The pipeline ties Turkish Cyprus closer to Turkey, but could also provide an incentive for the divided island to co-operate.
By Menekse Tokyay for Southeast European Times in Istanbul -- 03/04/12
The water should help boost the Turkish Cypriot agriculture and service sectors. [Reuters]
Turkey and the Turkish Cypriots took a major step towards the construction of an underwater pipeline, dubbed the "Life Water" project, which will eventually pump drinking water to Cyprus.
The groundbreaking ceremony on March 30th at the Gecitkoy dam, near Girne on the Turkish side of the island, marked the second phase of a four phase 850 million TL ($478m), 107-km project that will bring 75 million cubic metres of water per year to the island.
The first phase of the project was inaugurated last year with the construction of the Alakopru Reservoir in Turkey's southern province of Mersin from where the water will be sourced. The two remaining phases, building an underwater pipeline and supporting infrastructure, are schedule to be completed by 2014.
Water shortages have been a longstanding problem on the divided island due to population growth, overuse of groundwater for consumption and agricultural use, and increased demand during the tourism season. High water salinity has also contributed to the degradation of soil.
Turkey has been looking to transfer water from the mainland since the early 1990s. Due to technical difficulties, earlier projects hit a number of stumbling blocks, but now the project has moved well beyond being just another "pipedream", analysts say. Turkey and northern Cyprus also plan to lay an electricity cable connecting the islands in the future.
Ahmet Sozen, a professor of international relations from Eastern Mediterranean University, says the project now has the necessary political and economic backing.
"This is a big project and I think this is going to be feasible given the fact that this has been supported and promoted by all the highest ranking state officials in Turkey," he told SETimes, adding that a number of prestigious companies are managing the project, which will be entirely funded by Turkey.
Tugba Evrim Maden, a hydropolitics researcher at the Ankara-based Center for Middle Eastern Strategic Studies, says the project will not only overcome chronic water problems on Turkish Cyprus, but will also contribute to economic development.
Maden says the pipeline will further tie Turkey and the Turkish Cypriots together, but that it may also leave the door open to co-operation and interdependence between Turkish and Greek Cypriots down the line.
"As Greek Cypriots also have some problems getting enough water resources, they will also demand to benefit from the project in the future, although not immediately," she said.
Both Turkish and Turkish Cypriot officials have underlined that water could ultimately be transferred to the Greek side of the island if there is a settlement between the island's two communities, opening the door for water to play a role in any future peace agreement.
On the other hand, Turkish Minister of Forestry and Water Works Veysel Eroglu likened the project to an umbilical cord connecting Turkish Cyprus to the motherland during a speech he made on March 30th.
According to Sozen, water could be used as "peace water" within the island to create the interdependence and mutual prosperity.
Didem Akyel, a Cyprus expert from the International Crisis Group, says a major reason behind the failure of reunification talks has been the lack of contact between Greek Cypriot officials and Turkey.
"As a result, there is no trust between the sides and neither believes the other wants a solution or will stick to an eventual deal," she said. "In this context, the water issue can present a great commercial opportunity for co-operation between the sides, with the involvement of the Turkish Cypriots as the middle-man in transporting this water," she told SETimes.
However, Akyel says sharing water resources should not be made conditional on a solution to the Cyprus problem.
"It is needed now, in order to make it possible to reach a more sustainable, mutually-agreed settlement on the island," Akyel argued, adding that Greek Cypriot officials should also be open to talk to both Turkish Cypriots and to Turkish officials without setting preconditions.