Turkey aims to end losses and preserve wetlands to reduce water problems

World Water Day will be marked on Tuesday with the theme of groundwater, “a hidden treasure that will become more critical in the face of climate change” according to the United Nations. For water-stressed Turkey, maintaining groundwater flow without loss is crucial, both for its agricultural sector and to prepare for the uncertainties that the future may bring, with the climate crisis triggering periods of drought.

Water wastage is the main concern of authorities in the country struggling with drought last year. Moreover, its prevention should reinject millions of Turkish liras into the economy. Akif Özkaldı, Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Forestry, said reducing water loss, especially in big cities, is a priority and they aim to reduce the levels of water loss to at least 25% against 37% by next year. This means saving $67.2 million (1 billion TL) per year.

Although home to a variety of climates, Turkey is mostly a semi-arid country, which is especially risky in an era of climate change for the concentrated farmlands in Anatolia that are far from the mild climate of the country’s western regions. It juggles its response to weather problems compounded by the climate crisis, from flooding in coastal areas to aggressive droughts in inland regions. The country launched a Water Council in October 2021, the first comprehensive effort to address water issues. It brought together all the people concerned by the issue, from farmers to industrialists. Water loss in major cities was among the issues highlighted during the debate in council and beyond.

Özkaldı said efficient water use is one of the most important issues for Turkey. “We have prepared guidelines for better use of water both in drinking water, industrial use and 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 has drafted a water efficiency strategy document and a draft water law, which will combine water management under one body, is in preparation.

The Deputy Minister says they also attached importance to filtering water used in irrigation for a second use.

Erol Kesici, adviser to the Turkish Nature Protection Association, said the misuse of water is the main cause of the “water crisis”. Kesici told the 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 experienced an increase in rainfall this year and this 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 need to rethink cities and agriculture for the climate. We need more investment for efficient and quality water and its consumption. We have need for early warning systems against droughts and floods,” he stressed.

Untapped groundwater resources have “vast potential”, the UN cultural agency said on Monday, stressing that they could potentially ease the demand for increasingly scarce water supplies across the world. In a report, UNESCO said groundwater accounts for 99% of all fresh liquid water on Earth, although the resource is often misunderstood 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 says. Water consumption is expected to increase by 1% per year for the next 30 years, UNESCO said, driven by population growth and demand from industry and agriculture. UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay said humans are increasingly polluting or drying up existing water resources – “sometimes with irreversible consequences”. “Making smarter use of the potential of still underdeveloped groundwater resources and protecting them from pollution and overexploitation is essential to meet the basic needs of an ever-increasing world population and to address climate crises. and energy,” she said.

Groundwater currently constitutes about 50% of the water withdrawn 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 has called for better data collection on groundwater resources, suggesting that oil, gas and mining companies share their internal data with public authorities.

Preservation of wetlands

Wetlands are vital for the preservation of water and ecosystems. They perform a myriad of functions, from storing water to accommodating fisheries, preventing floods and helping agricultural production. Turkey has spent $1.7 million (TL 25.6 million) over 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 organizations, the country is rehabilitating wetlands degraded by the impact of climate change and mitigating the future effect of the climate crisis on these vital areas.

The country’s efforts have borne fruit, in Sultan Sazlığı, for example. The wetland in the central province of Kayseri, which has long been a bird sanctuary, has now returned to its former nature after 4 million cubic meters of water were pumped into the wetland every year. In the southern province of Antalya, Lake Avlan has been restored to its former state. The Ereğli swamp in the central province of Konya, where 90% of its area has turned into parched land due to extreme drought, is able to retain water throughout the year thanks to the efforts of rehabilitation.

Work is underway to deal with the drought, from Lake Gölmarmara in the western province of Manisa to Lake Kuyucuk in the eastern province of Kars.

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