Turkey faces serious water problem and food inflation amidst pandemic

Dams across Turkey are reporting record low water levels due to lack of precipitation, leakage in water supply pipelines, and a 14 percent increase in water usage due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

K. Murat Yıldız / Duvar English

The water levels in dams’ across Turkey are at record lows due to the lack of precipitation, leakage in water supply pipelines, and a 14 percent increase in water usage due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to data provided by the Istanbul Water and Sewerage Administration (ISKI), Istanbul dam’s water level is at a record low. Similar data came from Ankara’s Water and Sewerage Administration (ASKI). Statistics available through Turkey’s state data portal indicate that a number dams' water levels in Ankara are as low as 7.2 percent full.

As ASKI announced that the water level of Ankara dams was only 20.91 percent on January 5th, Ankara’s Mayor Mansur Yavaş tweeted that the city only has enough water for another 110 days, also stating that the city is planning a gradual price increase for monthly water bills of 10 cubic meters or higher.

Similarly ISKI stated that the dams and ponds which source İstanbul's water supply are only 19.62 percent full. According to expert calculations, including those of the Union of Chambers of Turkish Engineers and Architects (TMMOB), the city only has enough water for another 45 days, or at best two months.

Regarding the problem, Istanbul mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu said, “We have to be careful and save water. I am calling on citizens to be more cautious while using water and not use it in excessive amounts.”

Turkey may face a major water problems in summer of 2021

According to experts, if this lack of precipitation continues, Turkey will face major water problems next summer. The official government data indicates a precipitation rate drop of 53 percent on average and a drop of 11 percent compared to the previous year.

The Turkish Foundation for Combating Soil Erosion (TEMA) prepared a draft law on the issue and presented it to parliament. Among several other propositions, TEMA is calling for increased water efficiency in agricultural production, as 74 percent of Turkey’s water is used for agriculture, a large amount of which is wasted due to inefficient methods.

Majority of Turks worried about climate change

According to a survey from Turkish polling firm KONDA titled “The Perception of Climate Change in Turkey 2019,” 50 percent of Turks said they already feel the effects of climate change and more than 70 percent say they believe floods and droughts have increased not only in Turkey but worldwide due to climate change. In a more recent KONDA poll, 51.5 percent of respondents said that they believe climate change is a more significant problem than the COVID-19 pandemic.

Risk of food shortage

Farmers and agricultural organizations have said that existing domestically-produced food stocks are only sufficient until next September and that the situation might worsen if there is not enough rain in the coming two weeks.

Water shortage not the only problem

“Other than drought, there is also the risk of frost in our agriculture and there might be a loss of production for certain products due to climate-related issues,” warned İrfan Donat, agricultural editor of Bloomberg HT TV.

“Despite the low water levels in our dams, we have not yet entered the final phase in which agricultural outcomes will be radically effected. Yet, this risk, especially for products such as grain, won’t cease to exist until at least April,” he told Duvar English.

“We had similar problems in the past which led to high food inflation from the impact of drought and frost. I hope that won’t materialize this year. There is already an increase in food prices due to the pandemic and the deterioration of the lira in Turkey. This could worsen things,” Donat pointed out.

Echoing TEMA’s presentation to the parliament, Donat said that, “We remember agricultural water distribution problems only in times like these. This has to change. Only about 20 percent of water is used effectively with modern agricultural methods. There are many official plans and projects but they all remain on paper. They need to materialize. There is a long way to go.”

We should change our habits

Bahattin Yıldız, an internationally-recognized engineer specializing in water, energy, heating, and waste management pointed out that in order to deal with water scarcity the state, the public, and businesses all have responsibilities.

“If we were more careful just with the amount of water we use while brushing our teeth and taking showers that would make a major difference. I know it's relaxing but this not the time to fill the bathtub and relax,” Yıldız told Duvar English.

“It doesn't take rocket science. There are very simple inexpensive devices that households can use to save water. Also, people should avoid cheap water purifiers, as they can lead to up to 70 percent water loss.”

Companies conserving energy and water should be rewarded

“In order to use water more efficiently, because nearly a quarter of the water is lost before reaching the grid due to leaks, electronic monitoring systems should be installed. Companies that save energy and water should be rewarded. The waste water of factories and other facilities should be recycled and reused. The government and municipalities should choose plants that require less water for their landscaping projects,” Yıldız concluded.

Minister downplayed water problem earlier

Although the fear of a water shortage led to a nationwide prayer for rain organized by the Directorate of Religious Affairs (DİB) and an announcement of a plan of action to deal with the issue, the Minister of Agriculture and Forestry Bekir Pakdemirli said in November that he did not expect any water shortages in Istanbul and Ankara.