| ASSOC. PROF. BOĞAÇHAN BENLİ: “WE HAVE TO INCREASE THE PRODUCTIVITY AND EFFICIENCY OF WATER USE IN THE MIDDLE EAST”
ORSAM Water Research Programme carried out an interview with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Global Programme Manager Assoc. Prof. Boğaçhan Benli, during the World Water Week in Stockholm. During the interview, Benli made assessments about the project cınducted within the framework of the United Nations Development Programme and about the efficient usage of water. Benli explained that there is a quite low rate of water productivity in the whole Northern Africa and in the Middle East, and that primarily this problem should be eliminated.
ORSAM: Mr. Benli, first of all, could you tell us about yourself?
Boğaçhan Benli: My name is Boğaçhan Benli. I have been managing a water project, which was firstly launched as a regional project of the United Nations Development Programme and which has provided service for the Eastern Europe and the Turkic Republics, approximately for the last six years. And I have been the manager of this project, which has become global since last year, in Sweden. The goal of our project: is to provide people with clean drinking water, to carry out activities within the framework of the climate change adaptation, and to carry out activities aiming at conscious usage of water. Our project is as I indicated above. I work as the General Manager of this project.
This project has most probably been carried out in pilot regions in Turkey; where exactly have these projects been carried out?
We have had two local activities in Turkey, but Turkey has been included in regional projects as pilot country. One of our projects in Turkey was a drinking-water purpose project in Ankara Saray Region. Unfortunately the main pipeline in Saray region was made of asbestos-cement pipes, and this pipeline had exploded only for 52 times last year, during the period before we carried out this activity; and we saved 30 thousand tons of water in a year by changing that project. At the same time, we provided people with clean drinking water as well. Another one, which is more interesting, was rainwater harvesting project we carried out in Beypazarı. The goal of that project was to create; to supply a water resource , which would be completely sustainable in a village in a dry zone in Beypazarı – a village having no access to water in economic terms, and also a village starting to disappear –, and to bring this water resource into use of villagers. We provided a continuous water resource for 12 months by collecting the rainwater in this way, filtering the water, and by connecting them to households.
They used it as drinking water, didn't they?
Yes, of course, as drinking water.
How the collected water is purified ? Is the water only filtered, or are chemical treatments implemented as well?
There is a very simple sand-gravel filter. Beforehand, this system was used in agriculture; then it started to be used in households, it was simplified and got cheaper as technology developed. We healthily carried out this project by installing sand-gravel filters in each household's tank. However, these tanks should be cleaned up anyway, and hundred percent clean water can be provided by adding chlorine tablets. However, there is also something else; there is no pesticide in this kind of water projects, in other words in rain water. There is no agricultural fertilizer. There is no canalization mixture. Therefore, cleaning of mossing in tank or dropping of a leaf or insects, which are your only pollution materials. Thus, rain water is clean water.
Are there certain climate conditions to apply this method? What are their conditions?
Yes, there are. If you want to take advantage of rain water, at least 300 mm rain fall is needed. Ankara region receives 400 mm rain fall. If you imagine that 400 mm rain fall is collected in a 100 square meter roof; you will collect approximately 40 tons of water. If you consider it as a drinking water, this figure is quite serious. As a result, we can easily apply this system in regions, which receive at least 300-350 mm rain water, and this system is economical and sustainable as well.
What kind of studies have you had, except for this project?
We have had contributions to pilot, regional projects. One of these projects is a project of ours carried out in Black Sea. Above all, I would like to indicate that October 31st is World Black Sea Day, but it has not been celebrated enough because of misfortune of its history, up until today. This decision was taken in 1966 and October 31st is a date, when Black Sea will certainly receive rain. Therefore people have not been able to carry out celebration on October 31st. We even thought of postponing this date, but it was not possible as the protocol was signed on October 31st. However, we launched a programme in 2006, and in 2007 we carried out Black Sea celebrations day in all the Black Sea countries with the active participation of 40 thousand people on October 31st. What we saw there is as follows: The Black Sea is under serious threat, and carrying out an activity related to this is essential; in other words, it is necessary to raise awareness. For this purpose, we launched a project called “Blacksea-box”. Blacksea-box is an education kit which is composed of six sections, and which collects information such as cultural fauna and geographic flora of Black Sea embodying various information; and which explains what poses threat to Black Sea. The Ministry of National Education also supported us, and as we carried out this project, we prepared such an education kit by launching it in Turkey as pilot, and by gathering the international consultants. We distributed 2000 of these kits in Turkey. This year these kits have been distributed to approximately some 600 schools. Right now, I cannot remember the exact number; but this education kit called “Blacksea-box” has been distributed across the Blacksea coastline including villages, and it was also included in education in curriculum. We have been carrying out the repetition of the education kit in Russia and Ukraine for the time being.
