Prof. Dr. Ahmet Mete Saatçi, SUEN

Prof. Dr. Ahmet Mete Saatçi, SUEN

August 5, 2016

 

 

What was the purpose of establishing SUEN? Can you describe the establishment process?

 

We are the team that hosted the 5th World Water Forum in Istanbul in 2009. Hosting a record number of 30 thousand participants, the 5th World Water Forum was a great success. The Forum brought together people from 192 countries - ministers, parliamentarians, local authorities, NGOs, journalists, water specialists, scientists, UN agencies and professional organizations. The 5th World Water Forum was important in terms of unfolding many declarations that would shape the world water political agenda and strengthening Turkey’s position within the international water community. The success of the Forum gained Turkey a principal voice in shaping international water policies on a global scale. Just like the Japan Water Forum that was founded following the 3rd World Water Forum held in Japan in 2003, we established the Turkish Water Institute (SUEN) based on the knowledge, experience and international network we have acquired with the organization of the 5th World Water Forum. SUEN was established with the decree law of no. 658 published in the Official Gazette on 2 November 2011.

 

During the process of the 5th World Water Forum, our Minister of Forestry and Water Affairs (then Minister of Environment and Forestry) Veysel Eroğlu identified a need for a water think- tank in Turkey that would generate knowledge, strategies and ideas, and offer consulting to decision makers on water, just as in other countries that are active in developing international water policies. Consequently, it was decided to establish SUEN as a national think-tank that would contribute to the preparation of a national water policy and achieve a more active and influential involvement of Turkey in shaping global water policies by advocating these policies in international water events. With an interdisciplinary approach, we brought together social scientists and engineers specialized in water management. Today we at SUEN work to contribute to the development of global-scale water policies and strategies, build international water partnerships around Turkey and enhance Turkey’s engagement in international water events and platforms. We maintain the gained momentum of the 5th World Water Forum by organizing the triennial Istanbul International Water Forum (IIWF) event. Our primary working area is Eastern Europe, Central Asia and the Middle East. We aim to carry the regional water problems identified at the IIWF into the political processes of the World Water Fora and other prominent international conferences. Our goal is to develop the IIWF into a leading global water event seeking the best answers to large-scale water problems, just like the Stockholm Water Week or Singapore International Water Week. Furthermore, we also serve as a training center both at national and international scale to share our technical knowledge in the field of water and wastewater.

 

Can you describe SUEN’s organizational structure?

 

SUEN is a specially funded entity under the authority of the Ministry of Forestry and Water Affairs of Turkey. SUEN’s organizational structure consists 40 personnel, including 1 President, 1 Vice President, 1 Project Development and Implementation Coordinator, 1 Policy Development Coordinator, 1 Administrative and Financial Affairs Coordinator, 2 Legal Advisors, 32 specialists and 1 Technician. Presently we are a team of 34, containing 12 project officers and 6 specialists from various disciplines.

 

What is SUEN’s difference from other governmental agencies working on water? What is SUEN’s role in the development of Turkey’s water policies?

 

We are a small team working in a think-tank logic. Just like a think-tank, we produce information and analysis, gather and sort information on areas such as sustainable water management, water policy development, sustainable energy, and capacity building at national and international level, in order to develop strategic ideas and offer them to decision makers. We develop knowledge and ideas by bringing together stakeholders from diverse disciplines related to water in and around Turkey. Our triennial Istanbul International Water Forum provides a platform for this purpose. In collaboration with other national water-related institutions, we contribute to the shaping of our national water policy. Also, we advocate these policies in other prominent international meetings and strive for improving Turkey’s participation in the shaping of international water policies.

 

Which national institutions do you collaborate with and what are your subjects of collaboration?

