Şahika Ercümen, Turkey’s world-record-holding free-diving champion and U.N. “life below water advocate” dived into the waters of the historic town of Halfeti, most of which was submerged underwater due to the Birecik Dam in the 1990s, in southeastern Şanlıurfa province on Wednesday.
Accompanied by Anadolu Agency (AA) photographer Şebnem Coşkun and UNDP Resident Representative in Turkey Claudio Tomasi, Ercümen dived to raise awareness about plastic pollution and highlight the importance of waste management as part of a project launched by the U.N. Development Programme (UNDP).
The urban waste management project is unique in the sense that it combines providing support to municipalities to strengthen their recycling capacities and improve resource recovery, and also serves to reduce social tensions, aiding the peaceful integrations of Syrians into Turkish society through collaborative waste collection and recycling projects. A number of solid waste transfer stations have been built as part of the project, which not only helps the city increase its compliance with EU standards but also provides an eco-friendly solution while easing the financial burden on municipalities caused by the sudden population growth.
Speaking at the Halfeti Public Education Center before her dive, Ercümen said she wanted to dedicate her dive to the people of Izmir, the western province that was rocked by a 6.6 magnitude earthquake that has so far killed 114 people. She and Tomasi held up banners in support of the victims and survivors of the quake before they dived around a mosque that was half-submerged in water.
She said that through solidarity and aid, Turkey would soon bandage up this wound, and extended her well-wishes and prayers to those affected.
Ercümen said she hoped her dive would raise awareness not only in Turkey but across the world about plastic waste, adding that improper waste management was becoming a real burden on the economy.
"Because what I have come across the most in recent years is underwater waste and garbage. We are on track toward experiencing enormous economic losses because we do not use our recycling facilities."
Reiterating that as a U.N. underwater advocate she was trying to create a more livable planet and promote environmentally friendly practices, Ercümen said sometimes voices can be heard louder and clearer while underwater.
"There may be this big silence underwater, but sometimes your messages are better received. I hope mine is received by the right people," she added.
Echoing Ercümen's words, Tomasi said economic sustainability could not be achieved without true environmental sustainability.
"Our goal is to create a society that produces and consumes responsibly. We will produce, but the products we produce must also be recycled. Waste must be minimized. I think this is how we come closer to being a zero-waste society," he said.
Speaking to reporters after the dive, Ercümen said this was her second dive in the area.
"The water was really cold. I think it may be best to come in the summer. There is living history to be witnessed underwater. That is why this dive was very important to me. Many people dive into the blue, but diving into history is much more special and meaningful. I am happy to have been part of this, she said.
Ercümen also called on authorities to help Halfeti fulfill its true potential.
"When I come to Halfeti, I feel that it is a place of wonderful nature, a perfect place. I see great potential here for both sports tourism and sustainable development ... It is a very important place where time stands still and (different periods of) history intertwine."
The record-holding diver added that she believed the people had the power to change the world for better or worse and that this project was just one of the many highlighting the need for a more livable, sustainable world.
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