Prof. Dr. Lütfi Akça, President of Turkish Water Institute

1. How do you evaluate the state of water resources at the global level and the growing importance of water issues in the world public opinion? What are the main factors influencing the global water agenda?

 

Approximately 70% of our world is covered with water, yet 97.5% of this amount consists of salt water in the oceans, and most of the remaining 2.5% of fresh water is found in the poles as glaciers and groundwater. Accessible clean water resources that are in lakes, reservoirs, rivers and streams constitute only 0.10% of the total fresh water potential of the earth. As the spread of water-stressed regions in the world increases with the impact of climate change, the affected population is also growing.

 

According to the United Nations World Water Development Report, around 1 billion people face water scarcity in cities, and the report predicts that this number may go up to 2.4 billion people in 2050, while urban water demand is estimated to rise by 80% by 2050. As per the report, approximately 2 billion people in the world do not have safe drinking water, while 3.6 billion people do not have access to sanitation services. Today, water shortages are experienced in the Mediterranean basin, which includes our country, the Middle East, Central and South Asia, the Australian continent and Western America.

 

Unfortunately, current water shortage in the world will increase day by day due to population growth, urbanization and the effects of climate change, which reveals the need to take global steps for the efficient use of water.

 

In line with this need, the UN invited the whole world to cooperate under the title "Access to Clean Water and Sanitation" as one of the 17 goals determined within the scope of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Effective and efficient use of water is one of the leading principles of SDG 6 and underpins our country's "Water Efficiency Campaign". In this context, we have started regulations and projects in order to use water efficiently and save water in agriculture sector, which consumes water resources the most.

 

 

The Water Action Agenda, an action plan that includes nearly 700 commitments to protect “humanity's most precious global common good” adopted after the UN 2023 Water Conference, is an important outcome for global cooperation. This agenda will bring together all voluntary commitments related to water, track their progress and encourages Member States, stakeholders and the private sector to take urgent action to address today's water challenges. This agenda has a global impact as it accelerates SDG 6, which ensures universal access and sustainable management of water and sanitation by 2030.

 

2. What are the activities carried out by SUEN within the framework of global water agenda?

 

SUEN is a national think-tank that operates on scientific research, capacity building and strategic idea development in order to contribute to the development of national and international water policies. We work in close cooperation with national and international institutions on issues such as sustainable water management, development of water policies, and capacity building in solving local and global water problems.

 

By closely following the global water agenda, we both contribute to the development of our country's water policies at the national level and voice these policies at the international scale, thus contributing to our country's policies being among the determinants of the global water agenda. In this context, we closely follow and actively participate in the water events and projects both on regional and global scale.

 

In this context, the UN 2023 Water Conference we attended in New York in March last year, is very important as it is the first UN conference held after the UN Water Conference held in Argentina in 1977. The three-day conference was attended by 10,000 participants and 188 member states and united the world around the aim of re-mobilising and urgently scaling up action towards achieving SDG 6. As a result of the Conference, which was considered as the Mid-Term Review Conference on the Implementation of the "Water Decade (2018-2028)", the Water Action Agenda was adopted.

 

 

Our country participated in the conference with a large delegation under the chairmanship of our Minister. Under the theme of "Water for Cooperation" with the coordination of our Ministry, "Towards the Realization of the Water Action Agenda: Reaching Beyond Borders" and under the theme of "Water for Health" with the coordination of SUEN, "Wastewater Surveillance for the Monitoring of Public Health: A One Health Approach to Meet the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)” side events were organized.

 

Within the scope of the UN Water Conference; SUEN representatives took part as panelists in various side events such as “Water Diplomacy Symposium 2023: Global Experience Sharing within the scope of the 2023 UN Water Conference”, “Water Security and Water Diplomacy: Information Sharing, Accelerating Collaborative Action and the Role of Multilateral Forums” and “Commitments to Accelerate Cooperation on Water, Environment, Climate and Peace”.

 

The 84th World Water Council Board of Governors Meeting, held in Beijing on 9-13 September 2023, in which we actively participated and I also attended as a governor, is also decisive in terms of bringing together the actors shaping the global water agenda. The prominence of this meeting for us is to ensure that our country is represented in the task forces established within the 2023-2025 Work Program and to take an active role in determining the activities to be carried out within the scope of these task forces. In this process, the activities to be carried out within the scope of the Task Forces, which are formed within the World Water Council 2023-2025 Period Work Program, were determined and SUEN, on behalf of our country, took part in 4 task forces: Water Security and Resilience, Water for Humans and Nature, Water Quality and Health and Non-Conventional Water Resources. In this context, our membership in the World Water Council enables us to be one of the actors guiding water policies and strengthens water collaborations in both technical and political dimensions.

