İlter Turan, Professor at Bilgi University


In 1970’s, the water problems were brought to agenda through environmental conferences. It was expressed particularly in 90’s that water sources have a potential to become a source of conflict. Is there really a water problem, or is water problem a topic put forward artificially?


Bringing the water problem into question is mainly an expression of a farsighted concern since water supply of earth is limited. Given the present water storage systems and water usage patterns, current supply will not suffice to the growing population after some time. So, more productive ways of water use and reproduction of it must be taken into consideration. On the other hand, alleging that water will be a source of conflict and talking about water wars makes people think that water problems can only be solved through conflicts. Yet, solving the problems of water can be realized through cooperation, not war. By waging wars, we cannot increase the water resources available. To head towards cooperation, we must first acknowledge that all countries need the least amount of water to subsist.


The question is, how every country will be enabled to provide its minimum needs. A more productive use of existing water resuorces is very important in this regard. Demand for water concentrates on three main areas as industrial, agricultural and municipal. For instance, ensuring less leakages in the operation of water transportation systems, introducing some devices that can reduce water consumption and treatment of used waters and reuse of it with various purposes should be possible. These go for the industry as well. There are also great losses in agricultural water use because the most effective irrigation systems are not in place. Apart from creating water shortage, overspending of water in agriculture can bring precious ingredients of soil away or cause other problems like salinization. Most effective technologies about water use in agriculture should be adopted. Talking about water wars while all these options are possible and following a path as “I use more water than you in business as usual and spare my water to you” and articulating that “I will fight for this if it needs to be” pushes people to an unnecessary and inappropriate mental framework.


These are the issues that concern Turkey and the surrounding countries. Turkey can currently meet its water needs at a certain level although not being a water rich country. Increasing population and climate change show us that Turkey will also increasingly need to deal with water scarcity problem. Treating sea water by reverse osmosis may actually respond to the urban water needs, but this is an expensive method and mostly not feasible to meet industrial and agricultural water needs. We need to look for new ways to better use water resources. While planning, we should refrain from creating the impression that we will use all the water and there will be no water left for our neighbours.


In the last decade, there has been a tendency to highlight cooperation in water literature. While the Middle East was at the center of water problems previously, due to the climate change similar problems are experienced in the Western America and the Southern Europe today. Can widespread water problems all over the world be a reason for cooperation to be highlighted as a solution? How did the discourse evolved from conflict to cooperation?


With the impact of increasing concerns about the climate change all over the world, nearly all countries have become aware that something needs to be done regarding this issue. Secondly, it was clear that water wars would not be the solution as they would not help to increase the amount of existing water resources. In other words, by allocating much less of the financial and human resources that you would use in the war to the efficient use of water, you would get more water than you would gain through the war. Therefore, there is an economic or utility-based reasoning to emphasize water cooperation. We should recall the fact


As of 2011, non-state actors have claimed control over water resources and water was used as a strategic tool in the region. Does this set an example or was it just a unique case that arose in that period?


It is possible to use water as a strategic resource in the event of a conflict. This takes place in two ways: creating water shortages by cutting water or causing floods and disasters by damaging water infrastructure. We have witnessed both cases in the Middle East in recent years. But it would be more accurate to think that this is exceptional. In other words, when the legitimate authority is established it can’t be an option to apply such unfortunate strategies. Aside from the irresponsible use of water resources in the event of internal conflicts, the main problem for the countries in the Middle East is to initiate joint efforts to ensure water sufficiency. Here, perhaps we have to recall an issue that we have not touched before: Quality of water matters beside its availability. It is not enough to have water in sufficient quantity, water also needs to be clean. This requires a number of measures to be taken. Discharge of waste water after treatment in river cities, efficient use of irrigation systems to slow down the irrigational discharge with heavy loads of fertilizers and treating industrial water discharges are some examples of these measures.


There is an ongoing attempt to constitute legislation on water resources. Are these studies (done in the past and continuing today) sufficient in terms of existing water problems? Are they capable of responding to the water problems?


The constitution of a universal legal regime of water is not easy, since countries with exceptional cases do not find the proposed rules or regulations sufficient, as every situation has many exceptions in various countries. As an example, when we look at the legislation that the United Nations has been trying to develop on transboundary waters, we see that there is always an effort to preserve the downstream countries, and not to take into account the needs of the upstream countries. Besides, there is a codification attempt that favours the countries which have started to use waters previously. Therefore, countries refrain from being a party to such documents. A similar initiative was attempted in the field of maritime law. The geographic map of the world was not of course in the state of the perfection that the maritime law makers desired. So, many exceptional cases had to be dealt with. Finally, the UN Legal Commission prepared an agreement text. Of course, some countries have embraced the text as they provided advantages for them over others. Those who seemed to be disadvantageous did not sign the agreement. The agreement does not bind the countries that have not signed. In my opinion, as in many other issues, regional agreements on water will provide a more effective solution. Following this option does not mean that international principles will totally be ignored, but it shows the fact that the main solution is the regional agreements.


How do you evaluate Turkey's water policies?


Turkey follows several policies with regard to transboundary waters. For example, the Arpaçay Dam from the Soviet era, which we now share with Armenia, stands out as a product of friendly cooperation, even in the midst of hostile relations. Turkey's purchase of water from Bulgaria in the past, to irrigate rice fields in Edirne, is another expression of reasonable approach. The main problematic issue is the Tigris and Euphrates. The fact that Syria does not have a proper water source other than the Euphrates, which constitutes a lifeline for Syria –considering that Orontes is not equally important-, makes Syria a bit too sensitive and aggressive in terms of water issues. Turkey has shown good intentions towards its neighbours by looking for ways of cooperation both with Syria and Iraq, such as setting up Joint Technical Committees and bringing the Three-Stage Plan on the agenda during the times when good relations reigned in the region. But, the point that cannot be agreed on is whether to allocate these waters physically or to share their benefits. Although Turkey does not agree with its neighbours on these matters, leaving the neighbours without water has never been in question. Turkey has not been a party to the development of international water law; on the grounds that this legal regime cannot be responsive to Turkey’s needs and priorities. Perhaps the possibility of getting closer to this system can be explored, by putting reservation contracts when appropriate.


Thank you very much for your time.

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