Skip to navigation – Site map
Les modèles traditionnels de gestion de l’eau en question

Fundamental Shifts in Turkey’s Water Policy

Changements fondamentaux dans la politique d’eau de la Turquie
Aysegül Kibaroglu, Vakur Sümer and Waltina Scheumann
p. 27-34


Since the middle of the last century, Turkey’s water policy has undergone continuous reforms, with significant changes being made especially in the past three decades. Three mutually reinforcing trends can be identified since the early 1980s : decentralization, privatization and Europeanization. On the whole, Turkey’s water policy has been transformed from being an entirely centralized public policy to one with decentralized elements, with strong private sector participation and a still rather weak integration of environmental issues into its water policies and management.

Top of page

Full text

1Historical analysis reveals that Turkish water management has been shaped not only by domestic priorities and national politics, but also by lessons learnt from international experience and external pressures.

2When the Republic of Turkey was founded in 1923, after the demise of the Ottoman Empire, republican élites sought to modernize the country by adopting a western-style legal system and creating a new public bureaucracy. Water management policy was no exception to this. Some current water management legislation dates back to the early years of the Republic (Kibaroglu and Baskan, 2011). Over the years, a complex body of water legislation and a fragmented organizational structure have emerged. Initially, Turkey’s water management policy was highly centralized in terms of decision-making and was publicly financed. This has been perceived as one of the factors that has prevented Turkey’s water management policy from fully utilizing and protecting the country’s water resources for the good of its people. The public debate is now focused on the content and structure of a new water act, which could pave the way for efficient water management, with clear-cut organizational responsibilities and well-defined user rights and obligations (Yildiz and Ozbay, 2009).

3Turkey did not inherit a well-developed water infrastructure from the Ottoman rulers. Although notable efforts had been undertaken to provide the necessary infrastructure, successive wars lasting more than a decade (1911-1922) ruined the countryside and devastated much of the water infrastructure. In many regions, water quality deteriorated, and a significant number of urban and rural people were left in dire need of drinking water (Ozis, 1999). In response to this and to offset major seasonal and regional variations in precipitation, including the occurrence of droughts, investment in hydraulic infrastructure gained in prominence (Tigrek and Kibaroglu, 2011). From the early 1950s, extending water supply, expanding irrigated lands, producing hydropower and controlling floods ranked high on the political agenda.

4Manifold challenges emerged in the 1980s, forcing the public authorities to reform water management policy. Industrialization and sizeable and steady migration from rural areas to urban centres increased the demand for water and electricity, which was to be met by hydraulic works. When public spending proved insufficient to overcome the undersupply of electricity and water, either as a result of domestic economic crises or because other national needs were given precedence, Turkey had no alternative but to secure external funding for its water projects, and new methods/approaches were considered (OECD, 2008 ; Tuik, 2010).

5This paper analyses the changes and continuities in water management policy in Turkey. Major changes of a legal, organizational and economic nature will be discussed in three consecutive phases. The first phase covers the initial thirty years of the Republic, the second phase the period from the mid-1950s to the early 1980s and the third phase the period from the early 1980s onwards.

1 - First Phase : Framework Laws and Individual Projects

6From the 1920s to the 1950s, Turkey was engaged in state consolidation efforts, which included the investigation and exploitation of water and land resources. New government institutions, namely the Ministry of Public Works (established in 1920) and the Electrical Power Resources Survey and Development Administration (established in 1935) were mandated to conduct hydrological surveys of the country’s water resources and hydropower potential and to carry out related civil works (Tigrek and Kibaroglu, 2011).

7The first phase also saw the enactment of framework laws, such as the Village Law (1924), the Law on Waters (1926) and the Law on Municipalities (1930), and the implementation of various water projects. Yet, even in this phase, preliminary thinking on how to develop water resources systematically had begun. For instance, the earliest Turkish studies of the Euphrates-Tigris basin date back to the 1930s and eventually led (in the1980s) to the south-eastern Anatolia Project (Turkish acronym : GAP).

8Poor water quality across the country was one of the pressing problems that the state had to address to improve public health. Responsibility for implementing the Law on Waters was therefore entrusted to the Ministry of Health and Social Aid. Similarly, the draining of swamps was seen as essential if certain water-borne diseases, such as malaria, were to be eradicated.

9Throughout this period, public investment in infrastructure was decided centrally on an ad hoc basis and thus in response to pressing needs.