 

Parallel with this meeting, the 18th World Water Congress, organized by the International Water Resources Association (IWRA) and attended by the World Water Council Board members and in which we also actively participated, is another important event that contributes to the global water agenda. The congress aimed to improve the coordination and balance between the water needs of humans and nature with the main theme of "Water for All: Harmony between Human and Nature". We represented our country and made presentations in the congress on the topics of "Water Governance in Türkiye" and "Maintaining Healthy Life of Rivers: Türkiye’s Perspective".

 

We stated at the congress that our country is not a water-rich country, as it is highlighted on international platforms, but we are making intense efforts to manage water resources rationally, considering factors such as climate change that adversely affect our natural resources. In this regard, we had the opportunity to share with participants the significant changes made in our water management system, emphasizing the transition to a basin-scale water management system. We highlighted the practices implemented at the basin level, along with efforts aimed at increasing water efficiency in agriculture through the National Water Efficiency Campaign. Furthermore, we shared our endeavors in water and wastewater management in line with Sustainable Development Goals.

 

Moreover, I consider the meeting highly significant in terms of enabling a platform for underlining the importance of considering integrated water resources management under the domains of supply management, demand management, resource management and risk management, and conveying our country's water management strategies to other actors of the global water agenda. In this way, our country's water governance model was shared with the heads of international organizations participating in the congress, senior government officials, experts, academicians and entrepreneurs, and developing opportunities for water-related experience sharing and cooperation with stakeholders was brought to the agenda.

 

Recently, the 86th Governors' Meeting of the World Water Council was held in Istanbul on 17-18 February 2024, hosted by our country and under the coordination of SUEN. In his opening speech at the meeting, our Minister highlighted "our country's water vision and activities" and our Ambassador Berris Ekinci made a speech on regional political challenges. At the meeting, developments regarding the 10th World Water Forum to be held in May were also evaluated. The most important outcome of this meeting is Memorandum of Understanding for the cooperation on water between our Ministry and the World Water Council, signed by our Minister and the President of the World Water Council, Loic Fauchon.

 

 

Now we have the 10th World Water Forum ahead to be held in Bali in May, on our agenda. We continue our preparations to convey our country's water policies in the most effective way at the forum, strengthen our existing collaborations and open up new spheres. We aim to contribute to our country's efforts to shape global water policies by actively reflecting our achievements and experiences in the forum.

 

 

3. How do you consider the relationship between global climate change and water management policies? What is the impact of climate change on national water management policies?

 

Climate change is one of the most critical problems of our era, with far-reaching effects on the environment, people and the economy. Among the many areas affected by climate change, water resources are of particular concern; as water is an essential resource for human welfare, economic development and ecological health.

 

As the variability in the water cycle increases and extreme weather events become more frequent as a result of climate change, it becomes difficult for billions of people to access water and sanitation services, putting great pressure on ecosystems. At the same time, growing demand for water leads to increased energy-intensive pumping, treatment and transportation, raising carbon emissions and exacerbating climate change. Therefore, there exists a two-way connection and causality between climate change and water policies.

 

For this reason, climate change and water policies should not be regarded independently of each other, in terms of both their causes and effect. We can say that water policies on national and global scale have a key importance in both adaptation and mitigation policies and strategies.

 

As a matter of fact, we see that water has been gaining importance in the climate change agenda in recent years. The 27th Conference of the Parties (COP27) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, held in 2022, holds significant importance as it marks the first inclusion of water in a climate outcome statement. The prominence of water in adaptation to climate change was also emphasized in the Global Goal on Adaptation (GGA) and Global Stocktake (GST) documents, which are the two most important official outputs of COP 28 held in 2023. The text recognizes the importance of protecting, preserving and restoring aquatic ecosystems for a successful adaptation to climate change. It encourages parties to increase their efforts to reduce climate-induced water scarcity and increase climate resilience against water hazards, climate-resilient water supply, sanitation and access to safe and affordable drinking water for all.

 

Türkiye is also one of the countries most exposed to the current and possible impacts of climate change due to its geographical position. Our natural resources, especially soil and water, are directly affected by climate change. Contrary to popular belief, our country is not a water-rich country. As of 2023, the amount of water per capita is 1313 m3, and in 2050 our population is expected to reach 100 million and the amount of water per capita is thus expected to drop to 1120 m3. If these predictions come true, our country will be one of the countries suffering from water stress. Therefore, it is of great importance that we use our water resources efficiently.

 

The increased drought resulting from climate change adversely affects both our soil and water resources, leading to a drop in agricultural production. When meteorological drought, initiated by decreased rainfall, transitions into agricultural drought, pressure increases on plants due to decreased soil moisture, resulting in reduced production and the deterioration of our agricultural lands.

 

In hydrological drought, a decline in water levels in rivers and lakes leads to reduced activity of aquatic organisms. This process adversely affects all sectors economically, environmentally, and socially. Therefore, we must integrate both drought management and water management in an interconnected manner.

