Water wars escalate (The Cyprus Weekly, 17 January 2016)
By Esra Aygin
The latest standoff between the Turkish Cypriot and Turkish authorities over the management of water reaching the island’s northern part from Turkey, through a trans-Mediterranean pipeline, could soon leave the north without water, money or ‘government’.
The disagreement, which has elevated into a full-blown crisis – with Turkish embassy in the north and the main coalition partner Republican Turkish Party CTP – exchanging harsh remarks – is likely to spell the end of the coalition and lead to early elections in the north as early as February, said a senior Turkish Cypriot official on condition of anonymity.
Within the framework of a state-of-the-art €500-million project, inaugurated in October, Turkey is to supply the north with 75 million cubic meters of drinking and irrigation water annually until 2040.
Turkey insists that the operating right of not only this water, but all water resources of the north, is transferred to a private company. CTP on the other hand, is refusing to leave municipalities out and rejects a private monopoly in the sector.
The water is now idle – flowing sometimes to the Panagra dam and sometimes into the sea for what officials call “technical reasons”.
The confrontation has interrupted a financial aid agreement between Turkey and the north, and the junior coalition partner National Unity Party UBP has indicated that it is not willing to stand by CTP in the prolonged confrontation.
The collapse of the grand coalition ‘government’ with 39 seats in the 50-seat ‘parliament’ at a time when the negotiations to solve the Cyprus problem have reached a sensitive stage would inevitably have an adverse impact.
Many had hoped that the controversial CTP-UBP coalition would minimise the voice of rejectionists of a solution and ensure social unity behind a future agreement.
“I don’t anticipate, think or want the coalition to collapse,” CTP leader Mehmet Ali Talat told the Cyprus Weekly, acknowledging however that this may happen.
“We want this issue to be resolved and we are open to further negotiations and new suggestions.”
The CTP party assembly voted down the latest proposal of Turkey which had allowed for Turkish Cypriot municipalities to get a 10% share from the revenue from water, which would be operated by a private international company selected through a tender.
CTP’s rejection prompted the Turkish Embassy in the north to make a harsh statement and prescribe that the “right address for the issue is not the party assembly but the council of ministers”.
“It is up to CTP to choose how it makes its decision,” responded Talat through his social media account.
Although not directly related, the quagmire has also deadlocked talks on a financial aid protocol between Turkey and the north, hindering the flow of money from Turkey leaving civil servants and pensioners without the traditional year-end bonus payments, and farmers and producers without subsidies.
“There is a very serious crisis between Turkey and the north,” said the official talking on condition of anonymity. “The standoff has affected cooperation and coordination over all other issues including the financial aid protocol.”
CTP finds itself in a very difficult position where it may have to give in to Turkey’s demands or risk not only financial stability but also political stability and a very important reunification process.