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23.08.2008

Istanbul Municipality's water quandary

CENGİZ AKTAR


In 2007, the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality, failing to launch a campaign of its own despite the alarming water level in reservoirs, since that winter has supported another campaign launched by the TEMA Foundation. The campaign, with the slogan "Don't waste your water," offered six simple pieces of advice, and a total of 18 million tons of water in the period July to September was saved.

However, at the onset of last winter, it was forgotten again. For the record, 18 million tons of water amounts to the water transferred from the Elmalı Dam to Istanbul in a year.

Finally, we spent the entire winter hearing extremely inconsistent propaganda regarding a palliative solution in which water at the Melen Creek would be transferred to Istanbul. In the end, we were late again for a serious campaign to save water. This time, the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality, not with the TEMA foundation but with the "Water Foundation," ran a campaign called "Awareness of Water Consumption." When is it?  Between Aug. 3 and 31, as the city is deserted for summer!

Change of behavior needed

Channels used for public outreach during the campaign are insufficient. There is no Internet support, whereas in last year's campaign the www.suyunubosaharcama.org site by TEMA had received over 500,000 hits. If each hit means a family, that is a very good level of outreach to the public. Billboards are not in use this year. I think they did not stand a chance in the presence of the municipality's own promotion. This is a handicap considering the fact that our people prefer visual information.

Most importantly there were six simple pieces of advice sent in last year's campaign, but we see no similar efforts this year. Change of behavior is needed for saving water. We need solid, easy-to-understand and practical messages in such campaigns to save, among other goods, water.

For that, graded billing is necessary according to time of the day and total water use. In addition, the public needs to know what kind of saving measures the municipality suggests from its own consumption. What did they do to fight unnecessary use of water? Do they consider introduction of any measures for car wash permissions? Any serious steps in these directions and public information would prove how serious the municipality is in campaigning against wasting of water.

Turkey is not a water-rich country

Adequate structural measures are needed as well. Istanbul has always faced water problem. Otherwise, why did Byzantines build aqueducts and cisterns all over the city? Today, people have begun to store water just as they did in the 1970s. However, this time there is no water to fill the water tanks. Therefore, the water tanks should be designed to store rainwater. Likewise, there is no habit of using gray water in Turkey. European countries use water a couple of times after disinfection.  

Neither the metropolitan municipality nor the government has grasped how serious the water shortage is. This is due to lack of awareness and clumsiness as much as the fear of being held responsible in the approaching local elections for the ongoing shortage. Despite new water-related problems in a different town every day, the Environment minister keeps denying the water shortage, while Istanbul Mayor Kadir Topbaş keeps announcing that the problems are solved. It won't be easy to tackle this vital issue with such overconfidence. 

In March 2009, the fifth World Water Forum will gather in Istanbul. Perhaps then administrators and the public may have a chance to learn and implement the methods of storing water effectively, have a long overdue "Framework Law for Water" and finally understand that Turkey is not a water-rich country as it is parroted here and there.