Major cities across Turkey are facing water shortages in the next few months, with warnings Istanbul has less than 45 days of water left.
Poor rainfall has led to the country’s most severe drought in a decade and has put the magnitude of 17 million people close to running out of water, according to Turkey’s chemical engineering chamber. The mayor of Ankara, Mansur Yavaş, said earlier this month that the capital had an additional 1
İzmir and Bursa, Turkey’s next two largest cities, are also struggling with dams that are approx. 36% and 24% full, and farmers in wheat-producing areas such as the Konya plain and Edirne province on the border with Greece and Bulgaria are warning of crop failure.
The critically low rainfall in the second half of 2020 – approaching 50% year-on-year for November – led the Directorate of Religious Affairs to instruct imams and their congregations to ask for rain last month.
Turkey is a “water-laden” country with only 1,346 cubic meters of water per capita. Per capita per year and has been exposed to several droughts since the 1980s due to a combination of population growth, industrialization, urban sprawl and climate change.
“Instead of focusing on measures to keep water demand under control, Turkey insists on expanding its water supply by building more dams … Turkey has built hundreds of dams in the last two decades,” said Dr. Akgün İlhan, a water supply expert at the Istanbul Police Center.
“The warning signs have been there for decades, but not much has been done in practice.”
Turkey has long prioritized economic growth over environmental concerns and remains the only G20 country other than the United States that has not yet ratified the 2015 Paris Agreement.
“Everyone knows that water basins need to be preserved, especially for these drought episodes, which are becoming more severe and long-term,” said Dr. Ümit Şahin, who teaches global climate change and environmental policy at Istanbul Sabancı University.
“Yet in Istanbul, for example, the most vital water basins, the last forests and agricultural land, [have been opened] for urban development projects … the new airport, the new Bosphorus bridge, its connecting roads and motorways and the Istanbul Canal project. These policies cannot solve Turkey’s drought problem. ”
Ekrem İmamoğlu, elected mayor of Istanbul in 2019 despite strong opposition from Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party, told the Guardian that Istanbul had been assured that the huge Melen dam system would supply the city’s water needs without problems until 2070.
When he entered the office, however, his administration realized that construction problems would delay the project for several years.
The municipality is currently urging residents to think carefully about how to save water, including shutting off the faucet while brushing teeth or shaving, turning down valves that are inserted into sinks, and installing lower utility faucets.
“Water would not be a problem today if the dam was active. But we also have to think about big problems with climate change … If it does not rain in Melen, you can not get water from there either, ”said İmamoğlu.
In Izmir, local authorities are preparing for water shortages by digging 103 new boreholes, recycling wastewater and minimizing losses and leaks by repairing aging pipes, according to the city’s mayor, Tunç Soyer.
In the end, Turkey’s cities need lots of rain right away to avoid having to ration water for the next few months – and even persistent rainfall the rest of the winter may not be enough for agricultural communities to save this year’s crops.
Drought creates a vicious circle, says İlhan: reduced agricultural production and rising food prices could lead to an increase in poverty and rural areas to urban migration, exacerbating the current pressure on water infrastructure.
“Turkey has the economic and technological means to repair its damaged water cycle. The missing element is the political will to take these steps. ”