OPAQUE WATER: LACK OF TRANSPARENCY & HIDDEN POLITICS
I am a research assistant and a PhD candidate in the water group of the Cyprus Institute. My work and my interests as a scientist have been centered around studying the natural environment. The main element of the environment is - water - and Cyprus, as a water-scarce country is an ideal location for applied knowledge and for on-site environmentally-engaged practice. The reality of countries with increasing water scarcity, is that the gap between water science and society is not at all wide. Therefore, for an environmental scientist, it is possible to focus on water not only as a scientist, but as an activist for water-related issues within our environment that have a direct effect on the people.
My activities around water-research on the island include European integration in water issues, rural development around water issues, water management, and raising awareness in the general public about water and environment, and the adverse impacts of unsustainable water consumption. As an individual, my personal relationship to water has pushed me to discover the social and political dimensions of water that go beyond scientific principles. My knowledge of the Pipeline Project has therefore been one of both academic research on the one hand, and of a personal need to know and see the political and environmental impacts of this projects in the four years or more of its development.
Water budget of northern Cyprus: How sustainable is it?
In order to call water consumption “sustainable” the amount of water you use should be equal or less than the amount of water your area, in this case northern Cyprus, can provide to you. How can you keep pumping water that you no longer have? Knowing the concept of replenishment rate of an aquifer is very important in the case of northern Cyprus since 90% of its water comes from ground water. Salty water, in our case the sea, contains many minerals when compared to sweet water, thus it is heavier which allows sweet water to have its own flow-characteristics on top of salty water without mixing with it. This is the case for us as an island. So, replenishment rate of an aquifer is simply the amount of water over time that it requires to replenish itself with rainwater. In short, if you pump more water than the water an aquifer replenishes, then salty water will come to upper layers and replace the sweet water, in most cases irreversibly. We cannot keep pumping the water we do not have, but we have been pumping water unsustainably.
The academics Elkıran and Erkil, both professors in a university in Famagusta, published a paper in 2006 showing that the yearly water consumption of northern Cyprus equals to 126 million m3 and 70% (90 million) of which is for agricultural use and the rest (36 million) is for domestic use.
Aquifers in the northern part of the island can provide per year 75 million m3 of water sustainably. Adding another 19 million from the surface water, we end up with 94 million in total. This is only enough for agriculture (90 million for the agriculture)! So everyone in northern Cyprus has been taking showers, washing clothes and cars, flushing toilets, enjoying swimming pools, brushing teeth and water cannoning each other unsustainably: with a result of having aquifers irreversibly salty, and a reduction in the quality of soils and life on top (especially agriculture), and at the cost of future generations!
Sadly, this is proven by the fact that Morphou Aquifer, currently the biggest in Cyprus, which has been over-extracted for so long, by either individual farmers or by government for drinking water supply, that sea water is now 4 km inland from the sea - leaving all the wells in the area too salty to be viable. This has resulted in the need for deeper wells further inland, which exacerbates the situation even further. In the current circumstances, without a reduction in demand, more water is needed!
The Pipeline from Turkey
Could it be possible to increase enough water supply without the pipe line from Turkey? Yes.
Reducing the leakage from water networks (assumed to be 40%!) and increasing the efficiency of irrigation, building another dam in Limnidi (Yesilirmak) Village, and recycling waste water could provide 57.5 million m3 water per year. This numerical estimation does not even include desalination and rain water. So if we use 32 million from this number and pump from aquifers at their sustainable yields, we end up with surplus of 25.5 million m3 of water per year. This proves that we could have utilized cheaper and local investments for reaching our water needs. Of course it depends on the projections of your needs e.g. if there is an expected population increase in the coming years..
Lifting up “natural limits” of water for demographic change
Currently, although many citizens and several municipalities in northern Cyprus have their roots in mainland Turkey, (having arrived from Turkey following the 1974 invasion), the government of northern Cyprus is dominated by Turkish Cypriots. It is no surprise that due to the local mismanagement of water in the past, plus the existing embargo for exporting agricultural products, there has been a decrease in agricultural labour. The unspoken fact is that the settler population from Turkey still does not have a population count high enough in order to be able to dominate the current political structure.
Could it be that Turkey wants to increase its population in northern Cyprus by bringing this water and pushing the natural limits of the island higher to accommodate more people? Every year 400,000 seasonal agricultural workers migrate to Adana in Turkey for manpower in agriculture. Over the entire area of the island of Cyprus, 70% of arable land is in the northern part of the island. It is also known that there is a market for Cypriot products in Turkey as products in Cyprus matures earlier than Turkey and this creates a market for the products in Turkey. However, until now, Turkey did not import enough agricultural products from northern Cyprus in order to keep the agriculture productive.
