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Droughts Turkey

Vulnerabilities - Turkey

Droughts in the past

In 2012 the IPCC concluded that there is medium confidence that since the 1950s in particular southern Europe has experienced a trend toward more intense and longer droughts (7). In recent decades, drought intensity significantly increased in autumn, especially in interior parts of Turkey, while there was no significant increase in drought intensity in spring, summer, and winter (8). 

Turkey is exposed to drought hazards rather frequently. Spatial and temporal analyses of drought hazards in Turkey have not yet been completed but, for instance, intensive drought periods in 1804, 1876 and 1928 caused the loss of crops and animals and the migration of farmers to other areas. In particular, drought in 1876 caused the loss of more than 200,000 people because of famine and disease epidemics.

Moreover, in 1915, the 1930s and between 1970 and 1974, Turkey experienced serious drought hazards (3).  Recent widespread droughts in Turkey occurred in 1973, 1977, 1990, and 1991 (8). Also, 1988 and 1989 were the hardest drought years for the south-eastern Anatolia Region. The flow of the Euphrates River decreased to 50 m3/s in these drought years. It has been shown that river flows are decreasing according to the long-term average over most parts of Turkey (3). 

Drought frequency

Since Turkey is located in the Mediterranean macroclimate region in the sub-tropical zone, great rainfall variations can be seen between the years. This causes regional and widespread droughts in various intensities. Thus, drought is one of the main problems for Turkey. On the most parts of the Central Anatolia Region which have 640 mm of annual average rainfall, recurrence period of drought conditions is more than 1 in 4 years (3).

Most vulnerable region: Central Anatolia (Konya Basin)

Continental tropical airstreams from the north African and Arabian deserts dominate particularly throughout the summer, by causing long-lasting warm and dry conditions over Turkey, except in the Black Sea Region and North-eastern Anatolia. Mean annual precipitation totals range from below 500 mm over the continental interiors and eastern margin of the Eastern Anatolia to above 1000 mm along the Western Mediterranean, and the Western and Eastern Black Sea coasts. Annual precipitation below 400 mm extends over a large area of the Central Anatolia, especially over the Konya sub-region (5).

Especially Central Anatolia and the Aegean Region suffer from drought and over exploitation of water (illegal abstraction) (2). In Turkey’s Konya Basin, a combination of drought and excessive abstraction of water for agriculture has led to the drying up of a number of lakes and wetlands. Lake Tuz, for example, formerly the country’s second largest body of water and visited by thousands of flamingos each summer, has been severely reduced in size (1). Konya Closed Basin (KCB) is Turkey’s 4th biggest basin according to precipitation area (approximately 7% of Turkey’s area).

In Turkey, there are more than 200,000 wells and half of them are unregistered (2). By April 2008, 92,000 wells were identified in Konya Basin by a study of which 66,000 are illegal. In a period of 33 years, a decrease of 14.3 meters in the groundwater level in Konya Basin has taken place, with 80% of this fall during the last 10 years (4).

Besides global warming, it has been considered that low precipitation especially in the KCB (country and KCB’s average precipitations are 643 mm/year and 300-350 mm/year, respectively) and unregistered wells cause excessive drawdown of groundwater. KCB covers the main part of the Central Anatolia plateau and, has an altitude of 950-1200 m. It includes 8 cities and 39 districts. Nearly three million people live in that basin and 45% of them are in rural areas (2).

After 1980’s almost all groundwater levels in Central Anatolia have begun to decrease year to year. Figure shows that after 1980’s there is no abnormal increase in the number of wells in the basin, but normally number of unregistered (or illegal) wells are not included in that figure. Beside negative impacts of that dry period on the groundwater level, impacts of the unregistered (or illegal) wells in the basin are undeniable. In Turkey, illegal groundwater extraction constitutes a severe problem especially in Central Anatolia, specifically in the KCB (2).

Most vulnerable cities

The big cities in Turkey that are most vulnerable to droughts are Ankara, Istanbul and Izmir. These cities depend on fresh water storage in reservoirs (4).

Most vulnerable water system: Lake Tuz

Lake Tuz has an area of 1500 km2, is very shallow and is a terminal lake. It is the second most saline lake in the world (32.9% salt), after the Dead Sea (2). Due to decreasing rainfall and over use of water resources, almost half of the famous salt lake has dried out due to drought and continuous water withdrawal for irrigation. The same conditions affect the Eregli Marshes and Bafa Lake. The Beysehir Lake, the largest freshwater lake in Turkey, was 24 meters deep 25 years ago, and now reaches only up to 9 meters (4).

Most vulnerable sector: agriculture

Agriculture is the most important user of water of all sectors (72%). The main problem in agricultural water use is related to the efficiency of irrigation methods. On only 6% of the total irrigation area the water efficient sprinkling and drip irrigation technologies are used; in the majority of fields (94%) there is inefficient and highly water consuming surface irrigation (4).

In 2008 the damage for the agricultural sector due to droughts was EUR 1.5-2 billion approximately, with 435,000 farmers being affected severely by the droughts. Major production losses are seen in cereals and lentil production. In the southeastern Anatolia Region, production losses are estimated to be 90% for wheat and grain, and 60% for red lentil (4).

Future projections for Turkey

For the northwestern part of Turkey, one of the most productive agricultural areas in Turkey, changes in drought frequency have been projected based on the results of five climate models under a moderate (RCP 4.5) and high-end (RCP 8.5) scenario of climate change. According to these projections, and compared with 1971–2000, drought frequency in the period 2051–2099 would increase by 38-35% under the moderate, and 47-41% under the high-end scenario of climate change (9).

Future projections for Europe

In 2012 the IPCC concluded that there is medium confidence in a projected increase in duration and intensity of droughts in some regions of the world, including southern Europe and the Mediterranean region, and central Europe (7).

Adaptation strategies

EU policy orientations for future action

According to the EU, policy orientations for the way forward are (6):

  • Putting the right price tag on water;
  • Allocating water and water-related funding more efficiently: Improving land-use planning, and Financing water efficiency;
  • Improving drought risk management: Developing drought risk management plans, Developing an observatory and an early warning system on droughts, and Further optimising the use of the EU Solidarity Fund and European Mechanism for Civil Protection;
  • Considering additional water supply infrastructures;
  • Fostering water efficient technologies and practices;
  • Fostering the emergence of a water-saving culture in Europe;
  • Improve knowledge and data collection: A water scarcity and drought information system throughout Europe, and Research and technological development opportunities.

Measures - Turkey

Basins have been closed to the groundwater exploitations. It means that no permit will be given anymore for drilling water wells until the last absolute order. Other measures that should be taken are: the renewal and modernization of irrigation systems; installing water flow meters; averting unregistered wells; the construction of surface water storing structures; pricing of groundwater used in agriculture; raising public awareness for saving water (2).

Since the drought impacts in 2007 the Turkish government has taken several decisions to tackle the impact of droughts. Modern irrigation systems are being promoted, provincial drought commissions have been established in the region, and drought action plans have been prepared (4).


The references below are cited in full in a separate map 'References'. Please click here if you are looking for the full references for Turkey.

  1. Collins, R. (2009)
  2. Dogdu and Sagnak (2008)
  3. Ceylan, A. (2009)
  4. Özden, S. (presentation)
  5. Türkeş (1999)
  6. Commission of the European Communities (2007)
  7. IPCC (2012)
  8. Topçu (2022)
  9. Yeşilköy and Şaylan (2022)