Publication: Political Ecology of inter-basin water transfers in Turkish water governance

The article, Political Ecology of inter-basin water transfers in Turkish water governance, co-authored by Mine Islar and Chad Boda, was recently published in Ecology and Society, in a special issue on Urban Water Governance, co-guest-edited by LUCID director Lennart Olsson. In this article, they look at how the framing of large scale infrastructural projects, to improve water supply to urban areas in Turkey, as modern development projects, which will bring economic growth, distracts from their negative implications for the sustainability of water use and for rural livelihoods. The authors suggest greater public participation in decision making procedures might lead to the identifation and resolution of such issues.

The study analyzed the political framing of two major inter-basin transfer (IBT) projects in Turkey. Inter-basin transfers are large-scale infrastructural projects wherein water is transferred from one river catchment to another, in order to supply, in this case, urban areas with increased water supply. The analysis draws on Mine’s previous doctoral research in the area and is built on in-depth interviews with government officials, project planners and local residents affected by the projects, as well as documents from governmental and nongovernmental organisations, and planning documents.

The study looked at the projects socio-economic and ecological impacts. In the case of the former they found that, uncertainty in construction plans has prevented long term investment by locals in the area leading to rural urban migration. This is in addition to the livelihood disruption created due to the flooding of five villages and agricultural land. This in itself involved the expropriation of land from locals, many of whom have not yet been paid compensation. The IBT projects can also have ecological impacts, such as the introduction of foreign aquatic organisms and reductions in water quality.

In discussing the political framing of the projects, the authors find that the way the problem has been framed is simplistic and, consequently, the resultant projects and their impacts problematic. Their analysis finds that “the problem has been defined as stemming from natural drought conditions and general water scarcity, rather than increasing water demands or historical urbanizations patterns. As a result, the problem solutions are designed in relation to this understanding, i.e., the transferring of water from areas with less scarcity to those with more”.  Alternatively, the problem has been seen as one of poor management, with inadequate infrastructure and unfettered increases in demand from industry, rather than one of scarcity. If this is the case, less expensive solutions with less severe impacts on rural livelihoods and the environment, which deal with the social drivers of water demand, may be more appropriate.

In conclusion the authors suggest that exclusionary practices of those framing the problem, and planning the projects, represent a top-down and technocratic approach. They argue that greater public participation in the process might have led to the identification and possible resolution of “issues regarding long-term environmental effects, land-use changes, and other social implications”, thus addressing the unresolved trade-offs and conflict present in the Turkish context today.

Link to the full article here

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