The Campaign “We Demand Right to Water!” started

Right to WaterRight to Water Campaign launched, on 17 October 2012, a nation-wide petition campaign for enforcing the Turkish Government to include “human right to water and sanitation” in the Constitution of the Republic  of Turkey. The petition campaign “We Demand Right to Water!” started with a press conference held in Taksim Hill Hotel. In the press conference Melda Onur (Istanbul MP of CHP), Ufuk Uras (former MP), Osman Özgüven (Mayor of Dikili/İzmir),  Ömer Madra (Executive Editor of Open Radio),  Assoc. Prof. Dr. Cengiz Aktar (Bahçeşehir University), Prof. Dr. Mehmet Bekaroğlu (Istanbul Trade University) and Şenol Karakaş (Global Action Group) spoke briefly about the meaning and importance of the campaign. Over a hundred people consisting of opinion leaders, politicians, activists and academics has already signed the petition before it was launched[1].

The press conference started with an introductive speech made by the moderator, Nuran Yüce from the Right to Water Campaign. Yüce emphasized that even though a new campaign was launched, they were not, in fact, demanding a new right with the slogan “Right to water be guaranteed by the Constitution!”. “This is about protecting the right to live, becase all living beings need water to live” said Yüce.  She, then, went on: “All living beings have the fundamental right of access to adequate amount of clean water. As the right to life can neither be sold nor bought, and nobody can be excluded from this right, under no circumstances can anyone be excluded from the right of acces to water. And guaranteeing this right should be one of the fundemantal duties of the state”. Yüce added that water, therefore, should not be seen an economic resource, be commercialised or privatised.  Indicating that in the eyes of the power groups in Turkey water was everything but a life source, Yüce went on: “for them water is a strategic weapon, an economic resource and an instrument for economic development and political pressure. There is no doubt that Turkey’s greatest contribution to the world’s dam literature has been the concept of ‘security dams’.  This dominant view has resulted in an increase in social-ecological destruction, injustice in access to water, threat to the right to life and consumption of life sources instead of protecting them. Yüce concluded that including the right to water in the Constitution would start the process of preventing these adverse results.

Melda Onur, a member of the Parliament, Commission for Environment started by looking into the actual meaning of a widely used phrase by the Turkish politicians: “the water flows, while the Turk watches it”[2].  According to Onur this phrase is a product of the existing understanding of water as “not a human right, but a source of profit”. Onur also said: “today when we think of water, first of all the images of a liquid called H2O captured in pipes and plastic bottles come to mind. However, the reality is in total contrast with this; water is a source of life”. As a political figure, Onur supports the opponents of HEPPs (Hydro Electric Power Plants) and dams, and she follows the court cases regarding this matter. About the opponents she said the following: “Water is sacred for them. They live with water; it is unseparable from their very lives. When HEPPs are constructed, they will have to pay for water which they used to have for free. Soon after they will have to leave their land on which they have lived for thousands of years and move to TOKİ flats constructed in the suburbs”. Onur concluded her speech: “we have to fight against this and prevent this destruction”.

The Mayor of Dikili, Osman Özgüven, talked about a particular way of protesting the commercialisation and privatisation of water. Özgüven said: “In some countries, such as Bolivia, people protest what has been happening to their waters by throwing away the pre-paid water meters mounted in their houses”. The Dikili Municipality is widely known for its water tarification. Özgüven indicated that giving water free of charge upto a certain quota[3] is not only about defending right to water, but also a useful method of water conservation. Özgüven said that after this tarification, the town of Dikili started to save water. Özgüven ended his speech by making a call to everyone through these words: “Pre-paid water meters are threat to water right and they should be thrown away. Let’s throw them away”.

Ömer Madra, a long-time climate activist from Open Radio, started his speech by clarifying the connection between the climate change and water crisis. Madra argued that climate crisis was arriving, with full speed, at an irreversable point. He also gave examples of some great civilisations of the ancient world that went extinct due to various climate crisis in the past. According to Madra this is what has been happening in the modern times. “On one side we see great droughts, on the other floods. This reminds us the descriptions of ‘the hell and flood’ from the holy books” said Madra. He also added that the corporate powers and the states under their influence passed to another stage where they even tried to make money out of the ecological crisis. Madra concluded: “struggles for fundamental rights of humans and the nature are completing parts of the same “one” struggle.  And achieving the right to water is a compulsory and an inevitable part of this”.

