According to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the Earth has existed for approximately 5 billion years and has experienced countless events during this period.
However, the developments in the last three centuries, in particular, have led to an unprecedented transformation in the history of the world and it is humankind itself that has initiated this enormous transformation.
Humans have constantly tried to make life easier to a certain extent, but these human-made advancements have increased the pressure being put on nature.
Accordingly, with the ongoing nature of science, the world has entered a new era. I previously mentioned in this column that scientists call this an era of intense human domination "the Anthropocene," also known as “The Human Age.”
Disasters such as the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change and a lack of water and food are essentially natural consequences that have emerged as a result of this new era.
In another word, the delicate balance of nature has been disrupted. Water, our life source, is nature's most hard-hit resource.
Population growth, industrialization and a change in consumption trends have created new sectors that require vast amounts of water. According to World Bank data, while global water use stood at 670 billion cubic meters (bcm) at the beginning of the 20th century, today it has exceeded the value of 4 trillion cubic meters with an approximately six-fold increase.
According to the United Nations' World Water Development 2020 Report, water use increases by at least 1% every year. Therefore, an increase of more than 30% of today's use is expected by 2050. Undoubtedly, the ever-growing population rates will continue to jeopardize water resources.
Water is a spring of life on Earth. The miraculous fluid bestowed by the supreme creator is fundamental to all ecosystems. It is not only a substance that holds nutrients but also a valuable product that we use in many areas such as agriculture, industry, energy production and transportation.
It is a unique blessing that serves as a natural air conditioner that refreshes our world, with the evaporation of 1 trillion tons per day, just as we cool off with a glass of water on a hot day.
According to NASA data, 71% of the Earth is covered with water. This statistic is why we think we have plenty of water, but it does not reflect the reality of the situation.
Consumable fresh water constitutes only 3% of all the water resources on Earth.
Moreover, fresh water is not evenly distributed around the world. Of the vast majority of usable fresh water, 67% of it is in glaciers and 30% is in unreachable underground aquifers.
The remaining amount of usable quality water is six liters per thousand liters of all the Earth's water. Nevertheless, we are facing a great threat: The threat of drought.
The severe effects of this alarming threat are simultaneously bolstering climate change. Dry regions become drier while humid regions become more humid. Therefore, evaporation takes place more frequently and exacerbates the drought threat.
We can briefly define drought as an out-of-the-ordinary lack of rainfall in a particular region. It may differ depending on the weather conditions of certain regions.
For instance, for the tropical island of Bali, a period of six days without rain is considered as the limit for drought while in the Libyan Desert annual precipitation below 20 centimeters is classified as a drought.
Overall, there are three main types of droughts. The first of these is the meteorological drought caused by a decrease in precipitation.
The second is agricultural drought which occurs when the moisture level in soil decreases and plants cannot access enough water.
The third kind is a hydrological drought which is the result of a decrease in surface water resources, deterioration in flow regimes and a decrease in groundwater levels.
This is the type of drought that is the most difficult to compensate for. It can only be overcome if precipitation occurs much higher than usual over a period of several years.
Drought is a globally recognized meteorological disaster. While many disasters imply preliminary indications, it is safe to say that drought is highly insidious.
In comparison with various types of disasters such as floods, landslides and avalanches, the consequences of drought affect broader areas and last longer.
Although drought is a natural disaster, what we are dealing with today is a human-made catastrophe that is occurring due to inefficient water use and management.
One of the major threats it poses is that it limits access to healthy and safe water. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 55 million people around the world are affected by drought every year.
Droughts are also linked to increased rates of death and diseases, which in turn cause mass migration. According to United Nations evaluations, more than 700 million people are expected to migrate due to drought in 2030.
Furthermore, drought indirectly increases the number of fires and causes the dissipation of heatwaves and invasive species across continents.
Likewise, its economic effects are also undeniable. For example, it is the most detrimental natural disaster after hurricanes in the United States. The average financial impact of each drought incident is $9.6 billion (TL 78.24 billion).
Lack of water is not only a problem intrinsic to developing countries. Rather, it is essential to all humans across the globe.
According to WHO data, one out of nine people in the world does not have access to healthy and safe water.
Besides, water is fundamental for sustaining life among all ecosystems which makes drought a critical problem to vegetation and fauna as well. It is, therefore, crucial to value each drop of water and find ways to recycle it.
Currently, Turkey is also facing problems with water management. The amount of water allocated per person is 1,500 cubic meters, which can be classified as a water shortage.
If the water consumption ratio remains the same, the amount of water per capita is estimated to decrease to 1,300 cubic meters in 2023 and 1,100 cubic meters per capita in 2030.
In the case of this amount falling below 1,000 cubic meters, the country will be categorized as "water poor." Thus, Turkey is surely facing this threat.
According to sources from the Turkish state-run State Hydraulic Works (DSI), Turkey's total water reserve is around 112 bcms.
However, the country can only utilize approximately 57 bcms of this based on available facilities. Turkey uses most of this water in agriculture. Proportionally, this value is around 74%.
The country uses half of the remaining water for industry and the other half for domestic use.
However, in developed countries, the rates differ greatly. For example, in North America and Europe, the rate of water used for agricultural purposes (the area with the greatest water loss) is around 40%.
