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The Other Side of Climate Change: Drought - Yaren Öztürk

Europe is experiencing the worst drought in 500 years, according to a report published by the European Union’s Global Drought Observatory on August 22. Some 64% of the European Union is in danger of drought, while 47% of the continent is on high alert as the soil is drying out, and vegetation shows signs of stress in another 17%. The threat of drought, which has been present since early 2022, is increasing in the region. High temperatures and drying rivers are causing forest fires and drastically reducing crop yields. According to the report, yield forecasts for cereals have fallen 16% below the 5-year average and 15% below the 5-year average for maize. The observatory, which warned in a previous report that almost half of the European Union's territory is at risk of drought, emphasized that drying rivers and dwindling water resources also affect energy production in power plants. In some regions, this situation is expected to continue until November. On the other hand, the situation has worsened in countries such as Italy, Spain, Portugal, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Romania, Hungary, Northern Serbia, Ukraine, Moldova, Ireland, Ireland and the United Kingdom.

For Europeans, drought and water scarcity is a reality they have only recently encountered and are trying to solve. Still, for many countries in the Middle East and Africa, drought and water scarcity have become part of the ordinary course of life. In this context, it can be said that Turkey and Iran are two countries in the region that have experienced drought and water scarcity deeply. Climate change is reducing precipitation and significantly increasing droughts in both countries. The country's water resources are the first area to be damaged by climate change in Turkey. By 2100, the temperature in Turkey is expected to increase by 2.5-3.5 degrees Celsius and precipitation is expected to decrease by 25-35%. This situation will likely damage Turkey's water budget and increase the country's water stress. In 2014, Turkey experienced its driest year since 1961. While metropolitan municipalities were among the most brutal hit, the country's water supply was compromised, and the agricultural sector suffered significant blows. One of the major concerns is the danger that the meteorological drought in Turkey could lead to hydrological drought and continue to affect water resources in the coming years. On the other hand, the uncontrolled use of groundwater resources in areas of Turkey where surface water is relatively scarce is also a significant problem. Although measures are being taken to prevent the illegal use of well water through legal regulations across the country, inspections and sanctions need to be increased. Groundwater resources are intensively used for agricultural purposes. Therefore, most of the groundwater resources in the country are in danger of extinction.

In Iran, one of the driest geographies in the world, the data shows that the annual rainfall in Iran in 2017 was 228 mm, which is 6% less than the long-term average of 242 mm/year, has been the average since 1994. One of the major problems is the uneven distribution of rainfall across the country, with the most densely populated areas receiving the least rain. Its current population of 84 million is expected to reach 92 million in the next 28 years. How Iran will be able to sustain its rapidly growing population in terms of food and water and what problems it will face in providing these vital necessities is a question mark. It would not be enough to attribute the reasons for the question marks solely to the semi-arid climate of Iran's geography, markedly decreasing precipitation and climate change. Inefficient and inadequate management of Iran's water resources is one of the biggest reasons for this situation. If this management continues, water scarcity will likely turn into a crisis. Over the past 50 years, Iran has experienced prolonged droughts that have severely threatened almost every sector. Climate change will likely increase the risk of droughts and, in some areas, causing intense flooding.

Both countries must take precautions and adopt solution-oriented approaches to avoid more significant droughts and crises in the future. These solutions can be grouped under three headings: new techniques and incentive programs for farmers, water efficiency studies in cities, and education programs to raise awareness. First, new methods such as sprinkler and drip irrigation should be encouraged for farmers to save water and increase water efficiency. While both countries offer various incentives and tools for farmers and provide economic incentives, such as low-interest loans, for farmers to install modern irrigation systems, supervision and regulation are necessary for the system's proper functioning. Secondly, it is known that in Turkey, 50% of mains water is lost from the source to the household, and to prevent that, old or damaged water networks need to be repaired. In Iran, efforts are required to reduce leakages, reduce urban water demand, standardize water taps and limit the use of drinking water to drinking only. Finally, both countries need to establish programs to raise public awareness of limited water resources and increasing water scarcity. Encouraging the public to conserve water and raising awareness of the importance of water conservation through the involvement of various mass media is an essential step that countries can take for their future.