Assoc. Dr. Cengiz Aktar started with talking about “AKP Government’s obsession with development”. “We see the word ‘development’ in their name; Justice and Development Party” said Aktar. Then he went on: “the government has completed preparing all the necessary administrative and legal regulations for a rapid development. With these regulations, even the protection zones, which constitute only 5% of the land in Turkey, are opened to trade of water and energy, industry, agriculture, minery and tourism”. Aktar also added: “There is not such a thing called ‘free flowing water’ among the State Hyrdraulic Works’ objectives for the year 2023. They are planning to build 600 HEPPs and 1700 dams”. Aktar stated that this obsession for development had also anti-democratic results, and in fact targeted directly ‘civilization’. Aktar finished his words with these: “under such a massive attack, there is no way but to unite different objections to this type of development”.

Mehmet Bekaroğlu started his speech by saying that flowing water was captured evereywhere by water pipes: “Even elderly women resist what is happening, because they are not convinced that this is done only for energy. They think that their water will be taken away from them”. Bekaroğlu indicated that all this could not only be explained with AKP’s obsession for development, but also with neoliberal policies, capitalism ve modernism. He stated: “It has been like this since the beginning of humanity. Power groups  have always seen the world as an entity belonging to themselves; something that they can use in the way they want. In the modern times, with the advancing technology, empowering firms and the globalisation of capitalism, we are under a great attack. If the world is perceived as commodity, it is exploited”. He went on: “the world is a heritage from the past generations so that we pass it to the future ones”. Pointing at the government’s strategy of marginalizing the struggle against the HEPPs, Bekaroğlu  finished his speech with the following statements: “A struggle divided inside fails in developing itself further. Besides, the mainstream media ignores such struggles. We need to find a way to include more people in this fight”.

Ufuk Uras started his words by stating that serious steps were taken towards commercialisation of water in Turkey. Regarding Melda Onur’s argument about the Turkish phrase “water flows, while the Turk watches it”, Uras said: “In this country, in fact, neither flows the water, nor the Turk watches it. Look what we have done to the Sea of Marmara. It is highly contaminated by arsenic. Only this is enough to prove that we have a relationship with water other than simply watching it”. Uras also stated that the key assumption of neo-liberalism was that “if water was free, nobody would mend his/her broken tap”. According to Uras such an understanding would naturally “try to discipline people through financial measures and try to control an uncontrolable world with money”.  Uras concluded that the right to water was in contrast with this understanding and that was why it would work.

Şenol Karakaş, the final speaker of the press conference, started by indicating that rivers in the Black Sea region could no longer flow. “All the rivers are in the hands of some firms that signed contracts with the AKP government” said Karakaş and, then, added: “In the past, when we heard the word ‘water’ we would think of rivers, but now all we can think is Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the State Hydraulic Works”. However, according to Karakaş despite all the negative developments, there is still hope. “36 villages come together and the young ones raid the construction site of HEPPs destroying the construction machineries. They keep guard there, day and night” said Karakaş. He underlined the fact that communities directly affected by the HEPPs, dams and Thermal Power Plants struggle in a stronger and different way than urban people, because they are aware of what they will lose if they do not fight. “There is a great anger over there” said Karakaş “and the soft spot of this government is a ‘water war’ that awaits them”.

All the speakers of the press conference had consensus that access to adequate amount of clean water is a human right and part of the right to life. They all indicated the importance of right to water being guaranteed by the Constitution and the urgency of uniting for a more complete fight against the legislation and practices ignoring this right. The press conference ended with the call “Right to Water be Guaranteed by the Constitution!”.

End notes:

[1] On the same day, Maude Barlow from Blue Planet Project/Council of Canadians, Jerry van den Berge from EPSU and Shiney Varghese from IATP sended, via e-mail, their support messages for the campaign “We Demand Right to Water!”.

[2]  This phrase indicates that water should not flow and be wasted, but be “developed” with full capacity.

[3] In this town for each house water is free of charge upto 13 m3 per month. If this quota is exceeded, say 14 m3 is used per month, water bill is calculated according to normal tariff. In other words, the entire amount of water used per month is multiplied by normal tariff.

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