Turkey's Policy on Water Issues

Water Shortage At Global Level

Water is essential for human security and one of the engines of sustainable socio-economic development. It is an essential element for the eradication of poverty and hunger.

Water is a precious resource which is gradually getting scarcer. More than half of the world population will be living with water shortage within 50 years because of a worldwide water crisis, according to a report issued by the United Nations Environment Program. In other words, it is highly unlikely that there is going to be enough water for everybody unless the necessary steps are taken at regional and global level.

Population growth, industrialization, urbanization and rising affluence in the 20th Century resulted in a substantial increase in water consumption. While the world’s population grew three fold, water use increased six fold during the same period. The demand on water resources will continue to increase during the next twenty-five years. The problem is further aggravated by the uneven water distribution on earth.

The basic question we should, therefore, ask ourselves today is what governments and international organizations should do to reverse the situation and avert a water crisis at the global level. How much water will we need to ensure global food security for over eight billion people? How can we ensure the adequate supply of water for irrigation and agriculture? We must also ask ourselves how we can secure a more efficient water management system so that we could meet the very basic of human needs.

Turkey’s Water Potential

Contrary to the general perception, Turkey is neither a country rich in freshwater resources nor the richest country in the region in this respect.

Turkey is situated in a semi-arid region, and has only about one fifth of the water available per capita in water rich regions such as North America and Western Europe. Water rich countries are those which have 10.000 cubic meters of water per capita yearly. This is well above the 1.500 cubic meters per capita in Turkey.

Another point is that Turkey’s water is not always in the right place at the right time to meet present and anticipated needs. Certain regions of Turkey such as the Black Sea region have ample but unusable freshwater, while some of the more heavily populated and industrialized regions such as the Marmara and the Aegean regions lack sufficient fresh water.

Turkey’s Dependence On Water For Energy

Turkey’s energy consumption is rising significantly due to rapid urbanization and industrialization.

It should also be emphasized that per capita energy consumption in Turkey is only one sixth of that of the EU average and increase in the energy consumption means improving the quality of life of the Turkish citizens. Turkey, which is neither oil nor natural gas producer, plans to meet the rising energy need in several ways, including the increasing use of its indigenous sources and in that respect, hydropower.

Turkey’s Dependence On Water For Food

Increasing agricultural production by irrigation is one of the most important means for combating poverty and hunger in developing countries. In arid and semi arid regions where precipitation is generally limited to four or five months a year, water resources development projects are indispensable for sustainable socio-economic development. A case in point is the Middle East.

In recent decades Turkey has made great strides in water resources development for domestic use, irrigation, and flood control and power generation. The dams and reservoirs built have enabled Turkey to save water from its brief seasons of rainfall to use throughout the year for various purposes, agriculture in particular.

Rain-fed agriculture in Turkey is being realized almost to the maximum level. As a result, increasing agricultural productivity has become primarily dependent upon irrigation by using modern techniques.

The Euphrates And The Tigris Rivers

Rivers are one of the main sources of freshwater. 70 percent of the total easily accessible water is provided by rivers. Moreover, 40 percent of the world population depends for its freshwater on 214 transboundary rivers flowing through minimum 2 or more countries. For example, the Danube and Nile flow through 12 and 9 countries respectively.

The Euphrates and the Tigris are two of the most famous rivers in the world. The combined water potential of the two rivers is almost equal to that of the Nile River. Both rise in the high mountains of north-eastern Anatolia and flow down through Turkey, Syria, and Iraq and eventually join to form the Shatt-al-Arab 200 km before they flow into the Persian Gulf.

They account for about one third of Turkey’s water potential. Both rivers cross the south-eastern Anatolia region which receives less precipitation compared to other regions of Turkey. Therefore, during the 1960s and 1970s Turkey launched projects to utilize the rich water potential of these rivers for energy production and agriculture.

Turkey contributes 31 billion cubic meters or about 89 per cent of the annual flow of 35 billion cubic meters of the Euphrates. The remaining 11 per cent comes from Syria. Iraq makes no contribution to the flow.

As to the Tigris, the picture is entirely different. 52 per percent of the total average flow of 49 billion cubic meters come from Turkey. Iraq contributes all the rest. No Syrian waters drain into the Tigris.

The Southeastern Anatolia Project (GAP)

One of the great water success stories is the Southeast Anatolia Project (GAP), which is a regional integrated sustainable development project based on harnessing the water resources of the Euphrates and the Tigris rivers and the land resources of “Upper Mesopotamia”, a favorable environment for large scale and intensive agriculture. This area which used to be the “food basket” of the region was named “fertile crescent”.

GAP has become a well-known example of transition from simple water development to efficient water management. It stands as an outstanding accomplishment in the field of water development and great engineering achievements in irrigation and hydro-power.

Turkey’s Transboundary Water Policy

Turkey’s policy regarding the use of Transboundary Rivers is based on the following principles:

• Each riparian state of a transboundary river system has the sovereign right to make use of the water in its territory without giving “significant harm” to other riparians.

• Transboundary waters should be used in an equitable, reasonable and optimum manner.

• Equitable use does not mean the equal distribution of waters of a transboundary river among riparian states.

• Each riparian state of a transboundary river system has the sovereign right to make use of the water in its territory without giving “significant harm” to other riparians.
• Transboundary waters should be used in an equitable, reasonable and optimum manner.

• Equitable use does not mean the equal distribution of waters of a transboundary river among riparian states.

As regards the Euphrates and the Tigris rivers;

• The two rivers constitute a single basin.

• The combined water potential of the Euphrates and the Tigris rivers is sufficient to meet the needs of the three riparian States, provided that water is used in an efficient way and the benefit is maximized through new irrigation technologies and the principle of “more crop per drop” at basin level.

• The variable natural hydrological conditions must be taken into account in the allocation of the waters of the Euphrates and the Tigris rivers.

• The principle of sharing the benefits at basin level should be pursued.

With respect to the utilization of the waters of the Euphrates and the Tigris rivers, Turkey has consistently abided by these principles and continued to release maximum possible amount of water from both rivers even during the driest summers thanks to the completed dams and the reservoirs in South-eastern Anatolia.


• First and foremost, Turkey views water as a catalyst for cooperation rather than a source of conflict.


• Economic development and spreading of prosperity to all people in the region will be the most effective means of creating a climate of peace and good neighborly relations in the Middle East.


• Transboundary waters should be used in an equitable, reasonable and optimum manner.


• The looming water shortage at global level can only be addressed through a holistic approach and with technical and financial support by the developed countries, regional and international organizations and financial institutions.