Can Turkey Use Water to Exert Power Across the Middle East?
Turkey hopes to take a first step towards long-held ambitions to be a supplier of fresh water across the Middle East.
The first phase of a project to pump fresh water from the Anamur River in southern Turkey to the drought-stricken northern part of Cyprus is slated to be completed this year, according to the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus and the Turkish government in Ankara.
Hassan Gungor, undersecretary for the presidency of Northern Cyprus, said the 88-kilometre pipeline “can be taken as a pilot project” that Turkey could replicate across the region.
The 1.2 billion lira (Dh2bn) pipeline, which runs under the Mediterranean, is to bring 75 million cubic metres of water a year to Northern Cyprus, an isolated self-declared republic recognised only by Ankara.
The Great Water Grab
Investing in Water: The Most Profitable Investment of the 21st Century
The Great Water Grab
Investing in Water: The Most Profitable Investment of the 21st Century
Ankara to boost its role as a regional power by providing water to Middle East countries.
The Turkish ministry for forests and water said in a statement that work will be finished by July 20, the 40th anniversary of Turkey’s 1974 military intervention in Cyprus. Several experts in Turkey said the Cyprus water project could be a first step for Ankara to boost its role as a regional power by providing water to Middle East countries.
“It is technically feasible,” Ibrahim Gurer, a hydrologist at Gazi University in Ankara, said. “And it’s possible not only for Cyprus, but also for other countries like Israel or even Libya. It is not a distant dream.”
Last year, Karim Elewi, an Iraqi member of parliament, accused Turkey of holding back water from the two rivers. But Ankara says water demands by its two southern neighbours are unrealistic.
“The demands of Iraq and Syria [for water from the two rivers] tacitly assume that Turkey releases all the flow of the river without utilising any of it,” the Turkish foreign ministry said on its website.
A US study supported by NASA found last year that 144 cubic kilometres of fresh water in the Eurphrates and Tigris regions had been lost since 2003. The study said that roughly 60 per cent of the loss was caused by pumping water from underground reservoirs.
Factors such as climate change and decreasing water resources were pushing countries in the eastern Mediterranean to think about closer cooperation, said Dursun Yildiz, a water expert at the Working Group on Earth, Water, Energy, a non-governmental group in Ankara.
“Climate change is everybody’s problem,” he said. “We are much closer to each other now.”
Turkey’s fresh water resources have become the subject of ambitious regional plans
Since work on the Cyprus water project started in 2008, Turkey’s government has indicated its readiness to export fresh water to other parts of the Middle East. The water could be provided by rivers running down from the Taurus mountain range in southern Turkey towards the Mediterranean, officials say.
Last year, Shaddad Attili, the water minister of the Palestinian Authority, told Turkish media that Turkey had offered to deliver fresh water to the Gaza Strip by tankers.
The Turkish foreign ministry did not respond to requests for comment on water issues.
It is not the first time that Turkey’s fresh water resources have become the subject of ambitious regional plans. In 1986, the Turkish prime minister, Turgut Ozal, proposed to build water pipelines from two rivers in southern Turkey through Syria and Lebanon. The plan, dubbed “Water for Peace” by Ankara, never got traction amid the conflict between Arab countries and Israel.
“WATER” THE GOLDEN COMMODITY OF THE FUTURE
Whiskey is for drinking and water is for fighting over
There is a tongue-in-cheek saying in America — attributed to Mark Twain, who lived through the early phase of the California water wars — that “whiskey is for drinking and water is for fighting over.”
It highlights the consequences, even if somewhat apocryphally, as ever-scarcer water resources create a parched world. California currently is suffering under its worst drought of the modern era.
Adequate availability of water, food and energy is critical to global security. Water, the sustainer of life and livelihoods, is already the world’s most exploited natural resource.
With nature’s freshwater renewable capacity lagging behind humanity’s current rate of utilization, tomorrow’s water is being used to meet today’s need.
Consequently, the resources of shared rivers, aquifers and lakes have become the target of rival appropriation plans. Securing a larger portion of the shared water has fostered increasing competition between countries and provinces.