But, of course, these are countries resembling each others in terms of climate, and being above a certain level of precipitation. Is there a problem in terms of quality?
The main problem of Black Sea is the fact that wastes, garbage, canalization and other pollutions of one third of the whole Europe coming from the Danube river are emptied into Black Sea through Romania. In fact, the country polluting Black Sea the most is considered to be Romania. However, Romania does not have such an activity; but such a consequence comes out as the Danube river empties into the Black Sea through Romania. On the other hand, Black Sea's only outlet is Bosphorus. The pollution in Black Sea has attained such a level that H20 started to turn into H2S. There is no water below the level of 200 meters, there is hydrogen sulphide, and this pollution continues in the same way. It should not continue so. People should become aware of this situation. And its starting point is children. If you drop litter from Romania, it affects the life of child in Georgia and in Crimea. WE launched an education kit, which would deliver this message. This is a regional project, but it is pleasing that this project was launched in Turkey.
In Turkey, there is a perception of wasting water resources a lot; has any educational process related to this perception been carried out in Turkey, or has it been planned to carry out such a process? Because there is an overuse of water in Turkey.
In schools that I know, unfortunately, there is no such an educational activity. However, I am not hundred per cent sure on this issue either. Nevertheless, I know the subject as follows; as we carried out the project in Saray Region, we wanted to provide training in the region as well. Children voluntarily become inspector in this kind of projects, and they provide a real good assistance. We checked the curriculum in the school and we could not see such a thing, only then we felt the need for offering education. Because, if there is no education within the school, awareness on this subject is not raised in society either. This is the same not only in Turkey, but also all around the world. For instance, right now, we live in Sweden; and people think that water is unlimited in Sweden. Because Sweden is a country, which receives more than 1500 mm of rain water in a year, and where it rains almost 200 days in 365 days of a year. And how people think of water as a resource? It is almost the same situation in Jordan. Even in the most arid area, you see that people hose their cars. This problem exists even in places where water is not free. This is a worldwide problem, in Turkey, it is thought that water is an unlimited resource in Western Anatolia and in Northern regions.
Does the United Nations Development Programme have other projects in order to create alternative water resources? For example, do you also have other projects such as collecting rain water on the roof and using it as drinking water?
As the United Nations Development Programme across the globe, we give priority to provide people with clean drinking water. What United Nations Development Programme, “Water and Ocean Governence” programme particularly carries out as an activity is this. As a matter of fact, creating alternative water resource is not that possible. Including rain water as water resource, or feeding aquifer by collecting rain water has become more and more widespread all around the globe, right now. For instance, if you go to India, or to Pakistan; you can see the samples of this system everywhere.
They feed aquifer with rain water, right?
Of course. Rain water's reaching aquifer could last a year or two years. And they inject it in some way. It stores rain water, and as all the cost is caused by storing, it feeds aquifer with the rest it cannot store. Today, it is tried to be expanded a little.
In fact, feeding aquifer is a suggested method for the Middle East, isn't it?
As a matter of fact, it culturally exists. Underground, there is a storing method in balloon form resembling well called “cistern”. You can see it in many countries in the Middle East. All in all, people have stored rain water underground for centuries. In fact, if you go to the ruins of Petra in Jordan from Roman period, you can see this type of storing mechanisms. This actually exists. However, nowadays, feeding aquifer through drilling is carried out more efficiently .
You have just indicated that you have been to the Middle East. What is your observation in the Middle East. Although the approach towards water is not much different over there either, there is a problem of transboundary waters; especially between Turkey, Syria and Iraq?
Before Turkey, Syria, and Iraq; what I have observed in the Middle East is the issue of water productivity. Not only in our neighbouring countries, but also wherever you go in Morocco, in Sudan, and in Algeria; unfortunately, there is a quite low level of water productivity in all the countries. As poverty is the main problem in these countries, and as people's alimentation is important; feeding people has become more significant rather than providing people with drinking water, on the water issue. And the only way of being engaged in agriculture is doing it through irrigation. In Turkey, we have large amount of areas for rain-fed ecoculture. However, in other countries, there is not this much area. For instance, in Egypt, the total amount of irrigation area is 2.5 Million hectares and the whole country provides its income through agriculture that is done for three times on these territories. The moment water is cut, Egypt goes hungry. The same situation goes for our country as well. For example, in the Southeastern Anatolia, the moment you cut water, you can only cultivate barley; the productivity is low even for wheat. The same situation also goes for the north of Syria: In these regions, olive or wheat is cultivated, and this agriculture is done through water provided from Euphrates River. I do not know what I can tell about the water sharing in the region, but my general opinion on this issue is that I believe the efficiency and productivity of water usage should be increased.