2 - Second Phase : Towards Comprehensive Water Resources Development

10As the consolidation of the Turkish State continued between 1950 and 1980, greater attention was paid to the country’s socio-economic development on the basis of water and land resources. The construction of drinking water supply systems, infrastructure for hydropower generation, irrigation and flood control were the priorities at this time. In this way Turkey sought to satisfy the needs of its major economic sectors (SPO, 2007).

11The establishment in 1954 of the State Hydraulic Works (Turkish acronym : DSI), the country’s main water resources development organization, came at a time when Turkey was beginning systematically to investigate and exploit its water resources under programmes for the construction of extensive hydraulic infrastructure (dams, irrigation and drainage systems, groundwater wells). The DSI, which was modelled on the US Bureau of Reclamation, was also technically and financially supported by it because of Turkey’s status as a member of NATO and a close ally of the USA during the Cold War (Kibaroglu and Sumer, 2007). In his memoirs, Turkey’s then President, Suleyman Demirel, who had been the DSI’s first director-general in the 1950s, acknowledges the role played by the US Bureau and by American engineering and construction firms in the implementation of the first large-scale multi-purpose water development project, the Lower Seyhan Project in South Turkey (Demirel, 2005).

12The creation of a DSI equipped with the necessary financial resources and technical skills lent momentum to the development of the country’s water resources. From the 1950s onward, Turkey adopted a river basin planning approach based on exploratory hydrological studies. Law No 6200 ruled that the DSI should focus on major river basins and have regional directorates. However, the understanding of river basin planning was not quick to change into a holistic understanding of water resources management as defined by the concept of integrated water resources management (IWRM) (Jeffrey and Geary, 2006 ; Rahaman and Varis, 2005).

13Two laws enacted in this phase reinforced the status of the DSI as the main public water agency : the first was the Groundwater Law (1960), which mandated the DSI for granting licences for the utilization of the country’s groundwater resources (however, individuals and groundwater cooperatives would be entrusted with management issues) ; the second was Act No 1053 (1968), which made the DSI responsible for water supply to cities with a population greater than 100,000.

14The adoption of the Constitution of the Turkish Republic of 1961 (which was replaced in 1982) paved the way for a state‑induced economic and social development path aimed at overcoming regional imbalances, the western regions being far more advanced than the south-eastern and north‑eastern provinces. This strategic orientation provided for the country’s water resources to be developed mainly with public funds. With the establishment of the State Planning Organization (SPO) in 1960, comprehensive‑planning activities included the construction of physical structures to meet energy and food needs for a growing population and the achievement of socioeconomic development goals expected to provide welfare for the people. From then on, Turkey made considerable progress in augmenting water supply.

15This phase also witnessed the birth of the GAP, one of the most significant projects in Turkey’s history. As the aim was to overcome the relative backwardness of the south‑eastern Anatolia region, the development of water and land resources through public investment was regarded as an effective strategy (Kibaroglu et al., 2009). The GAP is Turkey’s largest integrated development project and is considered vital to the Turkish economy. It has the potential to meet the rising demand for hydropower caused by population growth, along with urbanization and the country’s industrialization impetus. On the completion of the GAP project, 1.7 million hectares of land will be brought under irrigation (1.08 million hectares on the Euphrates, 600,000 hectares on the Tigris), equivalent to nearly one fifth of Turkey’s irrigable land, energy production in the region will reach 27 billion kWh, per capita income will rise by 209 per cent, and employment opportunities will be created for about 3.8 million people. This will be accomplished through the construction of 22 dams, 19 hydropower stations and extensive irrigation and drainage networks. The basic development objectives of the GAP are defined as follows : to raise the income levels in the GAP region by improving the economic structure in order to narrow the regional income disparities ; to increase productivity and employment opportunities in rural areas ; to enhance the assimilative capacity of larger cities in the region ; to contribute to the national objective of sustained economic growth, export promotion and social stability through the efficient utilisation of the region’s resources.

16To these ends, the GAP was transformed from a pure infrastructure development project into a project in support of sustainable development with additional investment in urban and rural infrastructure, agriculture, transport, industry, education, health, housing and tourism.

17The political and economic crises erupting in the country from time to time in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s prevented this investment from being completed in a timely fashion (Boz and Volkan, 2006). From the very beginning, the GAP project and, in particular, its dam component has come in for some harsh criticism. The objections specifically concern resettlement issues, environmental and cultural aspects and impacts on the rivers’ riparian countries, Syria and Iraq (Scheumann et al., 2011).

