The “project of the century”, as it has been described, appears to be more controversial than beneficial, with many interested parties questioning whether bringing water from Turkey to the areas of the Republic of Cyprus under Turkish occupation for drinking and irrigation purposes will solve the water shortage problem and give the rural economy a boost, or whether the consequences and cost will overshadow the benefits.
Since January 26, water is being collected in Alaköprü Dam in southern Turkey. According to Turkish Minister for Forestry and Water Veysel Eroğlu, the water is expected to arrive in the Turkish occupied areas of Cyprus by July 20 this year. To facilitate the transport, a 23km-long pipe has been constructed in Turkey along with an equalisation tank with a capacity of 10,000 cubic metres in Anamur.
A receptor station has already been built in the Vavylas region in the island’s northern occupied areas, along with a 3.5km-long pipe to the dam in Panagra. A treatment plant is being constructed in Myrtou, from where a network of pipes with a total length of 475km will send the drinking water to all regions in the occupied areas.
A total of 132 high density polyethylene (HDPE) pipes, with a length of 80km and weighing 220 tonnes, are being installed and will hover at a depth of 250-280 metres under the sea surface, and the metal fittings joining the pipes will be anchored with steel ropes to the seabed and will be kept in place with the help of floats.
The project is under supervision of the Water Department of Turkey (DSI). Director of the project Birol Çınar has told CNA that the whole venture would be able to cover the water and irrigation needs of the population in the occupied areas in 2040, when it is expected to reach 400,000.
Commenting on criticism regarding the effects on the environment, Çınar said such projects were exempt from environmental consequences reports in Turkey but for Cyprus a report has been drafted and approved. He said that although trees were cut down for the purpose of the project, there are plans to replace them soon.
Çınar also said it was not yet clear who would be benefiting from the water from Turkey and that any solution should be in favour of the people. He furthermore noted that the possibility of water being transferred to the southern government-controlled areas of the Republic of Cyprus had not been examined but could be if such an issue was raised.
The “local authorities” in the occupied areas are strongly criticising the project. Speaking to CNA, Nicosia “mayor” Mehmet Harmancı has said that all discussions were held behind closed doors and the “municipalities” were not invited to express their views, despite the fact that the water issue was of vital importance to them.
He said the Nicosia “municipality” in the occupied areas has already made an investment worth about €7.5 million, with funds from Turkey, the EU and the “municipality” itself, and also raised questions regarding the future of the sewerage treatment plant for which the two sides in Cyprus and a German firm have signed a 10-year contract.
Harmancı added that the “union of municipalities” has set up a committee to investigate alternatives.
Chairwoman of the Union of Turkish Cypriot Biologists Dilge Ozerdem has described the project as an irreversible intervention in nature and a blow to the ecology, and criticised the fact that there was no water policy in the occupied areas.
Ozerdem pointed out that this project would have more consequences than benefits and that it was the people who would pay the price in the long term. She also said that there are easier ways to address the shortage of water.
Furthermore, Ozerdem had told CNA that no report was prepared for the environmental fallout and noted that the so-called government in the occupied areas had no say in the project and there had been no preparation regarding who would be using the water.
Cyprus’ Environment Commissioner Ioanna Panayiotou has told CNA that there would be more disadvantages than benefits from the project.
She said that if there is water shortage in a country, the first thing to do is take measures to save, recycle and reuse the natural resources.
Panayiotou pointed out the consequences to the land and sea, the destruction of natural habitats, and the materials needed to complete the project, and questioned the benefits which, as she said, were not recorded in any report.
She furthermore said the Republic of Cyprus and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had made representations but it was necessary for more action on behalf of the European and international community.
Panayiotou pointed out that the parameters for this project were neither environmental nor financial, but political. She explained that when an arid area becomes an irrigated area, the value of the land increases, which leads the users to believe they come before the owners of the land and argue that the value of the land is higher due to their investments, an argument they will use in talks to solve the Cyprus problem.
She also said the Republic of Cyprus should make its own plans regarding water management because climate change is here and must be addresed, and the state has much to do.
Ankara, whose troops occupy Cyprus’ northern part since they invaded in 1974, does not recognise the Republic of Cyprus and refuses to normalise relations with Nicosia, in spite of repeated calls from the EU to do so.