Problem of Water Scarcity in Turkey


Nature does have a major key role for maintaining life on this planet. But there are still some difficulties which are posing a threat to life and the environment of the planet. This is not just about the climate, it's about everyone who continues to live on the world. The main source, in fact, is pollution, climate change, pollutant and many others. Human daily activities are continuously weakening the value of the ecosystem which eventually leadsto the earth\'s loss of position on life. Dozens of problems cause environment to turn into a dangerous place to survive in.

Turkey is a land of transition that connects Asia to Europe and is a land between three continents. We are a nation with natural, ecological reserves, rich biodiversity and agro-environmental ecosystems. Due to industrialization, Turkey also suffered from environmental issues. In urban centers such as Istanbul, Bursa, Ankara; air pollution is having a huge impact on these cities. In the recent years, according to a research made by European Environment Agency (EEA), almost 97% of the population in the urban cities are facing with unsafe amount of matter pollution.

The value of a reliable air quality is between 0 and 50. The results from the research shows almost every province of Turkey’s air quality is between 151 and 200. Also, several provinces’ air quality is over 300, therefore we can easily say that air pollution is a problem that must be solved (Brett Smith, 2019).\nIn the area of biodiversity, Turkey is one of the richest countries all around the world, three of the world’s thirty-four biodiversity hotspots are in Turkey but unluckily Turkey has only protected 0.2% of its land area and 0.11% of its marine environment. Thereby, ecosystem in these areas became extremely vulnerable to the effects of environmental changes such as global warming and limited water resources. Dispersion of the water resources in Turkey is unbalanced so taking control over water resources is a must for Turkey. Overfishing and water pollution have led Turkey to a considerable decline in fisheries. According to the Turkish Statical Instute, one of the Turkeys most prevalent commercial fish ‘’anchovies’’ fell by 28% in 2012 in the area of production. Insufficient water resources effects agriculture because almost three quarters of water is used in the area of agriculture. Lake Tuz which is Turkey’s second largest body of water has shrunk about 85% since the 1920s due to the over-extraction of groundwater for irrigated agriculture. Furthermore, flamingo populations in that area have severely affected by their breeding (Brett Smith, 2019).
Skewed urbanization happens because of the idea of finding a solution to squatters. Urbanization is a need for humanity, especially a country like Turkey. According to the researches done by the United Nations (UN) by the end of the 2025, population of Turkey will increase to 92 million ( That is why the idea of urbanization is an essential need for Turkey. Unplanned urbanization and infrastructural deficiencies bring severe environmental problems. Unplanned industrialization is emerging as a result of unplanned urbanization. Industry and industrial areas which do not have enough infrastructure and organization among environmental problems cause significant environmental pollution. Failure to dispose of the wastes and not following the regular inspections from these areas cause problems to grow day by day and become insolvable.
Air pollution from industry is increasing and the fact that regular garbage storage areas were not created, and the treatment plants were not established on time caused an increase in environmental problems. The absence of organized industrial zones with infrastructure systems has led to a large share of the industry in environmental problems. The use of irregular and excessive medicines in agricultural areas has caused the problems of soil pollution.
The use of fossil fuels for heating, diesel generators, coal-fired factories, coal-powered production, especially diesel-powered transportation vehicles, open air combustion of agricultural wastes and organic wastes are among the main causes of air pollution. 7 percent of the children in the world live in regions where air pollution is below World Health Organization standards. According to 2016 figures, nearly 600.000 children under the age of 15 died due to respiratory problems (

In an era where the limitation of carbon emissions to prevent global warming, Turkey’s total carbon dioxide emissions, according to the data of 2005, compared with the European Union, Turkey has ranked seventh with 215.9 million tons and listed first in the industrial sector emissions. Water resources are gradually decreasing, 20 years ago water per capita was around 4 thousand cubic meters while today water per capita is around 1400 cubic meters of water. Turkey has begun to take its place between the ‘’ water poor’’ countries (\nThe biodiversity of our country is under threat due to the deterioration of the land for different reasons and the disappearance of natural resources. The ratio of protected areas to all areas is only 1%. As a result of erosion, 500 million tons of fertile soil is lost annually. Approximately 80-100 thousand acres of forest are burned every year and 5-7 thousand acres of forest are destroyed due to field cultivation and settlement (


Turkey is believed to be a country that has rich water sources but with its increasing population, developing economy and growing cities Turkey is on its way to become a ‘’water-poor’’ country. Only 2.5% of water resources are freshwater resources on our planet and 70% of that hides in snow masses. With the increase in population, in the year 2025 it is expected that 2/3 of the human population will suffer from insufficient freshwater resources (FAO, 2007). 1.6 billion people suffer from deficient water resources because of insufficient infrastructure and lack of necessary financial resources (UN Water, 2013).
Turkey has an area of 779.500 km2 and the average annual precipitation volume is 450 billion m3, total annual consumable surface and ground water potential is 112 billion m3. Country public institutions and organizations responsible for the development of land and water resources. As a result of the projects they have developed, annual water consumption for various purposes has reached (48.2%) 54 billion m3. (DSİ, 2018)