Droughts, which have been experienced in Turkey at various times, such as in 1974, 1984 and 2008, will soon be a regular occurrence. Especially in the last decade, there has been a serious decrease in precipitation in many regions. Along with the increase in agricultural activities and unconscious irrigation among other things, major reductions in groundwater levels in certain regions have been observed.
The global problem of climate change is one of the major factors that trigger this risk. According to evaluations from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the Mediterranean Basin, where Turkey is located, is one of the areas expected to be affected the most by climate change.
According to data from the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), the years 2020 and 2016, were the hottest on record.
Moreover, according to NASA records, the five-year period from 2015 was the hottest five-year period ever recorded since the beginning of recording temperatures.
Likewise, according to European Union Climate Change Service Copernicus (C3S) assessment, November 2020 went down in history as the hottest November ever recorded, while January 2021 was also noted in history as the sixth hottest January ever.
Turkey is naturally affected by all of these events as well. The latest maps issued by the General Directorate of Meteorology show that Turkey is facing a severe drought risk.
As indicated on the maps, there was a 53% decrease in precipitation compared to last year. Some provinces like northwestern Edirne experienced a 90% decrease. The flow rates in rivers such as Meriç and Tunca were relatively low.
Dams in many provinces are at alarming levels. The water levels in the megacity Istanbul's dams have seen their lowest levels in the last 15-year period according to Istanbul Water and Sewerage Administration (ISKI) records.
The low water levels in the dams of the western Çanakkale province have also reached a critical point.
Accordingly, the Çanakkale governorship restricted activities such as the unnecessary washing of vehicles and carpets. A similar situation occurred in the capital Ankara, where almost no rainfall was experienced in the autumn. The authorities of the city called on citizens to be cautious.
One of the implications of climate change is excessive rainfall. Turkey has frequently experienced these rain spells in recent years.
The short-term heavy rainfall that brought life to a standstill and cost two citizens their lives in February in the beautiful western city Izmir, is an obvious indicator of climate change.
Over the past winter, temperatures were far above seasonal norms.
While it makes citizens happy, it also brings concerns that drought could be looming.
However, drought is not an isolated problem, it also brings other issues with it.
It is obvious that it will cause hard-to-compensate problems in the areas of health, economy, agriculture and food.
Unfortunately, if the drought continues, it will inevitably harm the rich biodiversity and unique beauty of the wetlands, which are home to numerous species.
The risk of losing Lake Meke in the central province of Konya, the city called "the World’s Evil Eye," is one example.
Furthermore, meteorological drought is causing yield loss in dry farming areas in Turkey.
In the coming months, there is a risk of hydrological drought due to the decrease in the flow rate in groundwater and rivers.
Almost all farmers in Turkey have sown seeds in dry soil this year. This will have a significant impact on yield, raw materials and food prices.
Turkey needs to take immediate measures to combat agricultural drought.
Problems to do with water, air and climate all have a global impact. In another word, it is crucial to bear in mind that we are part of a global system.
That means when a problem occurs in one place, it simultaneously affects another part.
The COVID-19 pandemic is one undesirable example of this as it started originated in one corner of the globe and rapidly spread worldwide.
In this respect, water accounting and monitoring regulations, which include many parameters such as the determination of water resources on a national and local basis, current situations, usage areas and rates, are a priority issue in Turkey.
Likewise, an independent and holistic "Water Law" is an advancement that must be made. Gathering water-related administrations under a single roof to prevent multi-headed water management is another step that should be taken.
Utilizing alternative water resources is another notable strategy. With the legislative arrangement made by the Environment and Urbanization Ministry in the "Planned Areas Zoning Regulation" on Jan. 23, it is now compulsory to establish a rainwater collection system in new buildings with an area of more than 2000 square meters.
This step, which protects the country's natural water resources, has been made compulsory for smaller parcels by the relevant municipalities as well.
It is also necessary to develop and expand additional resources that will protect the main water resources and allow the reuse of wastewater.
Today’s technology is advanced enough to do so. Currently, 1.7% of the wastewater generated in Turkey is recovered and reused in suitable areas such as green area irrigation and industrial cooling.
Turkey is getting closer to the so-called "zero-day" when local governments will no longer be able to supply water. The country should always bear this in mind.
There are certain responsibilities that are incumbent on Turkish citizens. The most significant of these is the changing of consumption habits.
Turning to foods or services with a lower water footprint may be one of the preferred practices. We can also keep in mind that the water footprint of a coffee cup (which is worth 40 years of respect as a well-known Turkish idiom says) is 140 liters and if we choose to add a little milk to it, the water footprint increases to 210 liters.
Likewise, 1 gram of beef requires 112 liters of water and while it is an essential protein needed for our health, we can obtain that same protein from an egg and reduce our water footprint four-fold to 29 liters.
However, there are also plant-based sources. If we choose to obtain 1 gram of protein from plant-derived legumes, our water footprint is only 19 liters. This will make a great contribution to the fight against climate change while protecting our water resources.
We all want to leave a mark on life, an unforgettable trace. The imprint we leave in the world should be big, but our footprint should be small.
We should always keep in mind the momentous saying of the Prophet Muhammad to "avoid wasting when performing ablution, even if you are by the river."
*Deputy Minister of the Republic of Turkey's Ministry of Environment and Urbanization, chief climate change envoy
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