 

The most effective solution to the challenges we encounter is the efficient and productive use of water across all sectors and the increase in our stored water capacity. Raising the storage capacities of dams, lakes, reservoirs, and wetlands, as well as the significance of groundwater aquifers as the largest and strategic water reservoirs, is crucial. Therefore, ensuring the sustainable use of groundwater resources is paramount in addressing today's water management issues. On the other hand, it is anticipated that reducing water losses in drinking water systems to around 25%, improving irrigation efficiency in agriculture from 50% to 75%, and employing clean production technologies and efficiency techniques in industry can lead to a significant reduction, up to 25%, in total water usage from clean freshwater sources. Hence, a "roadmap" for our country to adapt to the changing climate is already prepared.

 

In addition, installing solar power systems on the surfaces of dams, lakes and water channels, particularly in regions where temperature rises due to the effects of climate change, is an alternative that we should consider to reduce evaporation losses.

 

4. What is the role of the agricultural sector in the development of water management policies? Could you explain the implementations and practices in the agricultural sector within the scope of sustainable water management policies in Türkiye?

 

The most significant impact of the anticipated increase in water scarcity due to population growth, urbanization, and climate change in the coming years will be felt in the agricultural sector. On average, approximately 70% of the world's water resources are used in agriculture. In our country, this rate is 75% that is slightly above the world average. In addition, the global population is expected to grow to over 10 billion by 2050, and it is estimated that agricultural production will need to grow by approximately 70% by 2050 to meet the basic needs of both urban and rural populations.

 

For this reason, the agricultural sector, as the largest water consumer sector, has to be the main component of water policies all over the world. The amount of water savings achieved through the enhancement of agricultural irrigation efficiency within the framework of sustainable water policies will also be substantial. In parallel with population growth, the need for agricultural irrigation is also rising significantly in terms of sustainability of food security. In this regard, proper and planned management of soil and water resources is essential in enhancing agricultural production. The fragile and sensitive balance between limited water, soil and plant resources in the geography where our country is located requires the development of strategies that take these sensitivities into account for sustainable agriculture.

 

Today, it is seen that pressurized irrigation systems and methods are implementations that allow the most effective use of water and provide the highest economic and social benefit, whether measurable or not, in the long term, if the necessary technical, economic and social conditions are met. Significant works have been carried out in this direction within the scope of the "Program for Water Use Efficiency in Agriculture", one of the Priority Transformation Programs outlined in the 10th National Development Plan. It is important to carry on the same approach in the upcoming period to achieve the goals envisaged in this program for the more efficient use of water in agricultural production.

 

Regarding water efficiency in agriculture, SUEN, as the Coordination Office of the Blue Peace Middle East initiative between 2019 and 2022, completed the study, “Disseminating Knowledge to Improve Agricultural Water Use Efficiency in the Middle East”. The study was conducted specifically in the Middle East Region, under the leadership of SUEN, with the participation of Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon as partner countries. Within the scope of the project, the current situation of water use was evaluated in order to use the water resources of the region, which will be affected by climate change and where agricultural use is at 80% level, more efficiently, strategic recommendations were developed for decision makers on improving water use efficiency in agriculture, and capacity building activities were carried out. The most important outcome of this project is to deliver this information to decision makers and ensure dissemination of the information.

 

Utilizing alternative water resources in agriculture is another important aspect for water efficiency in agriculture. Reusing treated wastewater for agricultural irrigation purposes is of vital importance, especially in our regions that are weak in terms of water resources.

 

As outlined in our country's Green Deal Action Plan, implementing actions to enhance the development and widespread adoption of treated wastewater reuse can alleviate pressure on water resources. This not only enhances the sustainability of agriculture in regions facing water scarcity but also helps mitigate environmental impacts by preserving water ecosystems.

 

In the 12th Development Plan, taking into account the circular economy criteria, it is projected that the reuse rate of treated wastewaters in urban infrastructure targets will be increased from 5.4%, which is the target of 2023, to 11% by the end of 2028.

 

In addition, it is important for relevant institutions to undertake cooperation activities to make practical and widespread the practices regarding the reuse of treated wastewater in agriculture. These practices are also actively used in countries suffering from water scarcity and there are examples of good practices.

 

As SUEN, the international WATERMED project we completed last year is a good example in this area. As part of this project, we carried out a field study on the reuse of treated wastewater for agricultural irrigation in the Konya Closed Basin for two years. We tested the effects of using treated wastewater on sugar beet and corn plants, which are the most common plants in the region, and observed that treated wastewater yields similar to the production obtained from natural water resources.

 

With this project, all data regarding agricultural production and the use of water resources were collected in a common decision support system, producing output for both farmers and local and central governments. By collecting and processing the data in a single system, weekly irrigation programs were created for farmers, while managers were provided with information on water consumption amounts and agricultural production.

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