 

Water is an issue of direct interest to Ministry of Forestry and Water Affairs in particular, as well as many institutions such as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources, Ministry of Health, Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Livestock, and Ministry of Environment and Urbanization. We therefore work in close cooperation with these institutions for almost all of our tasks. We are particularly in close cooperation with the State Hydraulic Works, General Directorate of Water Management and the Turkish State Meteorological Service under the authority of the Ministry of Forestry and Water Affairs. We also cooperate with the Turkish International Cooperation and Development Agency (TIKA), Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality (IBB) and Istanbul Water and Sewerage Administration (ISKI). Working concertedly with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs General Directorate of Energy, Water and Environmental Affairs on developing international water policies, together we represent Turkey in official and unofficial (Track I and Track II) activities on transboundary waters.

 

Which international organizations do you cooperate with?

 

We are in cooperation with the World Water Council, International Water Resources Association (IWRA), Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), International Network of Basin Organizations (INBO), Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), UNESCO-IHE Institute For Water Education, Developing Eight (D-8) and many other prominent institutions. SUEN was elected as an observer member to the World Water Council until 2018. We regularly participate in the World Water Council’s Board of Governors meetings, of which I am a member as SUEN President. We aim to transfer the outcomes of the Istanbul International Water Forum to the next year’s World Water Forum and participate in the World Water Fora to represent Turkey in the thematic, political and regional processes. We are the national focal point for the Islamic Conference of Ministers Responsible for Water. At the Third Islamic Conference of Ministers Responsible for Water we hosted in Istanbul in partnership with OIC, Turkey was decided to be a member of the OIC Water Council until 2022. Since September 2013, we have been a partner of the OECD Water Governance Initiative and we contribute to its activities under the Working Group on Basin Governance. As the prime mover institution for the D-8 Water Cooperation Initiative, we facilitate coordination among the member states. We participate in the UNESCO-IHE Institute for Water Education Governing Board meetings, to which I was elected as a member in 2015. In collaboration with the Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey (TUBITAK), we represent Turkey in the Water Joint Programming Initiative (JPI), which aims to achieve sustainable water systems for a sustainable economy in Europe and beyond.

 

Can you tell about the projects and research activities conducted by SUEN?

 

In 2004, we initiated the “Groundwater Modeling and Preparation of a Management Plan” for Ceylanpınar Region, which is an aquifer system of transboundary nature in southeastern Turkey. With this project, we aim to define the Ceylanpınar aquifer system and facilitate its efficient and effective use. The project will be completed by the end of 2016. The outcomes of this project will provide a basis for the management of the Ceylanpınar aquifer system in line with our national transboundary water policies. Another project we initiated this year is the “Benchmarking of Water and Sewerage Administrations in Turkey”. This project will benchmark the performance indicators of the water and sewerage administrations and identify the improvement areas. On international scale, we contributed to the Water and Green Growth (WGG) project of the Korean Government and the World Water Council as the local consultant for the “Golden Horn Case Study” in Istanbul. We also represent Turkey in the “WatEUr - Tackling European Water Challenges” project supported by the European Commission under the 7th Framework Programme, which contributes increasing the overall efficiency of Water RDI activities in Europe.

 

Can you tell us more about SUEN’s training activities?

 

We organize training programs on various subjects, namely master planning in the urban water sector, wastewater management in rural areas, river basin planning, water and wastewater treatment design and operation, water and sewerage network management, and groundwater management. We tailor the training programs to meet each group’s needs. The trainings are delivered by prominent professors specialized in the management of water and wastewater. We award certificates to participants who successfully complete the programs. To date, we delivered training to more than 500 water and wastewater specialists from over 25 countries in 3 continents, including Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Gambia, Chad, Djibouti, Palestine, Ghana, South Sudan, Iraq, Malawi, Pakistan, Somalia and Uganda.

 

Could you briefly summarize Turkey's transboundary waters policy?