Consequently, with the existence of so much potential arable land - the only limiting factor has been the lack of water supply. Hence, in order to bring more people to work the land, more water is needed.
The European Union versus Turkey
The northern part of Cyprus has received very limited funding from any organisation other than Turkey between 1974 and 2004 as the self-proclaimed state is unrecognised by anyone other than Turkey. Currently, with the EU accession of the Republic of Cyprus following the (failed) attempt by the UN to reunify Cyprus, the EU did start to provide financial help to northern Cyprus. This shift of power from Turkey to the EU of course caused much discomfort for the Turkish authorities on the island as they feared that Turkish Cypriots would end up having a more European identity than Turkish.
One of my first findings on the subject was the blockage of the construction of a desalination plant funded by the EU in northern Cyprus. Construction workers were physically blocked by the Turkish army from entering the site - who declared the areas a “military zone”. This attempt by the EU to provide water for northern Cyprus was outrightly and without reservation prevented by Turkey from being carried out just before the construction of the Turkish pipeline started. All domestic projects to increase water supply around this time, in the years before the pipeline construction began were suspended or cancelled on the authority of the government of the Republic of Turkey.
In the European Court of Human Rights, Turkey has lost many law cases brought forth by the Greek Cypriots regarding the forceful loss of their property in the north due to the invasion of the Turkish Army in 1974. The Greek Cypriot intelligence agency claimed recently that they obtained the e-mailing correspondence between DSI (The National Water Board of Turkey) and a foreign property expert. According to these e-mails, with the arriving water, property of Greek Cypriots in northern Cyprus, which were abandoned because of the 1974 Turkish invasion, will increase in value. The logical result of this, is that Greek Cypriot owners eventually will have to pay for this increase in the case of a possible future solution, or give up their property rights for these. Not surprisingly, such information was not available before the project.
Perhaps it is interesting to point out here too, that biggest mosque ever build in northern Cyprus is now under construction, funded by Turkey, in the heart of Mesaoria agricultural land. There is also a religious school being built next to it. This has caused much opposition from the Turkish Cypriot organisations since the Turkish Cypriot population is more secular in comparison to Turkish settlers from the mainland. Rumour has it that mass-housing companies from Turkey are trying to enter the northern Cyprus property market.
We have also started to see more and more advertising of “green investments” (as in colour of Islam not implying ‘environmental’ ) in the northern part of Cyprus. So is it water that will make this “green” island or something else?
The agreement between the Turkish Cypriot leadership of that time and DSI (National Water Board of Turkey) had many weak points for the Turkish Cypriot side. For example, the property rights of the Panagra reservoir and all the land through which the network will be laid was delivered to DSI, and any expenses arising from obtaining this land (e.g. from a private owner) will be provided by Turkish Cypriot authorities. According to our newspapers, there have been conflicts between municipalities, private landowners and the construction companies laying the inland pipes. Reactions from DSI representatives such as, “you have no right to tell me where to lay the pipe” to municipal authorities when they entered a river bed ‘protected’ by northern Cyprus law, were not uncommon.
Kilometres of inland water pipes were placed through privately owned property, with workers digging without permission from the owners of the land. Several municipalities, mostly Turkish Cypriot, formed a union in order to get the control of the management of the water causing great discomfort to the Turkish authorities - as the government of Turkey has established that it will be a private Turkish company that will manage the Turkish water. The current Turkish Cypriot leadership has started causing problems to Turkey for refusing to give up control of the water it is bringing to “help” the Turkish Cypriots. So who will profit from water management? At the present time the issue is still unresolved.
'Humanitarian' project with environmental damage
Salih Gucel, a Turkish Cypriot biologist, published a paper co-authored by Greek Cypriots and Turkish (not often done in Cyprus) about biodiversity differences between wetlands. One of the conclusions reached in the study was that Panagra Reservoir has the greatest number of plant species. There are many orchids around this reservoir; in fact, every year an orchid festival is held at the nearby village. This particular reservoir was selected by the Government of Turkey for the storing of the water that is transported from Turkey.
In order to increase the capacity of the reservoir, a nearby mountain slope was quarried, trees were cut and soil was bulldozed, damaging not only plant species but also many habitats for birds and other animals and insects. A second negative repercussion is that due to the excavation of the quarry, which is in the watershed of the reservoir, soil and fine particles that were created by the damage to this topography - by dynamite explosion - will end up in the reservoir, ultimately reducing its capacity for water storage.
I have experienced the ecological degradation in the area. Every year in May there is a village festival devoted for the endemic orchids in the area, and biking tours are organised around this event. The number of orchids and birds has been dramatically decreased. Also the landscape and natural surroundings are ruined because of the quarry.