With the increase in population, the demand for water will also increase to meet populations needs. For example, in the last century, while the world population is doubled, the demand for water resources is increased by seven times. Water Consumption;

  • 1940 – 1000 billion m3
  • 1960 – 2000 billion m3
  • 1990 – 4130 billion m3 (USAID, 2007)

Water Resources Study Group Report, Orman Su Şurası, 2013\n74% of the freshwater resources are being used in agriculture. Besides the growing population, increase in incomes and consumption levels, increases the usage of freshwater resources and according to the scientists in order to meet people’s demands, usage of freshwater in agriculture will be doubled by the year 2050 (Faures and others, 2007).
Water pollution due to population growth, urbanization and increasing industrialization decreases the clean water resources. Industrial, domestic and agricultural wastes cause pollution to freshwater resources. In order to clean 1L water, 8L of water must be used (Aksungur and Firidin, 2008). It is very costly restore wasted water to the nature.
Unsustainable water infrastructure projects such as; hydroelectric power plants, dams etc. Planning studies on basin scale not being done correctly affects directly hydrological systems and causes wetlands and some streams to disappear. Agriculture sector uses the most water with a share of 73% (DSİ, 2012), excessive water usage from sources for agricultural activities, not using water efficiently causes ecosystem to lose its economic and ecological value. With increasing urban population, drinking water supply is becoming a bigger problem. The interventions are being implemented without evaluation and without seeking these interventions potential consequences.


Water, which is an indispensable element of life, is a limited natural resource that cannot be substituted for another substance. Reaching healthy water should be considered as a basic human right. In other words, water should be considered as a social value. It should always be taken into consideration that Turkey has a semi-arid climate and all water policies should be created accordingly.
The cross-sectoral distribution of water consumption should be considered in the solution of water scarcity. In Turkey, the distribution of population and water is the opposite of each other. This distortion should be corrected. Approaching the water problem with the logic of risk management rather than crisis management, managing supply and demand in this context, making the right investments at the right time is extremely important. The number of authoritative authorities on water should be minimized.
Since more water will be needed due to the rapid increase in population, serious disputes may arise between countries that benefit from the same watersheds. Considering what has happened in recent years, this situation has become more than a theory. Somalia is one of the pregnant countries because of the drought. However, the only solution is understanding and cooperation. First, it is extremely important to maintain the balance of the existing ecosystem in the watershed. Rational use of local resources should be prioritized in meeting the water demand and attention should be paid to ensure that the water brought from other basins does not exceed a certain percentage of the total demand. When trying to solve a problem, it is necessary to avoid the vicious circle of causing multiple problems.


Hydroelectric power plants are divided into two as dams (water accumulation) and without accumulation (river type). River type hydroelectric power plants are aimed to generate electricity with the water that is diverted from its source and taken to a certain height then before the water is given to the stream by ensuring that the water falls by turning the turbines. As soon as the water is reintroduced into its source, it enters the pipe of another company and this situation can be continue until it reaches the sea. So, water is literally trapped in pipes. Thus, more than one company are guaranteed to earn annuity from a stream. After this cycle, water is not longer healthy for all the living things. \nHEPPs uses up most of the water in rivers for electricity. The flow rate of water, the amount of flow, the depth of the river and the base structure changes significantly. Less amount of water from HEPPs to rivers leads to extinction of aquatic life. When a rivers flow rate decreases, the oxygen level in the water decreases. A certain amount of oxygen falling below concentration causes fish deaths. (WWF, 2013)
HEPP operation also controls the change in temperature of the water time to time. This means that species that are sensitive to temperature in the water are affected significantly. Rivers feed underground water resources; due to HEPP the amount of underground waters decreases. The river vegetation and other aquatic plants and creatures are affected. Another function of this river vegetation is to cover flood control. So, HEPP operations directly increases the risk of flooding.
Rivers are also the distributors of the nutrients to the seas which is important for the continuity of marine species. HEPP operations interrupts the amount of sediment carried from rivers to the seas, habitat and biodiversity in sub-basins accordingly affected, due to absence of enough sediment to delta structures, the risk of coastal erosion increases. (WWF, 2013)
The lines that need to be built in order to transfer the generated energy, the destruction of the forests and the ecosystem due to the areas where these lines will pass is inevitable. Energy transmission lines due to their high voltage it is known that their negative impact on the living creatures in the natural areas has been reported. Fish and other creatures are natural components. The migration of the fish to reproduce depends on the amount of water flow in the river source. The roads that are used by the fishes cannot keep its efficiency due to HEPPs.


