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

With respect to the situation in my country, 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 produces more than 45.000 GWh of hydroelectric power per year (Electricity Generation Co. Inc. (EÜAŞ)-2010), which corresponds to 24.5% of its total power generation. Turkey’s energy consumption is rising about 5.7 percent a year on average due to rapid urbanization and industrialization. In 2002, the electricity consumption peaked at 126.9 billion kWh. It is estimated to rise to 265 billion kWh in 2010 and to 528 billion kWh in 2020.

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. Hydro-power is especially appealing in that it is cheap and clean.

The production of hydropower and its wider use should be encouraged in accordance with the Implementation Plan of the World Submit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) in Johannesburg. The World Bank has also reviewed its energy policy and has placed renewable energy development as one of the key strategic choices. The Bank has adopted a pro-active policy to encourage and provide financial support to renewable energy projects, including hydro-power in developing countries.

Therefore, the developed countries and international organizations together with financial institutions should provide more financial support to renewable energy projects. In view of the key role renewable energy can play in the eradication of poverty and, additional steps should be taken at regional and international levels to support and finance multi-purpose water infrastructure.

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, especially storage systems and irrigation networks, are indispensible 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 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, of course, 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.

The project requires 32 billion USD of total financing, 16 billion of which has already been invested by Turkey. The project is expected to almost double Turkey’s agricultural production. The resulting diversification of an increase in crop production will also create new opportunities for developing agro-industries.

Turkey’s Transboundary Water Policy

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

• Water is a basic human need.

• Each riparian state of a transboundary river system has the sovereign right to make use of the water in its territory.

• Riparian states must make sure that their utilization of such waters does not give “significant harm” to others.

• 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, in view of the Turkish authorities, 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 amount of water from both rivers even during the driest summers thanks to the completed dams and the reservoirs in South-eastern Anatolia. For example, 1988 and 1989 as well as 2007-2008 water years were the driest years of the last half century. The natural flow of the Euphrates was around 50 cubic meters per second. Yet, Turkey was able to release a monthly average of minimum 500 cubic meters per second to Syria in conformity with the Article 6 of the Protocol signed by Turkey and Syria in 1987. Article 6 reads as follows:

“During the filling up period of the Atatürk Dam reservoir and until the final allocation of waters of Euphrates among the three riparian countries, the Turkish side undertakes to release a monthly average of more than 500 cubic meters per second at the Turkish-Syrian border and in cases where the monthly flow falls below the level of 500 cubic meters per second, the Turkish side agrees to make up the difference during the following month.”

Our motto has always been that water should be a source of cooperation among the three riparian states. Turkey is eager to find ways of reaching a basis for cooperation, which will improve the quality of life of the peoples of the three countries. The point of departure should be to identify the real needs of the riparian states.


• 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.

• In the case of southeastern Turkey, the Southeast Anatolia Project (GAP) is not only generating environmentally clean electricity, but it is literally turning near desert areas into fertile farmland. The project is starting an economic revolution in the region. The benefits are not just to the local population who have some of the lowest incomes in our country but to Turkey as a whole. It will also help bring prosperity to a much wider region, riparian states in particular.