 

Contrary to the popular belief, Turkey is not a water-rich country. As a result of economic development, population growth and increased living standards, the need for water for agriculture and energy rises every day, however our available water resources are limited. Therefore we must use our limited water resources efficiently and manage them in an integrated manner. It is extremely important for us to benefit from the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, which constitute one-third of Turkey’s water potential. As Turkey, we are fully aware of our responsibilities towards the downstream countries in the Tigris-Euphrates River Basin. We see water as a catalyst for cooperation between riparian countries, rather than a source of conflict. We are aware of the critical importance of fresh water resources for our region and we expect the same sensitivity from the other riparian countries. We advocate that transboundary waters should be used in an equitable, reasonable and optimum manner. We support the idea of sharing the benefits at basin level instead of equal distribution of waters. We recognize that the Euphrates and Tigris rivers constitute a single basin that should be managed with an integrated approach. The Three-Stage Plan developed in this regard involves the inventory studies of the water potential of the Euphrates-Tigris River Basin as a first stage, identification of the water need for irrigation in Turkey, Syria and Iraq as a second stage, and allocation of the waters in accordance with the identified needs as a third stage. We as Turkey are ready to exchange information, share experiences and technically cooperate with other riparian countries in the Euphrates-Tigris River Basin.

 

What activities do you carry out towards cooperation on transboundary waters? How would you describe the main challenges you face in this regard?

 

We actively attend and provide coordination for participating specialists from Turkey in the CPET (Collaborative Programme Euphrates and Tigris) activities. CPET is jointly implemented by Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI) and International Center for Biosaline Agriculture (ICBA) and funded by Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida). This project aims to improve dialogue and cooperation among the countries in the Euphrates and Tigris basin through increased access to information and knowledge transfer regarding water management. There are six Task Forces gathering regularly within the CPET, namely Hydrology and Climate Change, Hydropower, Water Quality, Agricultural Water Productivity, Marshlands, and Socioeconomics. These studies analyze the current water situation in the riparian countries based on scientific methods and models.

 

Solution for transboundary water issues calls for dialogue and reconciliation among riparian countries. The existing lack of trust among the Middle East countries adversely affects the cooperation activities. Instead of establishing a direct dialogue with riparian countries and seeking solutions together, countries are trying to do this through mediator institutions from Europe or the US. Iran, Iraq and Syria blame us for not letting enough water downstream from the Euphrates and Tigris rivers. They attribute the sandstorms occurring in Iran or the drying of marshes in southern Iraq to this claim. Scientific articles published in Western countries support these arguments. We evaluate these claims and try to explain the issues based on scientific data.

 

SUEN has hosted many successful international water events so far. Could you briefly tell us about these past events and your future organizations?

 

In October 2012 we hosted the 10th European Conference on the Implementation of the Water Framework Directive “Europe-INBO 2012”. At the end of this Conference, the Istanbul Europe-INBO 2012 Declaration was adopted and SUEN took over the presidency of Europe-INBO for the term 2012-2013. In 2013, we organized the D-8 Water Cooperation Meeting, which was the first ever water themed meeting of the D-8 countries. The meeting involved technical meetings held among senior governmental officials from the member countries. In 2014, we held the 3rd Istanbul International Water Forum with the main theme “Water Security and Legal Aspects of Water”. The 3rd IIWF discussed the all-important issue of transboundary waters and welcomed over 3 thousand participants. We voiced the thematic outcomes of the 3rd IIWF at the 7th World Water Forum held in the Republic of Korea in 2015. Last May, we organized the Third Session of the Islamic Conference of Ministers Responsible for Water in close cooperation with the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). The Conference adopted important decisions towards the implementation of the OIC Water Vision document and Turkey was decided to be a member of the OIC Water Council until 2022. Next year, we will be holding the 4th IIWF on 10-11 May 2017. In the light of the latest political setting in our region, we identified the main theme of the Forum as “Water and Peace”. The 4th IIWF will discuss the relationship between refugees and water services. As always, we will aim to provide important inputs to the 8th World Water Forum, which will be held in Brazil in 2018.

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