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When the Anatolian Plain becomes the Anatolian Desert

September 10, 2010

If you ask someone who’s never been to Turkey, “What does Turkey look like?” the likely answer is something about deserts and camels. But if you ask someone who’s only been to Istanbul, the likely answer is something more along the lines of hills and pine trees.

Much like animals, some assumptions are more equal than others. There are enough camels to have camel-wrestling festivals, sure. And at least some expendable ones left around to allow for ritual sacrifice at Ataturk International Airport.

Alright, loser gets run over by an Airbus


Gawking aside, it is true that outside of Istanbul, things get awfully…different. There’s the mountains out east of course, but before then, in Central Anatolia, things get awfully flat. The Anatolian Plain is more steppe than steppe in some regards.

Your dog run away? Don’t worry, you’ll be able to see into next week.

All of this geographical posturing is just background for the content here, which is – as most of what I write – inspired by the genius Mr. Manaugh over at BLDGBlog. He’s recently stumbled into an Israeli book about what will happen when Israel runs out of water. And although Israel is at a much more precarious H2O sitch than Turkey, its not like Turkey is immune. There was concern during World Water Day that the Gulenglish picked up on, concern that isn’t new. And there are some Turkstatheavy .pdfs to peruse through if you don’t believe me that This Is An Issue. And even if its not as much of an issue in say, Israel or Uzbekistan, its worth taking a look at the 40-year ramifications here.

Of course, you can’t talk about water issues in Turkey without discussing the Southeast Anatolia Project (GAP). And the idea is pretty simple: dam up the biggest rivers to allow for better and more irrigation in the heart of Turkey. Agribusiness is huge business in Turkey, as Wikipedia, again, can do a better job explaining:

Turkey is the world’s largest producer of hazelnut, cherry, fig, apricot, quince and pomegranate; the second largest producer of watermelon, cucumber and chickpea; the third largest producer of tomato, eggplant, green pepper, lentil and pistacchio; the fourth largest producer of onion and olive; the fifth largest producer of sugar beet; the sixth largest producer of tobacco, tea and apple; the seventh largest producer of cotton and barley; the eighth largest producer of almond; the ninth largest producer of wheat, rye and grapefruit, and the tenth largest producer of lemon.

But what’s also kind of cool is how much agriculture and pastoralism takes place outside of agribusiness. The 1990 Census says 85% of holdings are less than 10 hectares, and there are millions of families who subsistence farm or shepherd outside of business. These are the ones that are going to get parched.

GAP is still hardly at 100% and already there are plenty of issues of drowned valleys and deserted towns. There is some finger-pointing that its all about etatism and population control, but GAP itself is a lot less sinister than that: the rivers happen to be in the Southeast. The rebellious happen to be in the Southeast. That’s pretty much it.

That said, what GAP does represent is water privatization. It’s something that’s become pretty big in California recently and presents a nasty issue. GAP, for whatever benevolent or nefarious purpose it may have, makes water very collectible. And when things start getting dry, whatever sort of government that’s going to be running Turkey is also going to be running the water. And as much as I hate looking like I have a libertarian streak, water-control freaks me out. The world should not look like a James Bond plotline.

I would love for someone to Photoshop Erdogan’s head unto this

Look, long story (and only 600+ words, so not THAT long a story) short, Turkey is fine, water-wise, in the short term. GAP helps. But GAP is also a long-term shift towards more industrial agriculture than Turkey’s ever had, and thus one more urban shift like the Anatolian Tigers of the 1980s. That said, I’m not sure if the urban life can take it. Ankara has relatively consistent water shortages, and just these past few days I’ve had water cuts in Arnavutkoy. I can’t imagine what it’s like in, say, Halkali. So any more population booms and even the water-rich areas in Trakya and the Aegean won’t be able to handle much more. Meanwhile, people may be getting kicked off their land (or downed off of it) right quick without some decent legal land right organizations getting involved. (The issue of real estate in Turkey is something else fantastic and awesome I will right about soon. But this is fun in the meantime).

In other words, there is the distinct possibility of a rich-get-richer, poor-get-indentured situation occurring. Lack of water is going to cause a booming case of sad sometime within my generation. So there have to be some clever solutions, combining land-use regulation, conservation, and natural resource control. And it helps to be aware now if you want to find a solution in a few years.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. March 13, 2011 2:05 am

    The Fifth Word

    In the Name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate.

