Agricultural use accounts for 72 percent of total water consumption in Turkey. Photo by Jennifer Hattam
As the temperature rises in Istanbul, talk always starts to turn to the topic of water: Specifically, whether there was enough rain and snow over the winter to keep water coming out of the city's faucets reliably over the summer, or whether days of dry taps are in our future. But according to the World Wildlife Fund, improvements to irrigation practices in just one Turkish agricultural region could remove much of that uncertainty, saving enough water annually to meet Istanbul's needs for up to three years.This month, a joint project by WWF and Turkish cookie and cracker manufacturer ETİ Burçak will begin training farmers in Konya, a fertile region of central Anatolia known as "Turkey's breadbasket," to use modern drip-irrigation methods that reduce water consumption by one third to one half.
Groundwater Drying Up, Desertification Spreading
Water-saving irrigation techniques are currently employed on less than one tenth of the irrigable land in Turkey, where agricultural water use is above average global levels. According to WWF, "unsustainable water use practices in agricultural production are linked with the drying of lakes and rivers, declines in underground water levels, and rising soil infertility from a build up in salinity."
Konya is already suffering the consequences: lakes and groundwater are drying up, the quantity and quality of food produced in the region is going down, and good grazing lands are increasingly riddled with sinkholes and succumbing to desertification. Temperatures in the Konya closed basin, a drainage basin that retains water and allows no outflow, are projected to increase between 2 degrees and 6 degrees by 2030.
Water Savings of Up to 50 Percent
Pilot irrigation projects in Konya and other Turkish farming areas have achieved water-use reductions of up to 50 percent on thirsty crops such as sugar beet, cotton, and corn. After training farmers and other members of the agriculture industry in the Konya area, WWF and ETİ Burçak aim to expand the effort to the country's other agricultural centers. Banks have been supporting the project by giving credit at low interest rates to farmers who are willing to purchase water-saving irrigation equipment.
"The threats of climate change are constantly increasing, and its impact has already started; therefore, it is crucial for us to start acting now," WWF-Turkey CEO Akın Öngor said at a press conference announcing the initiative. "If modern irrigation methods are implemented, there is a potential in the Konya area alone to conserve up to three years' worth of Istanbul's annual water supply."
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