18To summarize, until the 1980s, Turkey’s water policy can be characterized as follows :

  • policy initiatives were basically shaped by national considerations, and governments decided on their agendas independently, without the interference of foreign actors. This certainly does not mean that it was an entirely closed scene : professional relations existed with the US Bureau of Reclamation, and as such leading bureaucrats and politicians like Suleyman Demirel had been educated abroad, Turkey benefited from the experience they had gained there ;

  • planning focused on river basins, but decisions were taken by bureaucracies at national level and dictated by national priorities. Managing a river’s water resources was the mandate of the DSI’s Regional Directorates, which – like other directorates – were accountable to the General Directorate, but not to locally elected representative bodies ;

  • public spending was the only instrument used to finance water infrastructure projects.

3 - Third Phase : Convergence of Trends

19The environmental movement of the 1970s contended that large-scale water development projects had degraded water resources, and this led to a paradigm change in the water resources management discourse and practice in the industrialized world. Yet the paradigm emphasizing environmental awareness was unable to gain much ground in the developing countries. Nevertheless, environmental protection and nature conservation had been stimulated by the Stockholm Conference (1972), which led to legislative and institutional reforms in the 1980s : Turkey enacted the Law on Environment in 1983, the Water Pollution Control By­law in 1988 and the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) ­law in 1993. National laws and regulations aimed at protecting national parks, wildlife and wild animal settlement areas, special environment areas and wetlands were adopted. Turkey also signed a number of international environmental conventions.

20After Stockholm, environmental policy was introduced as a distinct sphere of public policy during the 1970s through the establishment of an environment administration and developed during the 1980s and 1990s. The establishment of the Ministry of Environment in 1991 effectively raised the status of the environment in the political arena and in the area of water management. In 2003 the DSI formed part of the then Ministry of Environment and Forestry, which was reorganized in 2011 and is now known as the Ministry of Forestry and Water Affairs.

21Meanwhile, a legal and institutional framework has been established and such strategic documents as Agenda 21 (1996), the National Environmental Action Plan (1998) and, in particular, the Environmental Chapter of the EU Accession Partnership Document (2008) has been drawn up. Turkey’s government has begun to align with the EU’s environment and water acquis, including the directives that address water pollution (e.g. the EU Urban Wastewater Treatment and Dangerous Substances Directives) and the Water Framework Directive (WFD), a key document in the definition of the overall environmental objectives ultimately to be achieved (Sümer and Muluk, 2011).

  • 1 As a result of decisions taken on 24 January 1980, Turkey became one of the first countries in the (...)

22Parallel to this process, the neoliberal economic transformation1 of the energy/electricity and agricultural sectors of the 1980s has significantly influenced water management. To illustrate this point, the introduction of a build‑operate‑transfer (BOT) model in the energy sector in 1984 under Law No 3096 enabled the private sector to buy the right to generate, transmit and distribute electricity (Baskan, 2011). The Law on the Utilization of Renewable Energy Resources for the Purpose of Generating Electrical Energy No 5346, which entered into force in May 2005, has been praised as a “revolutionary” step in Turkey’s hydroelectricity business. It entails a “guarantee of purchase” by the government which guarantees the purchase of a company’s electricity production at defined prices irrespective of market prices and so provides a strong incentive for private investors (Kibaroglu et al., 2009 ; Baskan, 2011).

23This shift was backed by reform packages proposed by multilateral institutions. The key advocates of this policy change thus included the World Bank, such other international actors as the OECD and private national and international corporations. The policy change in the water sector was supported and implemented by bureaucrats from the ministries concerned and their affiliated institutions. This system was later modified and applied in other sectors, including water, where it was extended to the provision of public water and sanitation services in municipalities and to the construction, operation and management of dams and hydropower plants (Tigrek and Kibaroglu, 2011).

24The devolution of irrigation system management began in the early 1990s under the guidance of and partial financing from the World Bank. Under an accelerated programme of irrigation management transfer, irrigation associations (IA) were established to operate and maintain almost all large-scale irrigation systems in the country (Kibaroglu et al., 2009). By 1993, the DSI had been able to transfer the management of irrigation systems for only about 70,000 hectares to various types of irrigation management organizations. The process has gained momentum since 1993, and in the past nineteen years the management of nearly two million hectares of irrigation schemes has been transferred to local administrations and irrigation associations (Scheumann and Ul Hassan, 2001 ; Topcu, 2011). Key policy entrepreneurs in the devolution of irrigation management in Turkey have been national and international bureaucrats, namely those of the DSI and the World Bank as donor agency. Successive governments have seemed quite content with the “reform process” in irrigation management, and the World Bank has pronounced Turkey a “case of success.” The coalition against the accelerated irrigation management transfer process, however, has leveled considerable criticism. The Chamber of Agricultural Engineers has led the objections, focusing on a number of issues. The participatory aspect of the transfers in particular has been questioned owing to the exclusion of irrigators from IA general assemblies and boards. In addition, the top‑down approach, adopted rather than a grassroots approach generated by farmer interest and involvement, has caused fierce debate over the characterization of the associations as democratic. Critics stress that maintenance, rehabilitation and modernization of the irrigation canals, some of which are 40 years old, cannot be accomplished due to technical, administrative and legal capacity deficiencies of the IA. The Chamber of Agricultural Engineers is of the opinion that Turkey will not completely implement the new irrigation management policy unless public institutions are assigned full responsibility for building new irrigation systems concomitantly with the rehabilitation of old systems (Kibaroglu et al., 2009).

