Water is life

Water is life

Travelling around Europe sometimes I suffer culture shock. Europeans are so naïve about many of the hardships Turkish people go through every day. For example, it is difficult to explain to an ordinary Dutch, Swede or Norwegian person why most Turks consider electricity cuts several times a day – not a week or a month – in the heart of Ankara, several hundred meters away from the Energy Ministry, perfectly normal.

Turkey is not a water-rich country, but compared to most of its neighbors it at least has some resources that it can utilize for the wellbeing of the nation. It has always been a kind of magic for most of us how millions of people in Istanbul, Ankara or İzmir are provided with fresh water, electricity and of course other municipal services. But it is difficult to understand how in today’s big Turkish cities there are still very serious transportation problems, compelling people to use private cars and thus leading to incredible traffic congestion and hours spent on the roads. How could a European, who overcame such problems decades ago, understand the problems of Turks?

Looking from Ankara to Northern Cyprus, (though the south is no different, by the way), the situation is reversed. There, electricity is scarce and water is even more scarce. Public transportation is almost non-existent. Finding local solutions to either the electricity or water shortage problem appears to be very difficult if not impossible. Perhaps the island - north and south without discrimination – has to invest in solar, wind and other forms of “alternative” energy resources. The Middle East Technical University’s North Cyprus extension has made very nice investments in solar energy. In the south the situation is far worse, apart from a few wind turbines and negligible solar energy investments. The water situation is even scarier on both sides of the island.

The economies of both two sides of the island are heavily dependent on the services sector, particularly tourism. The nationality, ethnicity or religion of tourists visiting the island matters little. Such issues are problems peculiar to Cypriots. Tourists, however, expect good services, which is only possible with fresh water, permanent electricity and, of course, fresh and high quality food. These also require water and electricity.

I have long stressed that the 1974 Turkish operation in Cyprus saved Turks from total extinction, pushing Greek Cypriots south and - for the first time since the start of Greek Cypriot attacks aimed at annihilating them in 1963 - providing Turkish Cypriots with a safe haven on their own homeland. The 1974 Turkish intervention was an existentially important landmark for Turkish Cypriots - and so is the suspended pipeline providing water from Anatolia. Those not yet aware of it will soon realize what a big contribution Anatolian water will provide not only to Turkish Cypriots but eventually to Greek Cypriots as well. Of course, providing water to the Greek Cypriot side of the island should also be on the cards, with or without a settlement on the island.

The same goes for electricity. Soon the Turkish and Northern Cypriot electricity grids will be connected and thus Northern Cyprus will become part of the international electricity grid. Some shallow Turkish Cypriot politicians, out of their committed animosity to Turkey, might not want to see it, but once the Northern Cyprus electricity network is linked with that of Turkey then alternate resources produced on the island may one day be exported as well. Besides, producing energy with a fuel-operated outdated plant cannot be an alternative to far cheaper electricity from Turkey.

Well, opponents say, water was supposed to be very cheap as well, but now the Turkish Cypriot Water Department has been providing water from the Güzelyurt (Morphou) and Famagusta reservoirs at a price five times higher. But in any case within less than a few years those reserves, which are already salted, will have dried out. Secondly, the current price includes a payback of the investment in installments that would be completed in 25 years. With another agreement, perhaps Ankara might be convinced to extend the investment cost as a grant.

Well, at a time when the Cyprus talks are continuing and the Greek Cypriots are demanding that Northern Cyprus’ debt to Turkey (of around 20 billion euros) must be written off, and that Ankara also provide a considerable part of the estimated 25-billion euro settlement cost, developing such expectations might not be so welcome. But last week water started filling the municipal reservoirs of Famagusta and the Güzelyurt municipalities, as well as the reservoirs of other important locations. Within days fresh and high quality drinking water will start running in most parts of Northern Cyprus. Indeed, water is life, so is that not something worth celebrating?