The majority of the water is already used for agricultural use. However, mostly traditional methods are used.
Yes. Traditional methods are used, and farmers do not have enough conscious. As a matter of fact, the problems we can list for the whole world exist in this region as well. The only that could be told is the fact that water efficiency/productivity is low.
Is it more expensive to adopt modern agriculture not only in the Middle East, but in general?
It is not the only thing. The general point of view across the globe is “let's get rid of all the problems by adopting drip irrigation method”. When we pass to drip irrigation, the plant does not say that, “This man provided me with drip irrigation, thus I should provide him with more productivity”. It has a technique. You can have a very low rate of water productivity even if you adopt drip irrigation method. This could lead you to do an irrigation close to traditional irrigation. At this very point, it is necessary to raise enough awareness. There are certain implementations: Changing crop harvesting date, choosing the seed come to mean that when to irrigate is known. These should be all known. And, this is generally under the responsibility of states. In Turkey, this responsibility has been given to irrigation unions. It is a very successful system. Across the world, irrigations made by irrigation unions are sample. In time, irrigation unions developed themselves, and now they control irrigation.
Could they implement this system on GAP Project as well? Because it was criticized a lot, as well...
Of course, it is also implemented on GAP. In fact, there is a considerable development in Turkey. In GAP, cotton was produced at a rate of 90 %. And it was not enough. I believe that, right now, it is different. And we have heard that drip irrigation is encouraged in Turkey.
Yes. That is right, it is supported even by banks...
Right. In the world, there are new companies now. For example, they do not give pipe to farmer for him to do only drip irrigation. These companies have sales representatives just like pharmaceutical companies. They go and purchase farmer's products, and a certain irrigation programme is carried out. Technically this is a programme, a solution. All the problem is raising awareness. It is necessary to organize farmer days and to inform farmers on certain issues. It is necessary to show farmer in practice how to save water without giving damage. Let me give you an example: I carried out a project in Egypt delta. Furrow irrigation method is used in order to irrigate wheat in Egypt delta. I carried out a study in order to automatically save water and to increase productivity, when I change the furrow distance; and it was successful. Before I did anything, the following year I introduced this project, we detected that more than 1130 farmers copied me. Can you imagine the water saving? It is necessary to carry this kind of studies across the world; it should be totally implemented by explaining them in examples and by showing them successfully.
There is a salinization problem in soil, and this situation is shown as the destiny of the Middle East. Could this problem be overcome by drip irrigation? Is this a legend, or real? Could this become successful when it is put into practice?
Yes, it is real. The salinization problem is caused by giving extreme amount of water, and by evaporation of water table as a result of an increase. Of course evaporation is quite high in regions such as the Middle East, and of course there is a certain amount of salt in each water. Even if this amount is 1 mm., the amount of salt accumulated as a result of evaporation gives damage to soil, and leads to drought. When you give it through drip irrigation, water shows a distribution in onion form. And as water is slowly distributed, it pushes salt. Then the rate of salt declines in root top of the plant, and the plant can breath. And nutrients start to include water in its system. Drip irrigation shows an ideal result in saline soils. It is a suggested method. When I used to give lecture in University, I used to explain this in the first course. Of course, what should be done before this is to prevent giving extreme amount of water. I have seen it couple of times in GAP basin, the drainage problem attained such a level that, lakes came out in the middle of the field. This kills soil, as it did in Çukurova, in the past.
As far as I know, those irrigation channels can be broken into pieces by the people as well, in order to obtain more amount of water.
Unfortunately, this kind of things exist in practice. In fact, DSI (General Directorate of State Hydraulic Waters) did a good job by transferring all these to irrigation unions. Now, for instance, you break the goods of the state. And you benefit yourself. The public officers are informed of this situation, and you lose water until it is repaired, and everybody is affected. However, we create an irrigation union; you me and some fellows. If I break the channel, you catch me. Because we live together, side by side. Our fields are side by side and you operate it, and I pay due to you. The following year, I operate it, and you pay the due. Therefore, it is a successful system, and this system is expanded in Turkey and it achieved success. In the past, water was free, now it is not. There is a problem in Turkey, and I will criticize it; according to our system, payment depends on hectare, in other words, if you have a hectare of field and if you cultivate cotton, its price is definite. No matter how much water you give, this price does not change. This should be measured. Then, the concept of economy could be included.
Mr. Benli, thank you so much for your valuable information and for making time for us.
And I wish success to ORSAM Water Research Programme.
* This interview was carried out by ORSAM Water Research Programme Hydropolitics Advisor Dr. Tuğba Evrim Maden on August 24th 2011, in Stockholm.