25The rapid urbanization and industrialization led to the discussion of different models for water supply and sanitation services in metropolitan areas, which finally resulted in the establishment of autonomous municipal water services administrations. Law No 2860, which established the first of these administrations, namely the Istanbul Water Supply and Sanitation Administration, ISKI, is worth noting. The establishment of autonomous entities for water services within the structures of metropolitan municipalities (as independent entities in 1981, as subordinate municipal organizations from 1984) was a major step towards both privatization and decentralization. The budgetary autonomy of these entities paved the way for them to seek external funding independently from the Bank of Provinces. Municipalities began to finance large-scale urban infrastructure investment by raising foreign loans, which ultimately resulted in greater efforts to privatize municipal service provision (Cinar, 2009).

26These developments indicate a shift to a more decentralized and ‘privatized’ water management. However, a closer look reveals that they lack a coherent strategy for achieving a common objective. An even closer look at the Turkish decentralization and privatization experience reveals a coalition of external and internal actors, including international financial institutions (e.g. World Bank), supranational institutions (i.e. European Union) and influential national élites. The pressure from this coalition apparently triumphed over those actors who tried to maintain the traditional water management policy and practices in Turkey, which could be described as national in legislative terms, central in decision-making terms and public in financial terms.

4 - Europeanization of Turkey’s Water Management Policy ?

27In December 1999, when Turkey became a candidate for EU membership, the European Council’s decision triggered a new wave of changes in Turkey’s water management policies. In its march towards EU membership, Turkey now faces the challenge of aligning itself with, transposing and implementing all the various elements of the European water and environmental acquis.

28In accordance with the EU Accession Partnership document, Turkey has established a “National Programme”, in whose implementation it is being supported by the EU. Changes to legislation have been fast-tracked : only 7 of 22 water-related Directives still await incorporation into Turkish legislation. Furthermore, it is noticeable that the number of projects aimed at contributing to the WFD harmonization process in Turkey has increased since the chapter on the environment was opened in December 2009. Thus relations between the Turkish organizations responsible under the water management policy and their European counterparts have presumably become closer. From this point of view, it could be argued that the level of commitment to WFD principles (public participation, river basin management, full cost-recovery, etc.) in a number of Turkey’s water-related organizations (DSI ; Ministry of Forestry and Water Affairs ; Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Livestock ; State Planning Organization ; Ministry of Health) is likely to rise with the intensification of relations demonstrated by the growing number of projects. However, it should be noted that the implementation of pilot projects and the adoption of new legislation constitute only a fraction of what has to be done to ensure compliance with the EU environment and water acquis.

29As already mentioned, Turkey must comply with the Water Framework Directive (WFD) (Grimeaud, 2001 ; Kaika, 2003) by the time it accedes to the EU, which will require a tremendous effort and a significant investment (Sumer, 2011). The major tasks to be performed are : to create a reliable inventory of the status of water bodies ; to establish proper monitoring systems ; to set up pricing systems for all sectors, with account taken of the “full cost recovery” principle ; to allow all interested parties to participate in the processes of setting up water development plans ; and to draw up river basin management plans. Finally, the objectives set out in Article 4 of the WFD are : to prevent the status of surface water from deteriorating ; to “protect and enhance all artificial and heavily modified bodies of water,” with the aim of achieving a “good surface water status” in the year 2015, at the latest ; and to achieve the objectives applicable to Protected Areas established under EU legislation.

30One of the crucial requirements of the WFD is the adoption of the “river basin management” approach through the designation of “river basin districts” and the appointment of “competent authorities” to govern them. Turkey has no single authority or organization entrusted with the mandate of water management (OZTURK, 2009). Furthermore, the existing organizational structure with the DSI at its centre has traditionally prioritized water quantity over water quality concerns.

