Will Freshwater Pipeline Save Cyprus From Drought?

cyprus nicosia town hills photo

Nicosia, Cyprus. Photo: Franco Pecchio / Creative Commons.

Key reservoirs in Cyprus are drying up. In some parts of the Greek side of the divided island, 50 percent of the trees have died due to drought, damaging soil quality and agricultural productivity. Experts say the Mediterranean island could end up with as little water as Abu Dhabi. It's a grim situation, to be sure, and one not helped by the ongoing political strife. But is the answer really a 66-mile undersea pipeline -- and yet another dam in Turkey?The underground aquifers on which Cyprus relies "have become so depleted that the water from them is becoming brackish and unfit for drinking. Streams on the island have virtually dried up during the hot summer months, and reservoirs built to store water from winter rains and aquifers ... are reaching a critical level," the Mideast environmental news site Green Prophet wrote in the fall.

Desalination Plants Insufficient
The split of the island into Greek and Turkish halves makes for two water problems instead of one, with both sides fighting over the scarce underground resources. Desalination plants have been constructed on the southern (Greek) side, but they have proved insufficient to meet freshwater needs.

Amidst the growing water crisis, Turkey says it has broken ground on a long-discussed project to carry water for drinking and irrigation from southern Turkey to northern (Turkish) Cyprus. According to a Turkish news service report earlier this month, each year 75 million cubic meters of water will be transferred through the pipeline from the Alaköprü Dam when it is completed in four years.

Critics said, however, that the timing of the announcement was a political one, meant to allay current tension between Turkey and Turkish Cyprus over economic reforms, and that the unprecedented project might create more problems than it solves.

Desertification, Problems With Dams In Turkey
"While this solution may work in the short run, it is not a permanent solution as Turkey itself may not have enough water to supply the Turkish portion of the island," Professor Manfred Lange, a geophysicist studying the island's water crises, told Reuters when the proposal was floated a few years ago.

Though Turkey has more water than some of its neighbors, it is also experiencing desertification in some of its key agricultural regions. The government's dam-building spree has provoked complaints from a thirsty Iraq and sent Turkish residents out into the streets to protest the destruction of their homes and livelihoods.

"Connecting the northern portion of the island to the Turkish mainland by this water pipeline will also continue to emphasize the division of the island into both Greek- and Turkish-controlled portions," Green Prophet wrote in the fall. "[The result would be] the two sections working separately to solve the islands water needs instead of working together."

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