The causal factors behind Turkey’s water woes include persistently lower rainfall, inefficient water retention policies and wasteful practices in agriculture, municipal and domestic use, further magnified by sustained population growth.
With Turkey's government bing forced in January to denia media reports that Istanbul may run out of water within 45 days, new statistics illustrate the role played by outmoded, wasteful irrigation practises in the country.
According to local media, official data from the Turkish Environment and Urbanisation Ministry says that nearly 74 Percent of the water consumed in the country is used for irrigation and that 35-60 Percent of water loss stems from surface irrigation methods. These methods are used mainly in agriculture, but also in municipal, commercial and domestic applications such as watering parks and gardens.
There are also indications that the COVID-19 pandemic has led to a 14 Percent increase in water consumption.
Istanbul, Turkey’s most populous city, is under particular pressure as reservoir levels sink to less than 20 Percent capacity. Data from the Istanbul Water and Sewerage Administration (ISKI) shows water levels at dams ranging from 5.33 Percent at Sazlidere to 46.6 Percent at Darlik dam.
Speaking to the press at the end of December, Istanbul mayor Ekrem Imamoglu pointed to a risk of drought in 2021 following dry years in 2019 and 2020. He went on to note that the large-scale Melen dam project is still four years away, saying: “We believe the problem will be over once the Melen Project is completed. There is no emergency, but the risk lingers, so I call the citizens to be more cautious while using water, not to use it in excessive amounts.”
Press reports quote assertions by the Union of Chambers of Turkish Engineers and Architects (TMMOB) that the city only has enough water to last another 45 days. Meanwhile, the mayor of capital Ankara has confirmed the city has enough water for 110 days, with reservoir levels at around 22 percent.
The country’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan has spoken recently on the issue, calling on citizens to “use the available means in the most efficient way possible”.
Nevertheless, with agriculture the predominant water consumer, there have been urgent calls for many years from Turkey’s neighbours and global organisations such as the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) for Turkey to drastically improve the water efficiency of its agriculture. Turkey shares a number of transboundary river basins with its neighbours.
The FAO’s 2018 report Progress on Water-use Efficiency identifies Turkey as one of the world’s least efficient nations in water use.