In Turkey's agricultural hub Konya, a vast plain where thousands of farmers earn a living, a silent threat is rising. Sinkholes emerging in the middle of fields disrupt the cultivation of crops, and experts are concerned about the future of the fertile soil stretching across the heartland of Turkey. Some 325 sinkholes have formed in recent years in the Konya Plain, and along with geological factors, they are linked to uncontrolled use of underground water.
Uncontrolled use of water for irrigation since the 1970s led to a decline in underground water levels, giving rise to the formation of sinkholes as deep as 150 meters. Officials started an awareness campaign among farmers and warned about possible new sinkholes. İhsan Bostancı, who heads a regional development agency for the Konya Plain, said farmers tend to grow crops needing more water, and this in turn increased the need for irrigation. "Underground water levels dropped 30 meters in 30 years," Bostancı told Anadolu Agency (AA), noting that it drops one meter ever year, triggering new sinkholes, though he adds that lowering water levels is not the only factor in the formation of sinkholes. Bostancı said they work on rehabilitating irrigation systems in the region to prevent water losses and fund pressurized irrigation system in an area of 120,000 hectares. "We saved about 250 million cubic meters of water annually thanks to new irrigation systems," he added.
Professor Fetullah Arık, a geological engineering expert, said Turkey was not rich in terms of freshwater and the Konya Plain receives about 320 millimeters of rainfall per square meter every year. "The ongoing drought and increasing underground water use leads to a decline in water. Sinkholes have been natural phenomena for thousands of years, but they increased lately. In the first two months of this year, we saw the formation of six sinkholes in the region, and there were more than 20 last year," he said. "People cultivate corn and similar crops needing more and more water, and we detected widespread illegal use of underground water. Only 40,000 out of 140,000 water wells are licensed. This is an emergency situation, and measures should be taken to prevent illegal irrigation systems," he said.