Though the mayors of several cities have vowed their provinces will not face water shortages this summer, experts warn many regions in Turkey will be hit by a drought at least as severe as last year's.
"May is the last month during which Turkey receives precipitation. Not much rain falls during the summer months. Keeping in mind that Turkey didn't receive much rain or snow last winter, we can say that a hot and dry summer awaits us," says Professor Orhan Şen from İstanbul Technical University's (İTÜ) meteorology department.
Şen, in a phone interview with Today's Zaman, noted that summer temperatures in the Mediterranean, Aegean, Central Anatolia and Marmara regions were expected to be above seasonal levels. "Eastern and southeastern Turkey will be struck by equally severe drought. Not much rain or snow fell during the fall and winter in these regions. Water levels in dams and reservoirs are at worrying levels," he warned.
Turkey experienced abnormally hot and dry days last summer, with water levels dropping to alarmingly low levels and several cities experiencing frequent water cuts. Worried that Turkey may be hit by another wave of drought, authorities have sought ways to handle the country's water shortage problem.
"Though Turkey received a satisfactory amount of rain this autumn, it received less than the expected precipitation levels in the winter. Rainfall during April and early May did not bring much change to dam levels because it fed the soil. The soil is generally in great need of water during spring, as nature starts to wake up from a long winter's sleep," said Şen. Murat Türkeş, a professor at Onsekiz Mart University's geography department, maintained there had been a gradual decline in the amount of precipitation in Turkey since 1970.
"There has been significant decrease in the amount of rain that falls in winter months. On the other hand, there has been a considerable increase in rainfall received throughout spring. But spring rains do not improve levels of water reservoirs because they are generally in the form of showers. Showers do not feed water sources. Rather, they lead to erosion and floods," he said.
"It doesn't seem possible to eliminate this drought in the short run. Some of our regions may receive short-term intense rainfall, but it doesn't mean that the threat of drought will disappear soon. We need to receive long-term rain and snowfall if we wish to do away with this threat. If Turkey doesn't receive the expected amount of rainfall during May, it means we will face a hard, dry summer," Türkeş also said.
According to the Human Development Report (HDR) published by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) last December, Turkey is among the five regions at great risk in terms of impact of global warming and climate change.
The report, on climate change and ways to fight its negative effects, asserted that climate change would affect developing countries more than others. It said the poor would face the immediate, most severe effects. "The cost of fighting climate change will be less than two-thirds of global military spending in 2006," the report said.
İTÜ's Şen said average water levels were around 42 percent of capacity in Turkey's dams overall as of the start of May.
"This figure was around 52 percent last May. This means there is a 10 percent decrease in water levels in Turkey's dams. These levels will continue to drop in the coming days, for two reasons. First of all, as the summer months approach weather gets warmer -- and warm weather causes the water in dams to evaporate. It is estimated that there will be a further 20 percent decrease in water levels at dams because of evaporation. Secondly, as the weather gets hot, people consume more water. Water levels in some dams last summer dropped below 7 percent of capacity. We fear they may drop even lower this summer," he cautioned.
Concern over drought in İstanbul
İstanbul Waterworks Authority (İSKİ) Director-General Mevlüt Vural has said water levels in İstanbul's dams had increased thanks to recent precipitation in the city -- but added the levels were much higher last spring.
Vural, in an interview with the Anatolia news agency earlier this month, said if İstanbul did not receive the expected amount of rainfall in the coming few weeks, it would face a dry summer.
"Water levels in İstanbul's reservoirs will only meet our citizens' water needs until July. If the expected rain doesn't fall by the end of May, it will spell disaster for İstanbul. We will have to face a drier summer than last year," he warned. Vural also called on İstanbul denizens to refrain from wasting water.
According to a news article published in the Milliyet daily last week, there are currently 368 million cubic meters of water in dams in İstanbul, compared to last May's figure of 423 million cubic meters.
The highest amount of water among İstanbul's dams is at present found in Terkos Dam, with 132 million cubic meters. Terkos is followed by Ömerli Dam at 90 million, Büyükçekmece with 74 million, Darlık at 37 million and Sazlıdere Dam with 17 million cubic meters. Around 2 million cubic meters of water are released daily for use in the city.
However, there is a more optimistic panorama in terms of water levels in reservoirs in western cities such as Aydın, Muğla and Denizli. Halil İbrahim İndap, a State Waterworks Authority (DSİ) official, recently announced that the water levels at these cities' dams were better than last year.
"There were a total of 804 million cubic meters of water in the Aydın, Muğla and Denizli dams last month. The [combined] water level at these dams in April 2007 was around 689 million cubic meters. This means water levels are currently around 41 percent of capacity in these dams, whereas they were around 35 percent at the same time last year," he said.
Water transfer, a remedy for water scarcity?
The Turkey branch of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), an environmentalist organization, criticizes plans to supply urban areas with water from basins elsewhere, saying this damages the ecology of both the receiving and supplying regions, that much water is lost during this method of transfer and it should therefore only be considered a last resort.
İTÜ's Şen, however, disagrees. He says it is not unusual to lose a certain amount when transferring water from one place to another.
"The water is carried through pipes and thus there is not much loss during its transfer. You need to undertake the risk of losing a certain amount while supplying some areas with water from basins elsewhere. İstanbul doesn't have any water source from which to supply its denizens with [required amounts of] water. Water basins and precipitation received are far from meeting İstanbulites' needs. We need to find alternative water sources for this city. The Melen River project is one of them," he noted.
The Melen River project is expected to provide İstanbulites with an extra 268 million cubic meters of water a year, making the city's water situation more manageable.
Buket Bakar Dıvrak, the program director for WWF Turkey's Water Resource Program, stressed that 72 percent of water consumption in Turkey is used in irrigation, 18 percent in homes and 10 percent for industrial purposes.
Dıvrak told Today's Zaman 55 percent of water sent to homes through pipes is lost even before reaching faucets.
"Individuals, public institutions, private companies and municipalities should take action to renew the water infrastructure to prevent this water loss. Our society should become more conscious about drought and our water resources," she noted.
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