Major Turkish cities face droughts as El Niño hits, reminding climate change and the water crisis

One in every ten people faces problems accessing water in today’s world. The contemporary global water crisis threatens the very fabric of life as we know it since data indicates two-thirds of the globe will live in water-stressed areas by 2025. Türkiye is one susceptible country to this side-effect of climate change due to its semi-arid climate and irregular rainfall patterns.

It is hard to comprehend that humanity might face water scarcity when water bodies cover around 70 percent of our planet.

However, less than 1 percent of the total water mass is accessible. Many factors, such as climate change, inefficient and excessive use, growing population, and perversion of resources, contribute to the crisis.

Though not half as popular as other issues, the water crisis poses a significant challenge for the international community.

Water scarcity threatens to disrupt all aspects of business as usual on a global scale.

Agricultural production and drinking water consumption will shrink due to less available clean water resources.

According to, more than 1.7 billion people lack access to water for sanitary and health uses.

Scientists say this number will rise when the crisis reaches its peak, leading to severe epidemics throughout the world.

UNESCO reports the threat to be imminent. “If international cooperation is not boosted, shortages, especially in cities, will worsen in the coming decades,” the organization said in a press release this month.

In the mid-2010s, South Africa’s legislative capital city faced this problem. Cape Town, a city of nearly 5 million, almost hit “Day Zero” (the date the city would run out of water) and ran out of water.

The depletion crisis began in 2015, with water levels falling drastically. Dams continued to dry up, and the problem hit its paramount point in 2017.

Authorities introduced the concept of “Day Zero” around that time. Luckily, with the collective efforts of citizens and authorities, the crisis was averted.

The global water crisis will also trigger mass migrations from arid areas to places with easier access to water and higher chances of precipitation.

This risks creating fatal infrastructural failures and fights erupting between nations. A UNICEF report found that water scarcity may displace 700 million people by 2030.

Countries already have disputes relating to the usage of transnational water bodies. Even though the Council on Foreign Relations underlines that international relations developed rather positively on the topic over the eons, states under severe stress diplomatically clash with one another.

An example of this situation would be Egypt, Sudan, South Sudan, and Ethiopia. Regional disputes revived after Addis Ababa’s Renaissance Dam started operating.


Most of Türkiye experiences a continental climate with very slim rainfall volumes. Only the Black Sea region (classified as “oceanic climate” by the Köppen system) gets considerable amounts of precipitation throughout the year.

The UN estimates that 60 percent of Turkish land faces severe threats of desertification.

"60 percent of around 300 lakes of Türkiye have either dried up or shrunk, and almost all of them have lost their characteristics of being lakes due to pollution," said Associate Prof. Dr. Erol Kesici, Scientific Advisor of the Turkish Nature Conservation Association.

From Kesici's words, it is easy to deduce that desertification is already in the works.

A crisis of similar character can occur in Syria, Iraq, and Iran, creating a dispute over who uses what.

Worsening climate change exacerbates the water crisis in Türkiye. We witnessed parts of this with the recent El Niño phenomenon portending metropolises.

According to Hürriyet Daily, İstanbul, Ankara, and İzmir are on the verge of a catastrophic scenario similar to Cape Town’s crisis, with the water levels in some dams falling to their lowest levels.

Official data indicates that İstanbul has about 68 days of water left, followed by the capital Ankara with 225 days, and İzmir, with 400 days in case of no rainfall.

An official from İstanbul Water and Sewerage Administration (İSKİ) gave a speech to the local media about residential water consumption.

The official stressed that 70 percent of the water consumption at residential units occurred in the bathrooms and urged the public to take necessary measures, such as shortening shower durations.

The expert said that İSKİ should increase the water prices by at least 50 percent, as low water prices resulted in record-breaking consumption due to extreme heat.

They also stated that water use for agricultural purposes in İstanbul is intense in rural areas.

Dams of Europe's largest city have a collective 33.37 percent capacity, the second-worst in the last ten-year period of the same date.

Pabuçdere and Kazandere facilities are at single-digit levels, while the top two, Ömerli and Darlık, stand at 67.13 and 48.45, respectively. The rest alternate between 10-23 percent.

The levels have also been steadily falling in the past fortnight. Compared to the exact day of the previous decade, the 16th of August of 2023 has been the worst for precipitation volumes in dams in İstanbul.

Ankara Water and Sewerage Administration’s (ASKİ) data showed that the capital is doing better than the previous year as of August 15.

However, the percentage of actively usable water in the city’s dams hovers around 35.16 level, while the total is estimated to be 42.89 percent.

Except for Gördes Dam, all the other barrages in İzmir measured more than 30 percent repletion levels. Again, except for the Gördes Dam, all the rest face massive cuts in active fullness ratios.

Crosschecked with the last year’s data, Tahtalı, Balçova, Gördes, Ürkmez, Güzelhisar, and Alaçatı Kutlu Aktaş dams stood at 50.61, 34.30, 4.60, 58.42, 71.12, and 61.06 respectively. This year, the numbers are 35.08, 30.46, 7.24, 33.83, 65.58, and 36.20, in the same order.

Mansur Ali Bilgiç -