Turkey resorts to water power with Cyprus pipeline project

Turkey is hoping that a water-cooperation project will lead to energy collaboration with Cyprus.

al-monitor Technicians stand on a water balloon as it is floated in the Mediterranean sea after it was filled with drinking water from Turkey, July 15, 1998. Photo by REUTERS.

Topics covered

water security, water crisis, turkish exports to mena, cyprus

Mar 6, 2014

ISTANBUL — In the first such project in the world, Turkey is planning to pump water to northern Cyprus with the help of an 80-kilometer pipeline running under the Mediterranean Sea at a depth of 250 meters. The immediate aim of plan is to provide water for the Turkish sector of Cyprus. But Ankara hopes the technical knowledge gained in the course of the project could enable Turkey to export water to countries in the Middle East as well, potentially contributing to Turkey’s power in the region.

Construction of a dam for the project in the southern Turkish province of Mersin on the Mediterranean coast is scheduled to end March 7. The dam is intended to store water from the Anamur River, which flows into the Mediterranean Sea from the Taurus Mountains. If all goes according to plan, the water will be pumped through the pipeline starting in July, coinciding with the 40th anniversary of Turkey’s military intervention in Cyprus on July 20, 1974.

“This water will give life to Cyprus,” Forestry and Water Minister Veysel Eroglu said in February. The project, expected to cost around 1.2 billion Turkish lira ($542 million), is designed to bring 75 billion cubic meters of fresh water a year from the southern Turkish river of Anamur to the Turkish sector of Cyprus. About half of the water is to be used for irrigation and the other half as drinking water for the sector’s 300,000 residents.

To keep the polyethylene pipeline in place under the sea, engineers will connect it to steel ropes tethered to blocks of concrete on the sea bed. “It is an original project, to be implemented for the first time worldwide,” stated the General Directorate of State Hydraulic Works (DSI), Turkey’s water agency, on its website.

Called the “project of the century” in the Turkish press, the plan is not the first attempt by Turkey to bring water to the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, a statelet that is internationally isolated and recognized only by Ankara. An earlier scheme to take fresh water from Turkey to the island in giant floating balloons was abandoned when the balloons ruptured.

Like the internationally recognized Republic of Cyprus in the Greek south of the island, northern Cyprus has suffered from severe water shortages for years. The DSI said the pipeline would help boost agricultural output in northern Cyprus by providing quality water for irrigation.

Cyprus has been divided into Turkish and Greek parts since a 1974 coup backed by Greece in Nicosia triggered a subsequent Turkish military intervention. Several attempts to reunite the two sides into one state have failed. Last month, Turkish and Greek Cypriot leaders started new reunification talks under UN mediation.

Turkish politicians say they are open to the idea of providing water to the Greek part of the island as well. Speaking last month, Deputy Prime Minister Besir Atalay said the water from the pipeline was not only important for Turkish Cypriots but also for Greek Cypriots.

Ankara’s ambitions are not limited to Cyprus itself. Rivers on Turkey’s southern coast have the potential to provide water for similar projects benefiting countries around the region. Eroglu told Aksam in 2012, “We have enough water.” Ankara was ready to send fresh water to the Middle East, using northern Cyprus as a springboard.

The idea of providing fresh water from Turkey to other countries in the region was first proposed by then-Prime Minister Turgut Ozal in 1986. His “Water for Peace” project was a plan to supply water to Israel and Arab states through pipelines filled with water from southern Turkish rivers, thereby contributing to peace in the Middle East. The project was never realized because of the ongoing regional conflicts.

Still, water as a strategic resource in the region remains significant, experts say.

“Water is like oil and gas for the region,” Veysel Ayhan, director of the International Middle East Peace Research Center, a think tank in Ankara, told Al-Monitor. If Turkey is able to contribute to regional stability by providing water, such a development would be beneficial for Turkey itself as the region’s biggest economic power with a thriving export industry.

Ankara is also hoping that the Cyprus water pipeline will lead to joint projects in the energy sector. Huge gas reserves have been discovered underneath the eastern Mediterranean between Cyprus, Syria, Lebanon and Israel. Turkish Energy Minister Taner Yildiz said in February that he hoped that the new negotiations on Cyprus and the water pipeline project would pave the way for the building of gas pipelines.

“Just like we bring water to Cyprus with a pipeline, I think a [gas] pipeline via Turkey to Europe could be built,” the minister said.

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