Turkey faces water crisis during dry winter

Campbell MacDiarmid
·2-min read
Istanbul's reservoirs are below 20 percent capacity, the lowest level in 15 years - Anadolu
Istanbul's reservoirs are below 20 percent capacity, the lowest level in 15 years - Anadolu

Turkey’s cities are facing major water shortages amid a dry winter, with authorities warning that without rainfall some municipalities could run out within months. 

Water reservoirs supplying Istanbul have fallen to their lowest level in fifteen years, the megacity’s municipality said this week, warning that the situation was “dangerous”. 

Istanbul reservoirs are below 20 percent capacity on average, according to Istanbul Water and Sewerage Administration, compared to nearly 40 percent this time last year and over 80 percent the year before.

Turkey’s largest city, with a population of over 15 million, Istanbul consumes an average of three million cubic metres of water daily.

Even accounting for reduced demand in winter, water supplies could run dry within 45 days, according to the Turkish Chamber of Chemical Engineers.

“Istanbul's water administrators must immediately decide on at least one of the options, such as water cuts or even rain bombs,” the group’s head Ali Ugurlu said in a statement this month, referring to the controversial weather control technique of cloud seeding.

But Istanbul mayor Ekrem Imamoglu has urged patience and a conservative approach. 

“There is no emergency, but the risk lingers, so I call the citizens to be more cautious while using water, not to use it in excessive amounts,” he said last month. 

In the capital, Ankara’s dams are also below 20 percent capacity, leaving the city with enough water for 110 days, mayor Mansur Yavash said on January 5. 

To encourage water conservation, authorities would begin charging large consumers at a higher rate to encourage savings, he said.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has also urged conservation. 

“Now we are experiencing one of the driest periods. Some of our reservoirs are completely depleted,” he told reporters on Monday. 

“Together we need to take action against the threat of drought, from household consumption to agricultural needs," he said,  advising that savings of up to 50 percent could be made in irrigation.

After the driest summer in seven years, authorities had hoped a wet winter would replenish water supply, with some now blaming climate change for reduced precipitation.

But that is too often used as a scapegoat, according to Professor Mikdat Kadioglu, a meteorology expert from Istanbul Technical University, who told an event in Istanbul on Sunday that the city’s growing population was wasteful with water.

“If it had a population corresponding to the volume of the water it used, Istanbul would not have a water problem,” he said.