31Other directives are instrumental to the WFD objective of achieving “good water status”, an example being the Flora Fauna Habitat Directive (92/43/EEC) and directives regulating water pollution control. Combating water pollution is cumbersome and will be expensive : according to initial estimates, only 22 to 30 per cent of surface waters have a “good status”. Achieving environmental objectives calls for effective pollution control, which is difficult even at point sources. Although progress is being made as regards investment in sewage systems and waste water treatment plants, the OECD estimates that about “3,000 new plants remain to be built in towns with a population over 2,000” to ensure compliance with the EU’s Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive. EUR 18 billion will have to be invested in the installation of new and the rehabilitation of existing treatment facilities (OECD, 2008 :66). The EU funds are expected to provide 40 per cent, while local administrations will have to co-finance these projects by borrowing from the Bank of Provinces (Orhan and Scheumann, 2011).

32The WFD requires stakeholder participation, which is as yet very limited. Only the Environmental Impact Assessment procedure has institutionalized forms that allow the direct participation of the public in decision-making on water resources development (Scheumann et al., 2011). However, EIA applies only to individual projects, not to the setting up of river basin management plans and the totality of its infrastructure components.

33Finally, current water pricing practices in Turkey do not comply with the objectives set in the WFD, this being particularly true of the “full-cost-recovery” principle. Depending on the sector (agriculture, industry, and households), capital and service costs are fully or partly covered, but environmental and resource costs are totally ignored.

34Generally speaking, Turkey may conform to the WFD principles by taking what are likely to be contentious political decisions that antagonize society or by complying with the water and environmental acquis only on paper and trying to continue with its current practices.

5 - A National Framework Water Law

  • 2 Such as the domestic water shortages that occurred in the capital, Ankara, during the drought of 20 (...)

35New institutions have been established, particularly since the early 1980s, under the neo-liberal policies of decentralization and privatization. However, they have been introduced without clear lines being drawn between their mandates and those of existing institutions (Bilen, 2009). The overlaps and conflicting mandates of these institutions have not only caused bureaucratic competition and rivalries but, more importantly, created institutional pitfalls when it comes to responding to needs, emergencies and crisis situations.2 Much of the criticism surrounding these incidents has therefore focused on the lack of coordination and complementarities among the responsible water authorities (Chamber of Civil Engineers, 2009). The debate on water sector reform has consequently culminated in proposals for a “national framework water law” and a “new ministry of water resources” (ADA STRATEJI, 2010 : 18-19).

36Under the Seventh Five Year Development Plan (1996‑2000), the State Planning Organization mandated the DSI to draft a new, comprehensive framework water law. In doing so, the DSI’s legal experts analysed national acts and laws adopted by various other countries, including some that have established legal structures, such as France, and others that have recently undergone restructuring, such as Brazil and South Africa. The draft law was completed by the DSI’s legal division in 2001. However, it has never completed the necessary procedural stages in the parliament (Turkish Grand National Assembly – TBMM, its Turkish acronym), which may lead to a parliamentary debate and adoption. This delay in the parliament may be due to the fact that a water law had not been perceived as a priority by the government in the early 2000s.

  • 3 Draft Water Law 2001, on file with the authors.

37The Draft Water Law3 emphasizes that, with due regard for national security, the country’s economic and social development needs, the multipurpose development of surface and groundwater resources is to be undertaken with a view to providing the public with adequate, good-quality water. It refers to the utilization, allocation, protection, safeguarding and monitoring of the country’s surface and groundwater resources with the aim of meeting the needs of each citizen, and nature and satisfying the demand for water for industrial and irrigation uses and hydropower generation.

38The Draft Water Law also requires water resources, including treated and recycled wastewater, to be developed and managed at ‘river basin level.’ Indeed, within Turkey’s existing institutional and legal structure, there is very little planning at basin level and nor does existing planning consider both ground and surface water availability, water quality, wastewater disposal, current and projected land use, anticipated future demand and return flows or the projected future quantity and quality of water resources.

