Water of the Middle East and North Africa

What Does the Future Hold for Water in Turkey?

Istanbul - Water in Turkey
Photo 1: Istanbul. Source: Levent Simsek

It is worrying that the meteorological drought in Turkey might lead to hydrological drought and will continue to affect water resources in the coming years. Water resources are also the first to suffer from climate change. According to the findings of the climate change projection studies carried out for Turkey, the annual average temperature increase is predicted to range between 1°C and 2°C for the 2016-2040 period, between 1.5°C and 4°C for the 2041-2070 period and between 1.5°C and 5°C for the 2071-2099 period. According to certain forecasts, the temperature rise over the final 30 years of this century (2071-2100) will be 3°C in the winter and 8°C in the summer.[1] This change will probably also have a negative impact on Turkey’s water budget and increase the country’s water stress.

It is essential to take immediate steps to prevent potential water shortages. Thus, demand-oriented rather than supply-oriented management should be the focus. Demand-oriented management ensures the efficient use of water resources by limiting demand and introducing institutional, economic and administrative incentives to save water. It is essential for water resources management to be flexible and effective enough to adapt to changing climate conditions, dry spells and new precipitation patterns.

In Turkey, some 40% of water in municipal water systems is lost when conveying water from resource to households. Old and damaged water mains should be repaired or replaced to minimize this loss. With drought putting additional pressure on rising urban water needs, the problem of meeting the water demand could become critical. When the dams that were constructed to provide drinking water prove insufficient, water is conveyed from various basins to cities such as Istanbul and Ankara. During the inter-basin transfers, calculating the water need of the donor basin should be one of the most important criteria. Equally, it is essential for the sustainability of inter-basin water transfer projects to be integrated with environmental, agricultural, social and economic policies.[2]

Groundwater is mainly used in agricultural irrigation. Water-saving techniques such as sprinkle and drip irrigation should be encouraged to increase efficiency. Water losses are far higher in conventional surface irrigation. In recent years, farmers have been given various incentives and means to adopt water-saving irrigation techniques. This is a major step, but the effective implementation of such techniques also requires monitoring and evaluation.

Non-conventional water resources such as rainwater harvesting and wastewater reuse are also gaining importance. There is no doubt that a key factor in preventing water losses and ensuring water efficiency are water users themselves. Raising awareness of Turkey’s limited water resources and encouraging each person and household to play their part in saving water is key to securing Turkey’s water future. Raising awareness can be achieved through knowledge sharing and educational projects carried out by private or governmental organizations, the media and schools.

Turkey has taken important water management and policy steps in recent years. The Ministry of Forestry and Water Affairs was established in 2011. The General Directorate of Water Management, which falls under the ministry, is responsible for creating policies to better utilize water resources as well as developing a national and international water management policy. This General Directorate was established to gather the fragmented water management structure under a single roof. As a candidate for EU membership, Turkey has been required to integrate the EU Water Framework Directive into its water-related policies and legislation since 2009. As part of the process of harmonization with this directive, the General Directorate has been carrying out a capacity development project to establish an effective monitoring system for water quality, preparing river basin protection action plans, and determining specific provisions for capacity building to implement the EU Flood Directive.

More recently, a proposal to prepare a new water law was tabled. As the Law on Water (1926) is unable to meet existing needs, a new law is deemed necessary to address the conflict between authority and responsibility, the gaps in water-related legislation, the growing population, urbanization and the assessment of water in terms of both quantity and quality. As of 2021, the new law had been drafted and opened for review and discussion. Before its presentation to parliament, the aim is to further reinforce the implementation of the EU Water Framework Directive while meeting Turkey’s domestic needs.

The Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Forestry and Water Affairs were merged in 2018 when Turkey transitioned to a presidential system. Water-related issues and water management now fall under the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry.

[1] Ministry of Environment and Urbanization Directorate General of Environmental, 2020. Impact Assessment, Permit and Inspection, 6th State of The Environment Report of Turkey. Ankara, Turkey, p. 84.
[2] Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, 2019. National Water Plan (2019-2023), p. 44.