Alakır Valley; it has a length of 70 km to accommodate the Alakır River and includes numerous living creatures and cultural riches. Within the borders of Söğütcuması Village of Kumluca district of Antalya. It exits the Beydağları and pours into the Mediterranean Sea. Therefore, Alakır River, which creates a natural habitat in the valley, faced with the danger of drying out due to HEPPs built on it. (Turan and others, 2014)
In recent years, it was also determined that the region is home to many endemic species. As seen in Figure 1 The fish named as ‘’Alakır Alası’’ (Salmo Kottelati) only lives in the Alakır river. (Turan and others, 2014)
There are eight HEPP projects in operation and at the project stage in Alakır Valley. Among them, Alakır HEPP, Tocak HEPP, Kozdere HEPP and Kürce HEPP are in action and Çayağzı HEPP and Dereköy HEPP are in the construction phase. Also, Alakır 1 and Alakır 2 HEPP projects are in development period.

During the construction of HEPPs the 3500-year-old Lycian bridge remains were destroyed and the creature living in the Alakır River called red spotted trouts living area is restricted in the valley. Cultural and natural assets cannot be prevented if the project is permitted. One of the important centers of agriculture known as Kumluca Alakır Valley is facing the possible danger of drying out. These types of damages cannot be returned. The natural structure around Alakır river has begun to be affected due to HEPPs in 2013. ( Evren Turhan and Abidin Keçeci, 2014) Plants and biodiversity around the river have been in serious danger, due to HEPPs, centuries-old plane trees have been cut and tress have started to dry.


When analyzing the risks related to water, only the amount of water per person is taken into consideration which is not an adequate approach. From a much wider perspective to the subject must be looked. Water management, it is defined as its distribution, use and planned development of water resources. There are risks that concern the business world as well as the authorities. Diversification of water usage areas and increasing amount of water used also increases competition among sectors. The insufficient amount of water to fulfill the needs and wants of human, environment, business world will lead us to economic, social and political problems.
Expensive energy lost competitive advantage, political and economic uncertainty, migrating population and lost reputation are some of these problems. Therefore, while considering the risk phenomenon; who is responsible for the emergence of the risk, who will be affected by the uncertainty of the risk required kind of questions should have been asked. A report prepared by WWF in 2010 ‘’Global Water Scarcity: Challenges and Risks for Businesses’’ revealed that risks can be felt at different levels and different ways such as:

  • At the Local Level: Lack of drinking water, sectors using water increased competition and the cost of water is increasing
  • At the Basin Level: Distribution of water and risks of flooding, risks related to the quality
  • At the National Level: Institutional and political management of water resources risks
  • At the Regional Level: Geopolitical disputes over water and energy
  • At the Global Level: All kinds of water that are subject to international trade is an input in the production of water risk of being affected.

Although water is perceived as a local resource, it is produced using local water, many products are imported and exported. Therefore, in some cases, water becomes a global resource rather than a regional resource. As water shortage increases, especially agricultural product prices increase, it will create political, economic and social threats for importing countries. Many concerns about food safety will increase in the country. In Brazil and India, the shortage of water caused the world sugar prices to increase in 2009 and led consumers to be victims. Likewise, in 2010 Russia stopped wheat exports after drought and this led to a sudden increase in wheat prices globally. (Türkiyenin Su Sorunları Raporu WWF, 2014)


Since irrigation water is not used effectively in agriculture, some environmental problems such as soil salinity and drainage water may occur. While irrigation practices increase agricultural production; in addition to loss of resources, the environment is damaged and natural balance in disturbed. Considering the increasing population on the one hand and the demand is in increase for water on the one hand and the freshwater resources expected to decrease due to climate change. Water should be used effectively in agriculture in order to keep agricultural production in balance.
Productivity is increased with irrigation in agriculture and risks in dry periods are reduced, enabling more profitable corps to be grown. However, as a result of incorrect irrigation practices, environmental problems can arise and reach serious dimensions. (Dişbudak, 2008)


  • Water pollution caused by nutrients and pesticides
  • Excessive water withdrawal from groundwater resources
  • Damage to living spaces and living things
  • Substitution of high-value semi-natural ecosystems of dense irrigated forms of agriculture
  • Some traditional irrigation methods contribute to local biodiversity and create landscape values
  • Increase in erosion with the cultivation of the soil in sloping land
  • Salinity
  • Pollution of surface and groundwaters with minerals
  • Regarding irrigation projects, positive and negative effects of large-scale water transfers (Dişbudak, 2008)

74% of the Turkeys water resources are used in agriculture sector. In the recent years, irrigation efficiency, especially transition to modern irrigation systems are carried out to increase the irrigation efficieny to 51 %. Turkeys goal of irrigation efficiency is 55% in 2024. (Tarım ve Orman Bakanlığı, Ulusal Su Planı, 2019)
In terms of ensuring the effective use of water; Water distribution from DSI (Devlet Su İşleri) to irrigation unions in case of transfer of water, saving in water usage, using excess water, excess fee payment according to the amount of water used and the size of the land should be provided. Regarding the prevention of water leaks, renewal of the network, water land consolidation in terms of effective use, techniques applied in advanced countries consideration, taking measures to prevent irrigation water contamination, well drilling to take control, to take the place of drought-resistant varieties in production. Focusing on new patterns and models to ensure the use of wastewater.