39The Draft Water Law does contain detailed provisions on the utilization and allocation of water resources ; specific reference is made to the adoption of DSI’s ‘licensing system’ which grants user rights. However, the proposed new water law has yet to state clearly what rights water users have, and the limits to those use rights ; it keeps silent on how to deal with the rights of those users who de facto use water but have not sought for licenses. Such rights are particularly important for farmers and irrigation management organizations, which may be in danger of losing their access to water as a result of agreements between the DSI and private constructors of hydroelectric dams. If water rights are to be granted to water users, the processes and procedures for measuring and recording of water abstractions will need to be reinforced. As they are weak, it cannot be said for certain how much water is abstracted daily from river and groundwater resources (World Bank, 2006). When it comes to the organizational structure of water management, the only information the Draft Water Law contains concerns the DSI : its organizational structure (headquarters and regional directorates), duties and tasks. There are no references at all to the roles, responsibilities, tasks and functions of other organizations in the water sector. Attempts have been made in the past to persuade the parties concerned, including non-governmental organizations and academia, to discuss the main problems facing Turkish water management, with a specific focus on legislation and institutional structures. The water law review process began on the initiative of a group of deputies (2001-2002). Intensive consultations were held with relevant agencies and authorities with a view to their contributing to that process. Some leading government institutions –the State Planning Organization, the DSI and a number of civil society organizations – provided support.

40All in all, these efforts to review water legislation and institutional structures have failed to produce a coherent national water act in the 2000s one reason being that efforts to draft the water law have been dominated by the DSI. However, the government agencies concerned, such as the SPO, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and even the DSI itself, have attempted to lead the “water law debate” and include stakeholders concerned. Locally elected municipal authorities were not included, and non-governmental entities were only partially involved.

  • 4 The new draft covers internal fresh water bodies, coastal as well as transitional waters; it refers (...)

41During the accession negotiations and in particular the negotiations about the Environmental Chapter which started in December 2009, Turkey had declared that a water law would be adopted by the end of 2011. It was only in April 2012 when a new draft was made public for consultations. Without going into detail, the most recent draft complies with the basic WFD principles.4 The final wording, however, remains to be seen as the parliamentary process may lead to considerable alterations also depending on the level of involvement of the interested segments of civil society. Meanwhile, numerous new regulations have been adopted, and since 2003 amendments have been made to existing laws to transpose EU water-related legislation, without regard for the need to push the draft framework water law through the legislative procedures in the parliament.


42This paper has analysed the interrelated decentralization, privatization and Europeanization trends which have gradually transformed Turkey’s water management since the 1980s. Initially established as a centralized sphere of public policy, water supply and sanitation, agricultural water management and hydroelectricity have been progressively opened up to local authorities, user groups and the private sector.

43After the Second World War, state-led water resources development was furthered by the establishment of a central water bureaucracy, the DSI, which has invested heavily in infrastructure projects since the late 1960s. With few exceptions, management too was exclusively the responsibility of public agencies.

44Since the 1980s, there have been major changes in :

  • the national energy/(hydro)electricity sector, which has undergone gradual liberalisation and deregulation. The classic investment model, where planning, financing, and operation are in the hands of the public sector alone, has been partly replaced by private models such as Build-Operate-Transfer (BOT), Build-Own-Operate (BOO) and Transfer of Operating Rights (TOOR), with a view to attracting private capital. The electricity sector has been reorganized, with the passing of the Electricity Market Law (2001) and the Law on the Utilization of Renewable Energy Resources for the Purpose of Generating Electrical Energy (2005). Recent regulation favours licensing as a means of encouraging private companies to develop river water resources for the generation of hydroelectricity under agreements on the right to use water.

  • The large-scale irrigation system, where management was transferred to a variety of management organizations from the early 1990s with mixed results. The main motivation behind this shift was to reduce the burden on the national treasury (irrigation service costs were not covered by water charges). This was in line with the reduction of the subsidisation of agricultural inputs (e.g. pesticides, fertilizers and credit lines), which had begun in the 1980s, the magnitude of which is still under discussion today. However, while the public sector is no longer active in the hydropower sector, it is still meant to invest in irrigation projects and storage dams for irrigation.

  • The provision of water supply and sanitation services, which have always been the responsibility of the municipalities. Financing has, however, been largely provided by the central government through the Municipalities Fund of the Bank of Provinces. When the water and sanitation administrations were established in 1981, they were independent from the municipalities, but were later subordinated to them as public bodies with independent budgets. They are encouraged to mobilize their own resources outside the Bank of Provinces mechanism and to finance investment in large-scale urban infrastructure by raising foreign loans under the Treasury Guarantee Scheme.

  • 5 Undersecretary for the State Planning Organization, a World Bank adviser and top manager at the Sab (...)

45These changes have been facilitated by Turkey’s transformation to a free market economy. Influential national elites and international financial institutions (i.e. the World Bank and IMF) have endorsed the decentralization, liberalization and deregulation initiated by Ozal’s5 government.