Efforts by some countries to turn transnational water resources into an instrument of power has encouraged a dam-building race and prompted growing calls for the United Nations to make water a key security concern.
More ominously, the struggle for water is exacerbating impacts on the earth’s ecosystems. Humanity is altering freshwater and other ecosystems more rapidly than its own scientific understanding of the implications of such change.
Degradation of water resources has resulted in aquatic ecosystems losing half of their biodiversity since just the mid-1970s. Groundwater depletion, for its part, is affecting natural streamflows, groundwater-fed wetlands and lakes, and related ecosystems.
The future of human civilization hinges on sustainable development. If resources like water are degraded and depleted, environmental refugees will follow.
Sanaa in Yemen risks becoming the first capital city to run out of water. If Bangladesh bears the main impact of China’s damming of River Brahmaputra, the resulting exodus of thirsty refugees will compound India’s security challenges.
Internal resource conflicts are often camouflaged as civil wars. Sudan’s Darfur conflict, for example, arose from water and grassland scarcity.
Turkey is accelerating its diversion of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers
Interstate water wars in a political and economic sense are being waged in several regions, including by building dams on international rivers and by resorting to coercive diplomacy to prevent such construction.
Examples include China’s frenetic upstream dam building in its borderlands, and downriver Egypt’s threats of military reprisals against the ongoing Ethiopian construction of a large dam on the Blue Nile.
Upstream Turkey, inspired by China’s strengthening hydro-hegemony, is accelerating its diversion of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. This will exacerbate water stress in the two violence-torn, downriver states of Syria and Iraq.
Meanwhile, Israel, with its control of the water-rich Golan Heights and the West Bank aquifers, has leveraged its role as water supplier to Palestinians and Jordanians.
Water as a weapon of war or a tool of terrorism
The yearly global economic losses from water shortages are conservatively estimated at $260 billion.
Water-stressed South Korea is encouraging its corporate giants to produce water-intensive items — from food to steel — for the home market in overseas lands. This strategy has created a grass-roots backlash against South Korean firms in Madagascar and India’s Odisha state.
A report reflecting the joint judgment of U.S. intelligence agencies has warned that the use of water as a weapon of war or a tool of terrorism would become more likely in the next decade.
Water is a renewable but finite resource. Unlike mineral ores, fossils fuels and resources from the biosphere such as fish and timber, water (unless bottled) is not a globally traded commodity. The human population has doubled since 1970 alone, though, while the global economy has grown even faster.
Consumption growth, however, is the single biggest driver of water stress. Rising incomes, for example, have promoted changing diets, especially a greater intake of meat, whose production is notoriously water-intensive.
In China, South Korea and Southeast Asia, traditional diets have been transformed in the past generation alone, becoming much meatier.
If the world stopped diverting food to feed livestock and produce biofuels, it could not only abolish hunger, but also feed a population larger by four billion, according to a University of Minnesota study.
Compounding the diet-change impacts on the global water situation is the increasing body-mass index of humans in recent decades, with the prevalence of obesity doubling since the 1980s.
Obesity rates in important economies now range from 33 percent in the United States and 26.9 percent in Britain to 5.7 percent in China and 1.9 percent in India.
Heavier citizens make heavier demands on natural resources, especially water and energy. They also cause much greater greenhouse-gas emissions through their bigger food and transport needs.
A study published in the British journal BMC Public Health found that if the rest of the world had the same average body-mass index as the United States, it would be equivalent to adding nearly an extra billion people to the global population, with major implications for the world’s water situation.
The issue thus isn’t just about how many mouths there are to feed, but also about how much excess body fat there is on the planet.
The point to note is that a net population increase usually translates into greater human capital to create innovations, power economic growth and support the elderly, but a net increase in body weight only contributes to state liability and greater water stress.
Preventing water wars demands rules-based cooperation, water-sharing and dispute-settlement mechanisms.
However, most of the world’s transnational basins lack any cooperative arrangement, and there is still no international water law in force. Worse, unilateralist appropriation of shared water resources is endemic where autocrats rule.