Lack of rain and snow raises drought concerns

Lack of rain and snow raises drought concerns

The amount of water in Karaçomak Dam, which provides drinking water to people living in and around the Black Sea province of Kastamonu, is shrinking. (Photo: Vedat Yunus İkizoğlu, İHA)

January 12, 2014, Sunday/ 00:00:00

State Waterworks Authority (DSİ) data states that the average cumulative precipitation between Oct. 1, 2013 and Jan. 2, 2014 across Turkey has decreased drastically in comparison to previous years and experts are concerned because Turkey faces a serious threat of drought this year due to the lack of rain and snow.

According to DSİ data, the average cumulative precipitation between Oct. 1, 2013 and Jan. 2, 2014 across Turkey has decreased 31.4 percent compared to the long-term average and decreased 41.6 percent when it is compared with the 2012 average.

Meteorology General Directorate data indicates that the total amount of precipitation per square meter in 2012 was 455.4 kilograms, but decreased to 292.8 kilograms in 2013.

This lack of precipitation has raised concerns among experts who say Turkey could face serious difficulties if there is not enough rain or snow in the upcoming months.

At a press conference on Jan. 7, Food, Agriculture and Animal Husbandry Minister Mehdi Eker was asked about the lack of precipitation. Eker responded: “As of yet, there is not an agricultural drought in Turkey. However, there is currently already a meteorological drought. The amount of rainfall in the last year is much lower than previous years. We have concerns.” He added: “Spring rainfalls are very significant in terms of agricultural drought; they are very important for grain crops. We will wait for this period [spring]. There is currently no concern about planting.”

Low volume in reservoirs

The lack of rainfall this year has greatly reduced the supply of water available in Turkey's reservoirs. The DSİ data states that the reservoirs are currently 35.4 percent full, while this rate was 64 percent in January of last year.

However, experts say they are hopeful that there will be precipitation in the coming months. A senior official from the İstanbul Waterworks Authority (İSKİ) who declined to be named told Sunday's Zaman: “Turkey entered the rainy season as of September, but there has not been enough rainfall thus far. However, we are still hoping and we believe the water level in the reservoirs will increase to the desired amounts before the end of May.”

Stating that though the situation is not too alarming yet, the İSKİ official said that there will be serious trouble if the drought continues.

The average volume of drinking water in İstanbul's reservoirs is currently 33.97 percent. In Ankara, it is 24.77 percent, 57.78 percent in İzmir and 44.04 percent in Bursa. In January last year, the average in İstanbul was 62.26 percent, 28.03 percent in Ankara, 46.44 percent in İzmir and 46.9 percent in Bursa.

The official said that İstanbul is a continuously growing city, noting: “As the population of the city increases year by year, its need for water also increases in parallel. We cannot guarantee that İstanbul will not experience water problems, even though we have already begun to bring water from the Melen Stream to İstanbul.”

The construction of a “Melen Project” pipeline, initiated in 1997 by the DSİ to put an end to İstanbul's ongoing and potential water woes, was finished in 2007. Underground pipelines bring water from Sakarya's Melen Stream to İstanbul.

Evaluating the issue for Sunday's Zaman, Turkish Union of Agricultural Chambers (TZOB) President Şemsi Bayraktar also emphasized that Meteorology General Directorate data indicates that the cumulative precipitation between October and December 2013 is much lower than it was for the same period the previous year. He said: “The average cumulative rainfall is currently 159.1 mm. It was 270.5 mm for the same period in 2012.”

Further analyzing figures about the amount of precipitation in Turkey, Bayraktar said that the biggest decline between October and December 2013 took place in the Central Anatolia Region. He stated that the cumulative rainfall in that region decreased 49.4 percent compared to the previous year, adding that this region was followed by the Mediterranean Region that saw a 47.7 percent decline, the Eastern Anatolia Region with a 45.9 percent decrease, the Southeastern Anatolia Region with 30.4 percent less, the Marmara region with a 25.7 percent decrease, the Aegean Region with 18.8 percent and the Black Sea Region with 11.8 percent decline.

The effect of lack of moisture on grain yields

Bayraktar stated that the lack of rain and snow has already affected grain yields, adding that farmers are looking forward to rain coming as soon as possible. “The growers are very concerned because their grain crops did not get enough rainfall in November and December,” Bayraktar said, adding that according to the information they received from the TZOB branches across the country, some planted seeds failed to grow due to the lack of water.

Stating that it is very difficult to say with any certainty whether or not there will be a drought in 2014, Bayraktar said that everything depends on how much rain falls in the upcoming months.

Also speaking to Sunday's Zaman, Turhan Tuncer, the president of the Chamber of Agricultural Engineers (ZMO), pointed to the lack of snowfall this year. He stated: “I live in Ankara and it has snowed only once this year. Snowfall is very important for wheat yields. We, as agricultural engineers, call snow the quilt for the wheat. The wheat should germinate slowly under the snow. If snowfall decreases, wheat production will also decrease.”

Professor Mikdat Kadıoğlu from İstanbul Technical University's faculty of aeronautics and astronautics told Sunday's Zaman that the “water year,” or rainy season, started as of October 2013 and will end in September 2014, adding: “In the first three months of the water year, the desired rainfall didn't fall. Most of Turkey has a Mediterranean climate. In this climate, summers are dry and hot while winters are warm and rainy. Thus, we should have had most of the rainfall we need during these first three months. However, we did not and what is serious is that thus far, we are also seeing drought conditions in January.”

Stating that Turkey has been experiencing a hydrological drought, Kadıoğlu said: “According to long-term weather forecasts, a high amount of rainfall is expected in the Black Sea Region, the Eastern Anatolia Region and the Central Anatolia Region. However drought is expected in the Marmara Region, the Aegean Region and the Mediterranean Region. These three regions are the country's most populated regions. In other words, the regions that need the most water.”

Regarding the low volume of water in reservoirs, Bayraktar also said that according to the UN's latest water report, Turkey will experience a grave water problem as of 2025, adding: “People should not forget that Turkey is not a water rich country as it is frequently said. People have to use water economically; using our existing water resources wisely is of great importance for our country.”  

Deputy Chairman of the Turkish Water Foundation Ali Uysal said it is still very early to create disaster scenarios, adding that there will be rainfall during the spring months and the volume in reservoirs will increase when the snows melt in the spring.

But Uysal also called on the public to use water more economically, stating: “For example, they should use less water while washing their cars or doing the dishes.”

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