Water of the Middle East and North Africa

Water Management in Turkey

Lake Van, Ozkan Bilgin - Water Management in Turkey
Photo 1: Flamingos fly on Lake Van. Source: Ozkan Bilgin/ Anadolu Agency via AFP

In accordance with Article 168 of the 1982 Constitution, ‘natural wealth and resources’ shall be placed under the control of and put at the disposal of the state. The right to explore and exploit natural resources belongs to the state. Consequently, many organizations are directly focused on water or indirectly related to the development and protection of water resources in Turkey.

Water resources projects are mainly financed by the public sector. However, the budgets allocated for these projects do not always fully cover the costs. Due to the substantial investment required for such projects, private sector participation has gained in importance. Since 1993, 1.75 million ha, which is equivalent to 81% of the total surface area operated by the DSİ, has been transferred to the users, such as individual farmers or farmer cooperatives who use the water for irrigation.[1]

In 2018, Turkey transitioned from a parliamentary to a presidential system. Subsequently, several ministries merged and water management became the responsibility of the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry.[2] The ministry is the principal institution for policy creation and implementation in the areas of water resources protection, development and use. The ministry’s primary responsibilities include ensuring water management coordination, preparing river basin management plans, developing measures and setting objectives and environmental standards for water management and protection, as well as developing strategies and policies for flood risks through flood management plans.

The State Hydraulic Works (DSİ) is the national investment agency responsible for the development of water resources at the national level. It is a legal body under the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry. Large-scale hydraulic facilities (such as dams, transmission lines, irrigation and flood control structures) are planned and built by the DSİ, then transferred to the appropriate organizations, such as water and sewerage administrations and irrigation unions, for operation and maintenance. The DSİ is also in charge of the development of hydropower projects and the implementation of flood-prevention measures.

The Ministry of Environment, Urbanization and Climate Change oversees environmental protection and enhancement. This ministry establishes environmental pollution prevention and protection concepts and policies, develops criteria and standards, and prepares appropriate initiatives. It also coordinates climate change negotiations as well as adaptation and mitigation programmes.

The Bank of Provinces (İlbank), which is associated with the above ministry, provides funding for local government investments. For instance, İlbank has completed the financing of 5.8 billion lira projects in the municipal infrastructure sector for 15 local governments using the blending model. This combines a 198 million euro loan from the World Bank and the French Development Agency with a 355 million euro grant from the EU. The project will improve 3 million people’s access to water, and 4.5 million people will benefit from improved water treatment services. In addition, 2.5 million people will be provided with improved solid waste services, and 22 MCM of drinking water will be saved every year by strengthening the infrastructure with environmentally friendly projects. There will be 95 MCM of wastewater processed.[3]

To safeguard and improve public health, the Ministry of Health has specific duties related to drinking water and bathing water quality.

The Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources is in charge of protecting and developing geothermal sources and natural mineral waters, as well as developing hydropower projects in collaboration with the DSİ.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs follows the global agenda regarding water and monitors and participates in processes related to water, especially transboundary waters. Transboundary waters are handled by the Transboundary Waters department within the ministry.

Local governments are overseen by the Ministry of Interior, which also has the authority to audit local governments regarding malpractice. Water delivery to non-metropolitan rural areas is the responsibility of Special Provincial Administrations linked to the ministry. The Disaster and Emergency Management Authority, which is part of the ministry, manages flood response in partnership with the DSİ.

Given that industrial water demand accounts for 13% of overall consumption, the Ministry of Industry and Technology plays a major role in industrial water and wastewater management. Its tasks include developing and promoting the reuse of treated wastewater, implementing actions and establishing incentive mechanisms, evaluating sectoral ‘water footprints’, studies and plans regarding remote sensing, sensors and informatics applications to conduct research on the use, benefits and development aspects of remote sensing. The ministry is also responsible for the repair, maintenance and adjustment of water meters.

The Presidency of Strategy and Budget oversees preparing the national investment programme and allocating financial resources from the central budget. It also provides development plans and budgets, as well as projects and plans including water resources.

Basin-wide management

In terms of basin management, the method established and adopted in Turkey is to manage all natural resources on a basin-wide basis in an integrated manner, through coordination of essential authorities and stakeholder participation. As displayed in the Water Resources section, Turkey has 25 hydrological basins. Recent reforms have been implemented to achieve basin-scale water resources management.

One of the mandates of the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, through the General Directorate (GD) of Water Management, as the principal institution in this regard, is to conduct the necessary coordination for the planning and implementation of river basin management plans.[4] The GD of Water Management has prepared river basin protection action plans and river basin management plans for every basin.[5]

Due to its geographical location in the eastern Mediterranean, Turkey has been classified as a high-risk country in terms of the effects of climate change. Drought and flood seasons are influenced by changes in seasonal temperature and precipitation distributions. Consequently, the GD of Water Management has also prepared flood and drought plans for all water basins.[6]

[1] Mediterranean Hydrological Cycle Observing System, n.d. Water resources development in Turkey.
[2] Turkish Water Institute (SUEN), 2021. Water governance in Turkey, p. 8-9.
[3] İlbank, 2021. ‘İlbank and local governments sub-finance agreement signed.’ Published 7 July 2021.
[4] Ministry of Forestry and Water Affairs, 2014. National Basin Management Strategy (2014-2023). Ankara, Turkey.
[5] General Directorate of Water Management, n.d. www.tarimorman.gov.tr/SYGM.
[6] Ibid.