Water of the Middle East and North Africa

Water Challenges in Turkey

Konya, Turkey - Water Challenges in Turkey
Photo 1: Dead ducks lie on the cracked soil of Lake Aksehir after seasonal drought in Konya. Source: Abdullah Dogan _ Anadolu Agency via AFP

In Turkey, as elsewhere, a growing population, urbanization, climate change, losses in water distribution networks, mismanagement and traditional irrigation methods are negatively impacting the quantity, quality and efficient use of water resources.

Turkey has experienced very rapid urbanization over the last six decades. The urban share of the population has risen from 25% in 1950 to nearly 93.2% today. Over this period, the pressures of urbanization have increased, particularly in secondary cities with massive infrastructure and investment needs. Nevertheless, thus far Turkey is managing to cope with this increase in demand. In 2020, 98.7% of the municipal (urban) population and 99.3% of the rural population, 98.8% of the total population, were served by drinking and utility water networks.[1]

Drought frequency in Turkey is significantly influenced by atmospheric conditions, geographical location and climatic variables. Temperatures in Europe, including Turkey, are predicted to rise more rapidly in different warming scenarios of 1.5°C, 2°C and 4°C, according to projections by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. As a result, hydrological, agricultural and ecological droughts in the Mediterranean basin are expected to intensify.

The impact of drought on Turkey was clearly visible in the drought status reports provided by the State Meteorological Service in July 2021. The prevalence of ‘extraordinarily arid’ and ‘severely arid’ regions is especially noteworthy in the drought assessment for the 12-month period between October 2020 and September 2021.[2]

The Standardized Precipitation Index (SPI) was designed to quantify the precipitation deficit for multiple timescales. These timescales reflect the impact of drought on the availability of different water resources. Soil moisture conditions respond to precipitation anomalies on a relatively short scale. Groundwater, streamflow and reservoir storage reflect the longer-term precipitation anomalies. For these reasons, McKee and others (1993) originally calculated the SPI for timescales of 3, 6, 12, 24 and 48 months.[3] Twelve months of meteorological drought in Turkey using the SPI method is shown in Map 1.

drought in Turkey - Water Challenges in Turkey
Map 1: Twelve months of meteorological drought, according to the Standardized Precipitation Index method. Source: Fanack Water

Inefficient water use and management

In Turkey, 73% of the water resources are used for irrigation. Conventional irrigation methods are still the norm on most agricultural lands, leading to a great deal of water loss.[4] Agricultural water use also pollutes surface and groundwater resources. Water pollutants can take the form of sediment, plant nutrition, soluble salts, agricultural chemicals, toxic elements and pathogens. Chemicals delivered with the irrigation water, fertilizers and pesticides also pose a pollution threat.

As a result, it is critical to use water efficiently and effectively. Studies are being conducted to assess the potential of water resources and to use water for multiple purposes by constructing storage facilities. Efforts are also underway to bring renewal projects to the forefront in order to prevent water losses in existing irrigation systems, to eliminate drainage challenges that influence soil quality and to promote the use of modern closed irrigation systems instead of traditional open irrigation networks.

Uncontrolled use of groundwater resources in the regions with insufficient surface water (rivers and lakes) represents another challenge. Despite the legal regulations on wells, the use of illegal wells for groundwater extraction is unlikely to stop unless sanctions and inspections improve. Groundwater resources are subject to intense use for agricultural purposes. Due to overextraction, most of the groundwater resources are threatened with extinction.[4]

Insufficient precipitation and the uncontrolled use of groundwater for irrigation is posing a similar threat to surface water resources. Meke Lake in Konya and Seyfe Lake in Kırşehir, for instance, have nearly dried up. According to the DSİ, 14 lakes have so far been wiped off the map. They are Kayseri Yay, Çöl, Lake Engir, Hatay Amik, Konya Akşehir, Eber, Akgöl, Lake Hotamış and Yunak, Lake Simav in Kütahya, Lake Gölcük in İzmir, Lake Ece in Çanakkale, Lake Sera in Trabzon and Lake Avlan in Antalya. Activities to rehabilitate and conserve the lakes that are at risk of drying out are carried out by the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry.[4]

Dependence on water for energy production

In 2021, hydroelectricity accounted for 32% of Turkey’s total electricity generation capacity, while it has a 60% share of renewable energy installed power.[5]

Between 2016 and 2020, Turkey’s annual average growth in hydropower installed capacity was 1.8%. In 2020, Turkey had the second highest growth in installed capacity in the world with 2.5 gigawatts (GW), behind China with 13.8 GW.[6]

Turkey’s renewable energy capacity has increased by 50% in the last five years. The country had the fifth highest amount of new renewable capacity additions in Europe in 2019 and the 15th highest globally. Even so, Turkey only uses about 3% of its solar potential and 15% of its onshore wind potential.[7]

Figure 1: Top 10 countries by new installed hydropower capacity in 2020 (MW) – (Source: International Hydropower Association, 2021)[6]


According to the results of the drought assessment prepared by the General Directorate of Meteorology under the Ministry of Environment, Urbanization and Climate Change for periods of 3, 6, 9 and 12 months, 2021 was the driest year in the last 20 years and the second driest year in 41 years. For many years, Turkey’s average water/agricultural year precipitation was 574 mm. In 2021, it was 465.5 mm.[8]

[1] TÜİK (Turkish Statistical Institute), 2021. Water and wastewater statistics.
[2] Ministry of Environment, Urbanization and Climate Change, 2022. Meteorological drought according to Standardized Precipitation Index (SPI) method 3-month evaluation.
[3] WMO (World Meteorological Organization), 2012. Standardized Precipitation Index user guide. WMO No. 1090, p.10.
[4] DSİ (Devlet Su İşleri), 2022. www.dsi.gov.tr.
[5] AA, 2021. ‘Turkey is among the top 10 countries in the world in hydroelectric installed power.’ Published 1 September 2021.
[6] IHA, 2021. Hydropower Status Report – Sector trends and insights.
[7] IEA, 2021. ‘Turkey’s success in renewables is helping diversify its energy mix and increase its energy security.’ Press release published 11 March 2021.
[8] Iklim Haber, 2021. ‘Turkey’s drought map has been made: Eastern and South-eastern Anatolia region sounds alarm.’ Published 20 December 2021.