Rise in salt levels sparks disaster fears in Turkey

October 12, 2001

The University of Dicle in southeast Anatolia is to work with the government to try to prevent environmental catastrophe in Turkey.

Dicle's Bahattin Gumgum said the university had joined with the state Southeastern Antatolia Project (Gap) to "avert disaster" and stop the area becoming a desert.

Gap is a $32 billion (£22 billion) hydroelectric and irrigation project in the southeast of the country. It uses waters from the Tigris and Euphrates on which neighbouring Syria and Iraq depend.

Professor Gumgum warned that it was not water shortages that posed environmental danger. "An increase in salt levels in the Gap region due to incorrect irrigation practices may result in the region becoming a desert," he said.

Syria and Iraq are already feeling the effects of salinisation. A United Nations report warns that "there has been a marked degradation of water quality in the mainstreams of the Tigris and Euphrates, due to saline return drainage from irrigation schemes and dam retention of sediment".

Selim Kapur of Turkey's Cukurova University is working with Professor Gumgum. Professor Kapur said: "We know salinisation has started in some places in the Gap region. It is the greatest environmental threat in the region."

Professor Kapur is developing a pilot project to persuade local farmers to adopt practices that avoid salinisation. "We must break a mentality of many farmers who believe more water means more crops which means more prosperity. All this will ultimately lead to is increased salinisation changes in local climate, leading to new diseases like malaria and pests and to the ultimate destruction of the soil and region."

Professor Kapur is trying to promote indigenous crops that use less water and drip technology that uses limited amounts of water.

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