Questions loom over Turkey’s murky water management deal with Qatar

Turkey and Qatar last week signed 10 new agreements in a bid to further boost bilateral ties between the two strategic allies.

Although the sale of a 10 percent stake in Turkey's stock exchange, Borsa Istanbul, to the oil-rich Gulf nation has headlined the string of deals signed following the sixth meeting of the Turkey-Qatar Supreme Strategic Committee in Ankara on Thursday, there has been little discussion over a deal on water administration. 

One obvious question that comes to mind is what a tiny desert nation in the Persian Gulf can offer Turkey by cooperating in water management.

The memorandum of understanding (MoU) signed by Turkish Agriculture and Forestry Minister Bekir Pakdemirli and Qatari Energy Minister Saad Sherida al-Kaabi envisages cooperation, joint strategy and policy setting between the Turkish General Directorate of State Hydraulic Works (DSİ) and Qatar.

But, outside of this rough framework, the details of the water management agreement are not known. Some information that has come to light indicates that there will be partnership with Qatar in the formation of a water management facilities and the administration and management of agricultural irrigation, dams and hydroelectric plants (HES), rivers, irrigational ponds and mineral water resources.

It is evident that the MoU on water management was a strategic decision, considering the scarcity of Qatar’s fresh water resources, thus purifying seawater to meet its needs.

In recent years, a large number of contractors with close ties to President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) have been given contracts for the construction of HES and geothermal energy plants in several areas within Turkey, starting with the northern Black Sea region and followed by its eastern, southeastern and Aegean regions.

The DSİ is working on development geared towards integrated projects in agricultural production and irrigation such as the highly touted Southeastern Anatolia Project (GAP), the Konya Plain Project (KOP) and the Seatheastern Project (DAP).

Local residents, architectural-engineering chambers and civil society platforms on the ground object to a large portion of such projects, saying that they are depleting regional water resources and ruining the environmental balance. 

It has yet to be explained just how Qatar, as a leading ‘water poor’ country of the world, will cooperate with Turkey in water management and what kind of contributions it can make to such a deal. In fact, Qatar is one of 17 countries classified as suffering from extremely high water stress, according to a recent report from the U.S. World Resources Institute. The country has been focusing on improving water security as one of its top strategic goals.

Spokespeople from Turkey’s opposition parties are voicing concerns over the agreement, calling on the government to disclose of the details of the deal, which they demand should be presented to Turkish parliament for approval.

Former Navy Adm. Nusret Güner took to Twitter to express his concerns on the water management agreement.

“Could it be acceptable to make the administration of our water management – which foreign nations have been after for some time and is more valuable than gold – a matter in an agreement signed with foreign country?” Güner asked. 

“What is happening to our water, which is greatest wealth in the 21st century?” he said.

Turkey, for its part, remains one of the most water-rich countries of the Mediterranean region. But the country’s sharp population increase – 40 million over the last four decades – has led to a decrease in the availability of water resources, from around 4,000 m3 per capita to 1,500 m3 per capita annually.

Main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) spokesman Faik Öztrak, a vocal critic of the deals signed with Qatar, noted that Ankara is “well on its way to giving the title deed for the land Turkey rests on to the Gulf nation soon”.

Ankara must reveal details of the agreement to the public and address whether it contains a water supply from Turkey to Qatar, Yusef Yavuz, a columnist for opposition news website OdaTV said on Saturday. He said that wrong water policies could come at a very hefty price for Turkey in the future.