In deep waters (The Cyprus Weekly, 16 October 2015)
By Esra Aygin
As the much-anticipated water from Turkey reached the northern part of Cyprus earlier this month, through an ambitious trans-Mediterranean pipeline, a bitter crisis has emerged over how this water will be managed.
Returning to the management crisis, Turkey, saying the municipalities in the northern part of Cyprus do not have the financial means and are not qualified to make the extra investments and run the project, is demanding that the operating rights of the water are transferred to a private company through a public tender.
Turkish Cypriot municipalities, on the other hand, are strongly opposing privatisation of the distribution and management of water, saying that this would take away their primary source of income and effectively, spell their end.
The crisis – which initially seemed to be between the Turkish Cypriot “government” and Turkey, with Turkish Cypriot “prime minister” Omer Kalyoncu strongly rejecting the privatisation idea – has turned into a conflict between coalition partners Republican Turkish Party CTP and National Unity Party UBP and now threatens to topple the “government”.
UBP leader Huseyin Ozgurgun, who at first remained silent over the issue, expressed his disapproval of the dispute with Turkey over the management of water. Ozgurgun, earlier this week, said he disagrees with CTP’s position and added that the coalition may collapse due to the disagreement.
“The municipalities are already bankrupt and in debt. How will they manage this water? If the coalition needs to collapse over this issue, let it collapse… We have a debt of gratitude to our motherland,” said Ozgurgun.
The crisis was in fact foreseeable,with Turkey indicating since the beginning that it wanted the operating rights of water to be transferred to a private company with the necessary financial means and know-how.
Turkey states that an additional 600 million Turkish lira (about €180 million) investment must be made by the party that will manage the water to render the project sustainable and cover the operating costs, including the pumping station, treatment plant and electricity expenses. Replacement of antiquated water meters to maximise payment collection, repairing or replacement of the water distribution network to minimise up to 40% leakage loss are among the work that needs to be completed.
Former Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat’s CTP on the other hand, wants to set up an autonomous water management system for the management of the water. CTP is working on the legal framework of an autonomous Water Institution to be responsible for transferring the water from the dam in Panagra to the Myrtou treatment plant, and to the water tanks of municipalities.
From that point on, BESKI – a company set up by 26 municipalities in the north – will take over the distribution of the water to households, billing and collection, according to CTP’s plan. There is no indication on how BESKI will finance the necessary investments.
CTP is being criticised for not making any efforts to negotiate with or convince Turkey or providing any alternatives for almost two years now, even though it had ample information on Turkey’s privatisation demand.
“We never believed that this water would come,” wrote journalist Aysu Basri Akter on www.gazete360.com
“No politician took this seriously and made it a topic on the agenda. They did not take Turkey’s vision into consideration.
“They did not believe in it… Moreover, they acted with the approach that ‘If there is a project that needs to be done, Turkey will do it’.”
“And in fact, this is exactly what happened. Turkey prepared its strategy, did its homework and completed its project. Now, the debate over whether the water will be managed by an autonomous authority a private company is an overdue and meaningless debate for Turkey…”
As the Panagra dam is slowly filling and preparation is underway for a flamboyant inauguration ceremony with the participation of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan this weekend, it is unclear how the crisis will be overcome. A protocol that calls for the privatisation of the management of water and the transfer of the ownership of water-distribution pipelines to Turkey, needs to be signed between Turkey and the Turkish Cypriot “government” before the project can be given an official start. Talat has reportedly conveyed to Turkey behind closed doors that he would withdraw from the “government” if the insistence on privatisation continues.
Within the framework of the 1.6 billion Turkish Lira (about €500 million) project to supply the northern part of Cyprus with 75 million cubic metres of drinking and irrigation water annually until 2040, the water from Turkey’s Alakopru Dam in southern Turkey, will be sent to a dam in Panagra.
Half of the 75 million cubic metres of water will be treated in a plant in Myrtou and distributed to Nicosia, Kyrenia, Famagusta-Trikomo and Rizokarpaso regions through an internal distribution network of a total of 475 kilometres. The other half will be used in irrigation in Mesaoria and Morphou. The project is a first in the world and has used an experimental technology, where the underwater section of the pipeline is not laid on the seabed but suspended 280 meters below the surface of the sea. The total length of the trans-sea pipeline is 80 kilometres, 66.4 kilometres of which constitutes the suspended section.