinkaya

Elif Alcinkaya is an environmental engineer and journalist based in Kocaeli, Turkey.

Supported
A grant of €9.895 allotted on 20/09/18
ID
JF/OSF3/465

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