46Turkey’s desire to join the European Union has had far-reaching consequences for its water policy. It has stimulated the many efforts to change the country’s national water regime to bring it into line with the European environmental and water acquis – with due regard for the country’s specific conditions and concerns. Meanwhile, the concept of ‘Water for Nature’ has entered the public debate, but Turkey’s water policy is still dominated by developmental rather than ecological concerns, as is evident from the massive dam development programme and the lack of activities to protect rivers against overuse and degradation. One exception is the massive investment in sewage systems and waste‑water treatment plants.

47Effective greening of water policy is hampered by a command and control policy approach which Turkey’s government is not able to enforce. The state apparatus has yet to consider how to create incentives for users to protect water resources based on dialogues including societal groups. Institutional reform aimed at strengthening institutions mandated with environment / nature protection and streamlining ecological concerns into sector policies (particularly agriculture) has yet to be undertaken. Similarly, inclusive forms of decision-making have not yet been introduced.

48In this respect, the draft national framework water law looks promising. However, it has not yet completed the necessary parliamentary procedures which may lead to a parliamentary debate and possible adoption.

49Which path Turkey’s water policy will follow is a matter of speculation : is the water law simply not a government priority ? Is the government trying to maintain its current practices, irrespective of the EU’s water and environmental acquis, and paying no more than lip service to environmental protection ? Is the government willing to maintain its stewardship over the country’s water resources, to impose regulation on water-using sectors and to secure the water-using rights of the people vis-à-vis the private sector ? Is the government willing to give local authorities a say in decision-making, and is it willing to insist on compulsory EIA in large dam projects and to change the provisional Article 3 of the EIA Directive ?

Top of page


ADA STRATEJI, (2010), Su Kaynaklari Bakanligi Kurulus Taslagi Onerisi, USIAD, Ankara.

BASKAN A. (2011), Liberalization of Turkey’s Hydroelectricity Sector, in KIBAROGLU et al. (eds.), Turkey’s Water Policy : National Frameworks and International Cooperation, Berlin, Springer Verlag, p. 83‑91.

BILEN O., (2009), Turkiye’nin Su Gundemi : Su Yonetimi ve AB Su Politikalari, Ankara.

BOZ B., VOLKAN F., (2006), “Ulkemizde Sulu Tarim Altyapisi Gerceklestirmede Finansman Sorunlari ve Cozum Onerileri”, TMMOB Su Politikalari Kongresi Bildiriler Kitabi, Ankara, p. 403410.

CHAMBER OF CIVIL ENGINEERS WORKING GROUP ON WATER, (2009), Su Hakki Raporu, Turkiye Muhendislik Haberleri (TMH), Ankara.

CINAR T., (2009), “Privatization of Urban Water Sewerage Services in Turkey : Some Trends”, Development in Practice, 19(3), p. 350‑364.

DEMIREL S., (2005), Bir Omur Suyun Pesinde, Desen Ofset Matbaacilik A.S., Ankara.

GRIMEAUD D., (2001), “Reforming EU Water Law : Towards Sustainability”, European Environmental Law Review, 2, March Issue, p. 88‑97.

JEFFREY P., GEARY M., (2006), Integrated Water Resources Management : Lost on the Road from Ambition to Realization ? Water Sciences and Technology, 53(1), p. 1‑8.

KAIKA M., (2003), “The Water Framework Directive : A New Directive for a Changing Social, Political and Economic European Framework”, European Planning Studies, 11(3), p. 299‑316.

KIBAROGLU A., SÜMER V., (2007), Diverging Water Management Paradigms between Turkey and the European Union, Water International, 32, Supplemental Issue, p. 739‑749.

KIBAROGLU A., BASKAN A., (2011), “Turkey’s water policy framework”, in KIBAROGLU et al. (eds.), Turkey’s Water Policy, National Frameworks and International Cooperation, Berlin, Springer Verlag, p. 3‑25.

KIBAROGLU A., BASKAN A., ALP S., (2009), “Neo-liberal transitions in hydropower and irrigation water management in Turkey : main actors and opposition groups”, in Huitema, and Meijerink (eds.), Water policy entrepeneurs. A research companion to water transitions around the globe, Cheltenham, UK, Edward Elgar, p. 287‑304.

OECD, (2008), OECD Environmental Performance Review of Turkey, OECD, Paris.

ORHAN G., SCHEUMANN W., (2011), “Turkey’s Policy for Combating Water Pollution”, in KIBAROGLU et al. (eds.), Turkey’s Water Policy : National Frameworks and International Cooperation, Berlin, Springer Verlag, p. 117‑138.

OZIS U., (1999), Historical dams in Turkey, Nurol Printing and Packing Industry Inc., Ankara.