Similar damage has been done to the sea turtles at the Vasilia (Güelyalı) beach, the location for the structural pipe connection from Turkey to the island. The beach has been the home for the nesting by endangered green sea turtles every summer; the sea has Posidonia beds - an important habitat for not only sea turtles, but for all marine life. The rocks quarried from the mountainside were used to create wavebreakers to enable the installation of the pipelines on the seabed floor. This has caused damage both to the seabed and to the coastline.
It is important to note that Turkish Cypriot authorities were not even allowed to enter any of the various construction sites, nor was access allowed to the locations in which the inland pipes were placed. When local environmental NGOs complained about the environmental damage, DSI did not include any measures reducing the damage. When a specific complaint was filed regarding the destruction of the natural habitats of the turtles, the official response of the DSI was to post on their website information about sea turtles and how much they love them. However, no technical measures have been done in order to reduce the harm that has been done to the turtles.
For a project that the Government of Turkey has hailed as the “project of the century”, praising it as one of the world’s greatest technological innovations, a project of enormous budget, that was also the product of the engineering and construction collaboration with foreign multinational companies, you would think that finding more environmentally-friendly options, and less environmentally-damaging techniques would have been possible.
So I am asking, if Turkey is bringing the ‘peace’ water to Cyprus for humanitarian reasons, why perform this project in such an environmentally careless way?
Also, what was the purpose of bringing more water without teaching people to moderate their habits and lifestyles; where is the public education on conservation techniques, such as water recycling?
Future of northern Cyprus with the Turkish water
Non-conventional water resources (e.g. desalination, waste water reuse, rain water harvesting and long distance water transfer) for people in need of water exist throughout our region. In a paper published by the Cyprus Institute last year (Djuma et al. 2014), we listed several of these options. Approaches in the Middle East include commercial salt production at a desalination plant, the strengthening of wastewater reuse standards based on the adverse effects of long-term reuse, the application of a water-harvesting plough for large-scale land-rehabilitation; we also included in our study an assessment of the development of Turkish under-sea pipeline for water transfer to Cyprus.
Water scarcity and political instability in our region have caused the hasty and rushed execution of most of the area's big water projects. My scientific evaluation is that research on off-site effects and environmental impacts have been lacking in all of them.
As regards the Pipeline, there are many problematic issues. Firstly, there was no timely environmental impact assessment report on the project for the Cyprus side of the project, only for the areas in Turkey from which the water begins its transfer. Long term effects to soil microbiology due to the effects of the project are not known, as the Turkish water may possibly have different microbial composition than the water our soils use for irrigation. Regulations concerning agricultural sector (e.g. on pesticide use, work security of agricultural workers etc.) also need to be strengthened. The managing of the current water demand in Cyprus is also important - as no farmer will use water that is more expensive than the water they can pump up from their own well; this will inevitably contribute to the continued deterioration of the ground water by salinization. Another forseeable problem will be legal issues around the management of water as the current project does not comply with by Turkey the EU Water Framework Directive.
None of the above recommendations have been done, and water has already started filling the reservoir in northern Cyprus. Blame also needs to be placed on the authorities of northern Cyprus, as they too are responsible for all of these issues and unanswered questions, and general lack of transparency.
At this point in time, only a cohesive effort towards: investment in research capacity (e.g. universities with water management degrees), a diversifying of water resources and a reduction in the over-dependence to one source, along with political transparency, can improve sustainability of this project. Only then, can we Cypriots believe and trust that this project, is not an unethical abuse of our needs, but one that embodies a genuine intention of humanitarian support.
Nicosia, November 2015
HAKAN DJUMA is an Environmental Scientist, working as a Research Assistant at the Cyprus Institute in Nicosia since 2012. He studied Environmental Technology (BSc) at the Yildiz Technical University (Turkey) and Saxion University (Netherlands) and Earth & Environmental Sciences (MSc) at the University of Amsterdam. He has published numerous papers on his main area of focus, which is Water Management.
Djuma, H., Bruggeman, A., Eliades, M., & Lange, M. A. (2014). Non-conventional water resources research in semi-arid countries of the Middle East. Desalination and Water Treatment, EEWRC, The Cyprus Institute
Elkiran, G., & Ergil, M. (2006). The assessment of a water budget of north Cyprus. Building and Environment, 41 (12), 1671-1677. Gucel, S., Kadis, C., Ozden, O., Charalambidou, I., Linstead, C., Fuller, W., Ozturk, M. (2012). Assessment of biodiversity differences between natural and artificial wetlands in Cyprus. Pakistan Journal of Botany, 44 (SPL. ISS. 2), 213-224.