    Indeed, God is with those who fear Him and those who do good.

    If you want to see what a truly human duty and what a natural, appropriate result of man’s creation it is to perform the prescribed prayers and not to commit serious sins, listen to and take heed of the following comparison:

    Once, at a time of general mobilization, two soldiers found themselves together in a regiment. One was well-trained and conscientious, the other, a raw recruit and self-centred. The conscientious soldier concentrated on training and the war, and did not give a thought to rations and provisions, for he knew that it was the State’s duty to feed and equip him, treat him if he was ill, and even to put the food in his mouth if the need arose. He knew that his basic duty was to train and fight. But he would also attend to some of the rations and equipment as part of his work. He would boil up the saucepans, wash up the mess-tins, and bring them. If it was then asked him: “What are you doing?”, he would reply: “I am doing fatigue duty for the State.” He would not say: “I am working for my living.”

    The raw recruit, however, was fond of his stomach and paid no attention to training and the war. “That is the State’s business. What is it to me?”, he would say. He thought constantly of his livelihood, and pursuing it would leave the regiment and go to the market to do shopping. One day his well-trained friend said to him:

    “Your basic duty is training and fighting, brother. You were brought here for that. Trust in the king; he will not let you go hungry. That is his duty. Anyway, you are powerless and wanting; you cannot feed yourself everywhere. And this is a time of mobilization and war; he will tell you that you are mutinous and will punish you. Yes, there are two duties which concern us. One is the king’s duty: sometimes we do his fatigue duties and he feeds us for it. The other is our duty: that is training and fighting, and sometimes the king helps us with it.”

    Of course you will understand in what danger the layabout soldier would be if he did not pay attention to the striving, well-trained one.

    And so, O my lazy soul! That turbulent place of war is this stormy worldly life. And the army divided into regiments, human society. And the regiment in the comparison is the community of Islam in this century. One of the two soldiers is a devout Muslim who knows the obligations of his religion and performs them, and struggles with Satan and his own soul in order to give up serious misdoings and not to commit sins. While the other is a degenerate wrongdoer who is so immersed in the struggle for livelihood that he casts aspersions on the True Provider, abandons his religious obligations , and commits any sins that come his way as he makes his living. As for the training and instruction, it is foremost the prescribed prayers and worship. And the war is the struggle against the soul and its desires, and against the satans among jinn and men, to deliver them from sin and bad morals, and save the heart and spirit from eternal perdition. And the first of the two duties is to give life and sustain it, while the other is to worship and beseech the Giver and Sustainer of life. It is to trust in Him and rely on Him.

    Indeed, whoever made and bestowed life, which is a most brilliant miracle of the Eternally Besoughted One’s art and a wonder of Dominical wisdom, is the one who maintains and perpetuates it through sustenance. It cannot be another. Do you want proof? The most impotent and stupid animals are the best nourished; like fish, and worms in fruit. And it is the most helpless and delicate creatures who have the choicest food; like infants and the young of all species.

    For sure, it is enough to compare fish with foxes, newly born animals with wild beasts, and trees with animals in order to understand that licit food is obtained not through power and will, but through impotence and helplessness. That is to say, someone who gives up performing the prescribed prayers because of the struggle for livelihood resembles the soldier who abandoned his training and trench and went and begged in the market. But to seek ones rations from the kitchens of the All-Generous Provider’s mercy after performing the prayers, and to go oneself so as not to be a burden on others is fine and manly. It too is a sort of worship.

    Furthermore, man’s nature and spiritual faculties show that he is created for worship. For in respect of the power and actions necessary for the life of this world, he cannot compete with the most inferior sparrow. While in respect of knowledge and need, and worship and supplication, which are necessary for spiritual life and the life of the Hereafter, he is like the monarch and commander of the animals.

    And so, O my soul! If you make the life of this world the aim of your life and work constantly for that, you will become like the lowest sparrow. But if you make the life of the Hereafter your aim and end, and make this life the means of it and its tillage, and strive in accordance with it, then you will be like a mighty commander of the animals, and a petted and suppliant servant of Almighty God, and His honoured and respected guest.

    Those are the two ways open to you! You can choose whichever you wish… So ask for guidance and success from the Most Compassionate of the Compassionate…

    * * *

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