Adopting new strategies and road maps is a must to curb the impending effects of drought in Turkey and the world…
Drought is an unpredictable natural phenomenon that occurs when precipitation is lower than the average for many years. It can happen anywhere at any time, and it is very difficult to determine its beginning and end.
Long-term dry weather conditions adversely affect forest and water resources because of lack of moisture, leading to damage and the reduction of these resources. After the effects of drought are seen in agriculture, they inevitably impact other sectors dependent on water in a domino effect, directly affecting the economy, environment and social life as well.
There are different types of drought, and they are all related to each other. For example, meteorological drought emerges when the criterion of a decrease in precipitation compared to the average in a certain period is taken into account. However, this type of drought is calculated at different limit values according to the country or region.
Agricultural drought occurs in relation to various features of meteorological drought because it means the water supply is insufficient to support plant growth. This causes a decrease in production and a change in plants. Livestock activities are also adversely affected.
Hydrological drought, another type, is related to groundwater resources, surface water and precipitation. As meteorological drought persists, this type of drought emerges because water resources are not being replenished quickly enough. In this case, there is a sharp drop in groundwater levels and surface water levels.
However, today, we have a new type of drought defined by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) as “megadrought.” Megadrought is a type of drought that is observed over a much larger area than normal, usually for 10 years or more.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO) figures, at least 55 million people worldwide are affected by drought every year. Due to drought, people’s livelihoods are damaged, the risk of disease and death increases, and water and food security are endangered. All these are important factors that trigger mass migrations. All confirm why the drought can be described as a “new pandemic.”
The situation in Turkey
According to the State Hydraulic Works (DSI), the annual amount of usable water per capita in Turkey was 1,652 cubic meters (58,340 cubic feet) in 2000, 1,544 cubic meters in 2009 and 1,346 cubic meters in 2020. Considering the usable water potential per capita, Turkey is among the countries experiencing water stress. For this reason, it is of great importance to use water economically and effectively.
The Mediterranean Basin, which includes Turkey, is considered by the IPCC as one of the most-impacted regions and one of the most sensitive in terms of the effects of climate change.
According to the data from the State Meteorological Service, the amount of precipitation in Turkey continues to decrease every year. A 53% decrease was observed in autumn precipitation in 2020 compared to previous years. In 2020, the lowest rainy autumn of the last 40 years was experienced in the Aegean and the Black Sea regions. These rates show that water resources are in danger of running out. In addition to the longer-than-expected decrease in precipitation, factors such as excessive use of water resources increase the effects of drought.
For this reason, water will become even more important in the future when we evaluate it in the context of the conditions of the region Turkey is in. Therefore, it is vital to take precautions and plan before droughts occur and determine the steps to be taken in the case of a possible drought to minimize its negative effects.
Time to face it
In October 2021, as a result of insufficient rainfall in the Yüksekova district of southeastern Hakkari, drought adversely affected agricultural lands. The severity of the drought, which was last seen 50 years ago, caused approximately 600,000 acres of agricultural land in the district to dry up. As a result, there was a low yield due to dry farmland. The drought also affected livestock in the region since feed crops were also damaged.
In the Konya plain in central Turkey, there has been a growing drought problem in recent years. As a result of the excessive use of groundwater, sinkholes have emerged as a significant threat in the region.
The water has receded 250-300 meters (820-984 feet) in Lake Van, the world’s largest soda lake, in eastern Van province. The main reason for the drop in water level was the decrease in the annual average precipitation in the region and the increased evaporation due to the temperature increases. In addition to these factors, excessively used ground and surface water also triggered the issue.
Drought also emerged as an important issue in Istanbul. According to Istanbul Water and Sewage Administration (ISKI) data, the occupancy rate in Istanbul’s dams is 46%. While this rate was 80% last April, water loss was measured as 10 million cubic meters due to the lack of precipitation. The occupancy rate of Alibeyköy Dam in the metropolis, which was 65% full last April, dropped to 16% in October.
Due to the drought in western Edirne, the Tunca River, one of the important water resources of the region, fell to its lowest level in recent years. Used for the irrigation of thousands of decares of cultivated land, sand islets have even emerged in particularly shallow sections of the river. In 2021, the drought not only affected the above-mentioned areas but also some 41 provinces in the country.
