Turkey Is Praying for Rain

Image: Hillpark1 YouTube screengrab

By Ashira Morris, ODP Staff Writer

Turkey is experiencing its most severe drought in a decade after critically low rainfall over the past six months. Istanbul has less than 45 days of water remaining. Ankara, the country’s capital has 110. Other cities also face limited water and depleted dams, and farmers are concerned about crop failure. As The Guardian reports, water supply has been an issue there for decades, exacerbated by population growth and climate change. Instead of managing demand, the country built hundreds of dams, at a huge cost to the surrounding environment

Why this Matters: Things are so bad, the imams are telling their worshipers to pray for rain.  As Dr Akgün İlhan, a water management expert at the Istanbul Policy Center, explained to The Guardian, if people can’t make a living farming, there could be a rise in poverty and in people moving to cities for work, further stressing the urban water supply and making the situation more unstable. “Turkey does have the economic and technological means to fix its damaged water cycle,” İlhan said. “The missing element is the political will to take these steps.”

The Damage of Dams

Turkey, led by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, is the only G20 country besides the US that hasn’t signed on to the Paris Agreement.  Turkey has a track record of prioritizing development projects over environmental needs, which is now putting Turkish people at risk. Just last year, Turkey completed a massive dam project: the Ilisu Dam turned nearly 90 miles of the Tigris River into a reservoir. The project, which the government touted as a cleaner source of energy, displaced 80,000 people, flooded an ancient archeological site, and harmed species living in the river

“To disturb or change the natural process of the river is also criminal,” Zeynep Ahunbay, a conservation architect, told the New York Times. “You lose the beauty, you lose history, you lose nature. You are a loser all the time.”

Turkey’s dam projects have ripple effects beyond the country’s borders: the Tigris and Euphrates both run through the country and into other parts of the Middle East. Over the years, Turkey’s water management has polluted the waters and dried up lands downstream. Iraq claims that Turkey’s dams have reduced water by 80% and intensified its own water crisis

Water Crises are Global

More than 3 billion people worldwide face water shortages according to the latest data at the end of 2020. The combination of climate crises and poor water management has made agriculture — and human survival — more difficult as water becomes more scarce and rainfall more erratic. South Africa’s extreme drought is likely a preview for years to come, including in regions of the US that are projected to see freshwater supply decrease by up to a third in 50 years.

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