World Water Day will be marked on Tuesday with the theme of groundwater, "a hidden treasure which will become more critical amid climate change" according to the United Nations. For water-stressed Turkey, keeping groundwater flowing without losses is crucial, both for its agricultural sector and to be prepared for the uncertainties that the future may bring, with the climate crisis triggering dry spells.
Water going to waste is the primary concern for authorities in the country embattled with drought last year. Moreover, its prevention is expected to put back millions of Turkish liras into the economy. Akif Özkaldı, deputy minister of agriculture and forestry, said reducing water losses, especially in big cities, is a priority and they aim to bring down water loss levels to at least 25% from 37% by next year. This means saving $67.2 million (TL 1 billion) annually.
Though home to an array of climates, Turkey is mostly a semi-arid country, something especially risky in the era of climate change for agricultural lands concentrated in Anatolia that are far from the mild climate of the country's western regions. It juggles its response to weather-related issues aggravated by the climate crisis, from floods in coastal areas to aggressive droughts in inner regions. The country had launched a Water Council in October 2021, the first comprehensive effort to address water problems. It brought together everyone involved in the issue, from farmers to industrialists. Water losses in big cities were among problems highlighted in the debate at the council and beyond.
Özkaldı said efficient use of water is one of the most important issues for Turkey. "We prepared guidelines for better water use both in drinking water, industrial use, as well as in agricultural use. About 74% of water is used in agriculture and the rest is used as drinking water and in industry," he told Anadolu Agency (AA) on Monday. The country drafted a water efficiency strategy document and a draft water law, which will combine water management under one body, is being prepared.
The deputy minister says they also attached importance to filtering water used in irrigation for second use.
Erol Kesici, an adviser to the Turkish Association of Nature Protection, said the misuse of water is the main cause of the "water crisis." Kesici told Demirören News Agency (DHA) that Turkey is a "water-poor" country and is located in the Mediterranean basin, one of the most sensitive areas in terms of climate change. "Turkey has seen an increased amount of precipitation this year and it is an important opportunity at this time, to take action for smart water management and use. Turkey should pursue integrated water management and protect the biological, hydrological and ecological integrity of natural water resources. We have to redesign cities and agriculture based on climate. We need more investments for efficient, quality water and its consumption. We need early warning systems against droughts and floods," he emphasized.
Untapped groundwater resources have "vast potential," the U.N.'s cultural agency said Monday, highlighting that it could potentially alleviate the demand for ever-scarcer water supplies across the world. In a report, UNESCO stated that groundwater accounts for 99% of all liquid freshwater on Earth, although the resource is often poorly understood or undervalued. "In the context of growing water scarcity in many parts of the world, the vast potential of groundwater and the need to manage it carefully can no longer be overlooked," the report said. Water consumption is expected to increase by 1% annually over the next 30 years, UNESCO said, driven by population growth and demand from industry and agriculture. UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay stated that humans are increasingly polluting or drying up existing water resources – "sometimes with irreversible consequences." "Making smarter use of the potential of still sparsely developed groundwater resources, and protecting them from pollution and overexploitation, is essential to meet the fundamental needs of an ever-increasing global population and to address the global climate and energy crises," she said.
Groundwater currently constitutes about 50% of the water drawn for domestic use worldwide, and 25% of the volume used for irrigation, according to UNESCO. But governance of the resource is often poor and there is a shortage of technical expertise in some parts of the world, notably in sub-Saharan Africa. Among other things, UNESCO urged better data collection for groundwater resources, suggesting that oil, gas and mining companies share their in-house data with public authorities.
Wetlands are vital for the preservation of water and ecosystems. They serve a myriad of functions, from storing water to hosting fisheries, preventing floods and helping agricultural production. Turkey spent $1.7 million (TL 25.6 million) in the past decade to rehabilitate and preserve 95 areas designated as wetlands, which amounts to more than 1.08 million hectares (2.67 million acres). With its own resources coupled with funds from international bodies, the country rehabilitates wetlands spoiled by the impact of climate change and alleviates the future effect of the climate crisis on these vital areas.
The country's efforts have paid off, in Sultan Sazlığı, for instance. The wetland in the central province of Kayseri, which has long been a bird sanctuary, is now back to its old self after 4 million cubic meters of water was pumped every year to the wetland. In the southern province of Antalya, Lake Avlan was restored to its old state. The Ereğli marshland in the central province of Konya, where 90% of its area turned into parched land due to extreme drought, is capable of holding water throughout the year thanks to rehabilitation efforts.
Work is underway to address the drought, from Lake Gölmarmara in the western province of Manisa to Lake Kuyucuk in the eastern province of Kars.