Effects of climate change
NASA data has revealed that by 2030, the entire Mediterranean Basin will experience severe drought. With the effect of climate change, new climate norms have begun to emerge, and shifts in climate belts and displacements in regional impact areas have also been observed. In the future, with the shift of the high-pressure belt in the subtropics to northern regions, a large part of Turkey will be facing a drier, hotter climate.
Atmospheric conditions, geographical location and climatic conditions heavily affect the occurrence of drought in Turkey. According to IPCC reports, temperatures in the European region, including Turkey, are expected to increase more and more rapidly in different warming scenarios of 1.5, 2 and 4 degrees Celsius (1.8, 3.6 and 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit). Accordingly, it is stated that hydrological, agricultural and ecological droughts in the Mediterranean basin will intensify.
The drought status reports published by the State Meteorological Service in July 2021 clearly showed the impact of the drought on Turkey. In the drought assessment for the 12-month period between October 2020 and September 2021, the density of “extraordinarily arid” and “severely arid” regions is especially significant.
For these reasons, effective management of water resources and an accurate assessment of the effects of global climate change on Turkey have become more important than ever.
When the projections for Turkey are evaluated in general, they show an increase in average temperatures and a decrease in precipitation by 2100. This means that there will be a decrease in water levels and as a result, the water in reservoirs will decrease.
If the drought in Turkey continues, food prices will inevitably increase in 2022 due to the production crisis in the agricultural sector.
Innovative solutions for irrigation
In Turkey, the use of water in agriculture and animal husbandry is quite high. There are different types of irrigation, but it is very important to use drip irrigation and underground drip irrigation techniques. It is necessary to develop innovative irrigation solutions because the irrigation systems where water is used abundantly and openly even in regions with high evaporation, known as wild irrigation, are no longer sustainable. In irrigation with open channel systems, at least 20% of the water is lost due to evaporation. The dissemination of drought-resistant species in agriculture is another important measure.
In this context, a number of important measures were envisaged in the Drought Action Plan prepared by the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, such as the construction of 150 underground dams in Turkey and the launch of campaigns to encourage citizens to save water. In addition, it was also aimed to reduce the loss and theft rate, which reaches 35%-37% in local governments.
The First Water Council, convened in October to take these goals to the next level, produced very important results.
The new road map for water use
At the First Water Council, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan stated that a Water Efficiency Strategy Document and a Basin-Based Water Efficiency Action Plan would be prepared in line with the correct use of water resources.
Other important actions announced in the final declaration of the Water Council are as follows. The water loss in municipal drinking water systems will be reduced from 35% to below 25%. This will be followed by full cost-based water and wastewater pricing by 2023. Social and fair water tariffs will be determined and low-income households will be assisted.
Another important step is to create legislation by 2023 requiring the use of wastewater in agriculture after treatment within the scope of the European Green Consensus and to support the basin-based approach in water management.
Water law in line with EU legislation will also be put into effect as soon as possible.
Water management plans will be completed in 25 basins, and sectoral water use decisions will be determined accordingly.
In line with the protection and monitoring of our underground and surface water resources in terms of quality and quantity, inter-institutional cooperation will be strengthened and a national water information system will be developed.
In line with the Paris Agreement, of which Turkey is a party, efforts to adapt to climate change will be discussed, and the impact of climate change on the country’s water resources will be analyzed.
An approach toward the transition from crisis management to risk management will be adopted by developing flood and drought forecasting and early warning systems.
Modern irrigation systems will be developed in agriculture and product selection will be made according to the water potential in the basins.
The necessary legislation will be developed to ensure that the country’s dams are secured against hazards such as earthquakes, and necessary measures will be taken to extend the economic life of existing dams.
The planning and construction of underground dams and groundwater artificial recharge structures will be accelerated.
The use of meteorological data in city plans and agricultural activities will be increased to take precautionary measures against disasters due to climate change.
R&D studies will be supported in relation to water usage.
As a result, through vital actions such as these determined in the final declaration of the Water Council, there are important actions that will not only impact the present but also the future of Turkey for the protection of water as a natural resource and economic activities, the environment, our social structure and Turkey’s national security. A road map has been established.
Societies should plan for their future by learning from the past. Historically, those that managed their water correctly were strong and enjoyed prosperous conditions. Amid today’s climate crisis, effective management of water has become more important than ever for Turkey, which is located in fragile geography, especially considering the negative effects of climate change.
By Mehmet Emin Birpınar,
Deputy Minister of the Republic of Turkey’s Ministry of Environment and Urbanization, chief climate change envoy