Ercan Ayboga’s speech (Right to Water Campaign, Turkey) 

Right to Water kucuk logo13.04.2015, Alternative Water Forum, Daegu, South Korea

Dear participants, activists,

first of all I would like to greet you warmly on behalf of the Water Right Campaign from Turkey which has is formed after the 5th World Water Forum in Istanbul 2009. I am in South Korea additionally on behalf of the municipality of Diyarbakir, the biggest city in Turkish-Kurdistan. This is not contradictory as Diyarbakir and other cities in my region are ruled mainly by HDP which is a coalition of leftist and democratic forces in Turkey.

HDP (Peoples Democratic Party) rules Diyarbakir (Amed) for 16 years and has a deeply different political and social policy than the Turkish government party AKP and the other bigger parties in Turkey. The AKP formed the most neoliberal government in the history of our state and implements a highly problematic privatization process.

Let me first explain what the main challenges of local authorities in my region regarding their water services are. As we have very limited financial and technical capacities we had huge problems to connect households to drinking water, in particular in rural regions. We still need to realize large scale investments for the allocation and (re)treatment of drinking water. In almost every city there are parts which are not connected to the waste water collectors. Only the biggest cities have waste water treatment plants. In this second field, much more investments are still needed to be carried out. The third problem is the poverty. Around half of the population cannot pay the water bills. As we consider the access to water as a basic human right, we do not cut off the water. Due to Turkish Law we have to cut off the water services if bills are not paid. At the same, due to very limited financial resources, municipalities in our region are interested in increasing their incomes through water bills. They have the aim to cover at least of a certain amount of their regular costs. We do not aim in any way to profit from water as the Turkish government forces us with their latest laws and regulations.

The city of Diyarbakir is among the metropolitans in the country that provide water with the lowest price.  We are proud of it and if possible it should be decreased, at least for the poor parts of the city. The municipality of Diyarbakir is still refusing to sign the Istanbul Water Declaration prepared at the World Water Forum 2009.

Let us consider what happened in the last years in the whole state. The privatisation of water services and water resources was forced by the government. Around 2000 started the first privatisations of local water services, particularly in cities ruled by conservative and neoliberal cities. But due to highly problematic results – technically and financially for the society – many cities did not follow privatization formula. In fact, Antalya, a metropolitan that privatised its water and sanitation services for a few years, decided  to recommunalise them.

Two municipalities that give a minimum amount of water free of charge free to its citizens for the last couple of years. They were given to court for damaging the commons and bring public into debt according to the Turkish Law. That shows that water cannot be given to the people for free legally in Turkey. We face the same problem in our cities in Kurdistan.

However, with the organization of the World Water Forum in Istanbul 2009 another and more dangerous development came out. The central government started to “sell” creeks and small-middle scale rivers to companies. These companies were encouraged to build as many hydroelectric power plants (HEPPs) as possible on these rivers which they rent usually up to 49 years. In fact, they can extend their contract another 49 years. In the end, these companies can rent these rivers up to a century if they want to. Hundreds of rivers are now rented to companies. And over 2000 HEPPs are planned; of which more than 150 are completed. The villagers do not get any compensation for the violation of their rights to use their own rivers which are now forced into tunnels over several kilometers. We have already experienced for 3 decades the broad construction of destructive dams within our state, but with the HEPPs all rivers are grabbed from local people.

That is why in the last years came out wide protests by the affected local people. These protests are confronted with a high repression by the Turkish state. Around 20-30 plants could be cancelled officially in the last years and hundreds of HEPPs cannot be built because of the protests, but the construction of more than 200 plants continue. We, as the local authorities of North-Kurdistan, reject all these HEPPs as we think that rivers should not be used for electricity production.

There are some cities in Turkey, in particular Istanbul and Ankara, which grab more water beings within their surrounding regions – up to 185 km in diameter. People in these rural areas are forced to accept that their water is used for big cities and they have nothing to say against. Metropolitans become huge entities that dry out a whole region. But nevertheless the quality of drinking water in such cities is so low that it is mostly not drinkable. The Istanbul metropolitan, for example, bottles the only clean drinking water left in the near region and imports it to 40 different countries.  It sells this water for a price which is hundreds of times higher than the tap water. This is a form of commercialisation of water in Turkey. It is a new trend, it is not a direct privatisation of the whole service, rather of parts or elements which are profitable.

As the last point I want to highlight that Turkey’s water policy affects neighbor states to where important rivers fly. Particularly the dams on the Euphrates and Tigris rivers violate the right to water in Syria and Iraq. The Turkish state plans to cut the annual flow rate  approximately 45 % which would be a disaster as almost the whole irrigation and drinking water systems depend these two rivers.

As you can understand from the speech, in the state of Turkey the violation of the right to water is highly violated in the urban and rural areas, but also of their neighbor states. These negative developments should be deepened with a new Water Law in Turkey which is in preparation. We have criticized it with a counter draft and try to stop it with others together.

At the end of my speech I would like to emphasize:

We need a new social and ecological water policy for our country. Access to water is a principal right to life! We must defend it with our struggles.

In this sense I end my speech with the words:

Av jiyane – Water is life!

Spas – Thank you!

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