OZTURK M., (2009), “Havza Esasli Entegre Su Yonetimi”, unpublished paper, Ankara, [online], accessed on 20.04.2011.

RAHAMAN M.M., VARIS O., (2005), Integrated Water Resources Management : Evolution, Prospects and Future Challenges. Sustainability : Science, Practice, & Policy, 1(1), p. 15‑21.

SCHEUMANN W., UL-HASSAN M., (2001), Irrigation Management Transfer : Irrigation Associations in the Lower Seyhan Plain and the Gediz River Basin (Turkey), International e-Conference on Irrigation Management Transfer, FAO and INPIM, [online].

SCHEUMANN W., BAUMANN V., MUELLER A.L., MUTSCHLER D., STEINER S., WALENTA T., (2011), “Environmental Impact Assessment in Turkish Dam Planning”, in KIBAROGLU et al. (eds.), Turkey’s Water Policy : National Frameworks and International Cooperation, Springer Verlag, Berlin, p. 139‑160.

SPO, State Planning Organization, (2007), Dokuzuncu Kalkinma Plani, Toprak ve Su Kaynaklarinin Kullanimi ve Yonetimi, Ozel Ihtisas Komisyonu Raporu, Ankara.

SÜMER V., (2011), The European Union Water Framework Directive and Turkey’s Water Management Policy : An Analysis, unpublished Ph.D. Thesis, Middle East Technical University, Ankara.

SÜMER V., MULUK C., (2011), “Challenges for Turkey to Implement the EU Water Framework Directive”, in KIBAROGLU et al. (eds.), Turkey’s Water Policy : National Frameworks and International Cooperation, Springer Verlag, Berlin, p. 43‑68.

TIGREK S., KIBAROGLU A., (2011), “Strategic Role of Water Resources for Turkey” in KIBAROGLU et al. (eds.), Turkey’s Water Policy, National Frameworks and International Cooperation, Springer Verlag, Berlin, p. 27-42.

TOPCU S., (2011), Water for Agriculture : A Major but Inefficient Consumer in KIBAROGLU et al. (eds.), Turkey’s Water Policy, National Frameworks and International Cooperation, Springer Verlag, Berlin, p. 93-115.

TUIK, (2010), TUIK Haber Bulteni, [online], accessed on 26.08.2010.

WORLD BANK, (2006), Irrigation and water resources with a focus on irrigation prioritization and management. Economic Sector Work, Working Paper, Turkey.

YILDIZ D., OZBAY O., (2009), Su ve Toprak, Dunya Yayincilik.

Top of page


1 As a result of decisions taken on 24 January 1980, Turkey became one of the first countries in the developing world to make the change from a state‑led development strategy to a model of broad market liberalization and openness to the international economy.

2 Such as the domestic water shortages that occurred in the capital, Ankara, during the drought of 2007-08 and the devastating floods that caused severe damage and even loss of life in the Thrace and Marmara region in the autumn of 2009.

3 Draft Water Law 2001, on file with the authors.

4 The new draft covers internal fresh water bodies, coastal as well as transitional waters; it refers to the WFD’s environmental objectives and the good water status principle; to river basin management plans; to the user and polluter pays principle, and to full cost recovery; it proposes six‑year planning cycles for management plans, and attributes great significance to participatory decision-making structures in water management.
Available online, [].

5 Undersecretary for the State Planning Organization, a World Bank adviser and top manager at the Sabanci Holding (one of the largest industrial groups in Turkey), Ozal led decision making on the national economy in the 1980s. Ozal’s Motherland Party (ANAP) won the successive general elections of 1983 and 1987 leading to his appointment as Prime Minister in 1989. As the main architect of the neoliberal transformation of the Turkish economy, Ozal followed the paths of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan and touted the transformation with the slogan, ‘There is no alternative’.

Top of page


Electronic reference

Aysegül Kibaroglu, Vakur Sümer and Waltina Scheumann, « Fundamental Shifts in Turkey’s Water Policy », Méditerranée [Online], 119 | 2012, Online since 30 November 2014, connection on 30 March 2017. URL : ; DOI : 10.4000/mediterranee.6453

Top of page

About the authors

Aysegül Kibaroglu

Department of International Relations, Okan University Istanbul, Turkey,

Vakur Sümer

Department of International Relations Selcuk University, Konya, Turkey,

Waltina Scheumann

German Development Institute, Deutsches Institut für Entwicklungspolitik (DIE), Bonn, Germany,

Top of page


Tous droits réservés

Top of page