The biggest threat to Turkey’s security? No it’s not the Kurds, or ISIS or Syria it’s climate change. And once more very few people recognise it.
Once again the problem is water. Like other countries in the region Turkey is already dry. The available water resources are around 1,500 m3 per person per year, (water stress is defined as less than 1700 m3 per person) and population growth alone will bring the per capita availability down to around 1,000 m3 which is the threshold for water scarcity. When you add in climate change it will become much worse. In the south of the country precipitation is predicted to decrease significantly, 20% by 2050 and 30% or more by 2100 under a business as usual scenario. Arid areas will increase significantly and agriculture will be greatly affected. Yields for rain fed agriculture are already low, for example yields of wheat are currently one third of that of Belgium, further declines will bring into question the viability of agriculture in those areas. Unless action to limit climate change is taken almost immediately then the food security will increasingly become an issue over the course of the century.
Water shortages will also start to affect urban areas. Already this century both Ankara and Istanbul have experienced severe water shortages during the drought of 2007 and 2008, yet there is very little effort to respond to these challenges. Government efforts have largely focused on increasing supply by building new dams and diverting river. There have been little effort to reduce demand.
Whilst the south will become drier the north east is expected to become wetter. Many areas are expected to experience more extreme rain events. In fact during our visit flash floods occurred in a number of regions causing widespread damage and even fatalities.
Hotter and drier weather also threaten Turkeys forests which currently cover around 27% of the country. Fires will become more prevalent, and will eventually threaten the sustainability of the forests themselves, in southern areas in particular. Heatwaves will also become increasingly common as the number of hot spell days (consecutive days where the temperature reaches more than 30C) will increase substantially especially in the south east and Mediterranean areas. Once temperatures rise too much then it is these areas that will turn to dessert, forcing large numbers of people to leave their homes and eventually if we don’t get our act together the whole country will become uninhabitable.
Whilst spreading deserts will take some time to threaten Turkey they will engulf some of its neighbours much more quickly. And that is probably where the biggest threat to Turkey’s security lies. To its east lie some of the most water stressed nations on earth. Both Iraq and Syria are suffering from high water stress whilst as we have experienced ourselves Iran is suffering from extremely high water stress. Already there are disputes over the water flows that Turkey is allowing downstream from the mighty rivers that provide a lifeline to those countries. Flows reaching Iraq from the Euphrates river have declined from 30 to 9.5 billion cubic metres over the last century and when Turkey completes the Aliso dam across the Tigris the water entering Iraq will drop from 20.5 to 9.7 billion cubic metres.
One of the many roots of the current conflict in Syria is climate change which exacerbated the drought which occurred there between 2006 and 2009, forcing as many as 1.5 million people off their land and into urban areas further increasing social stresses and helping to kick of the revolution. That process will continue over the course of the century driving further people from their homes. An already unstable region will descend into chaos which will undoubtedly spill over into neighbouring Turkey. Once again Turkey faces an uncertain future unless action is taken to drastically reduce emissions of greenhouse gases