How a childhood spent water-collecting brought me to Istanbul and taught me about the far-reaching consequences of climate change.
I grew up in a village in the east of Turkey. Much of my childhood was spent navigating drought in the 1990s. Collecting water from wells dug by charity and nonprofit organisations was a daily routine for all, but mainly for women and children.
Armed with cans and buckets, we would walk long distances to fetch it, a task that was considered to be one of the most essential chores, a great contribution to the family.
While my mother single handedly did all the housework — from cooking to cleaning — my brothers helped our father at the farm. On frequent occasions, whenever my mother had spare time, she was also able to help my father with farm duties. I don't know where she gathered that strength from, especially after finishing the herculean household tasks. It still amazes me.
I always had fun walking to the well with my friends. The morning task of fetching water always turned into an informal social event. Since there were only three wells for dozens of families, waiting our turn to fill our buckets turned into an opportunity to engage in communal chatter. Women often whined about their husbands and in-laws. We, as children, laughed, joked and chased each other around. For a moment, we would forget about the backbreaking task of carrying home the heavy water buckets that lay ahead of us.
On the way back, reality would kick in. With the water on our tiny shoulders, a flurry of questions would come to mind: Why are we doing this every single day? Why can't we have water taps at home?
We couldn't complain to anyone, though. We were raised to be tough and to adjust to harsh realities. We were always expected to find our own solutions. It wasn't just my family that depended on my daily journey to the water well. An elderly couple living next to our home counted on me, too. Fetching an extra bucket of water for them became my instinctive responsibility. I had no complaints about it. Helping the needy is a deeply embedded norm in rural Turkey, a cultural gene that guides our instincts.
Although hustling for water had become a daily task in our village, it affected my parents. They fretted over our education and future. Seeing them in a state of despair broke my heart. They had the bare minimum of resources on which to get by and yet they always thought about investing in their children, giving them an education to survive.
Looking back at those difficult years, I have come to the conclusion that our village was not always waterless and dry. It had abundant springs and brooks that helped the farming community survive. By the early 1990s, the effects of global warming were already visible in our village and within a few years we faced several bouts of dry spells and droughts. The summers became unbearable. Our crops, cattle and soil could not withstand the absence of rainfall. Left with a piece of barren land, my parents realised that the village had become unlivable. They decided to move to Istanbul.
Istanbul turned our fortunes around. The first thing it gave us was a tap full of water. Seeing it inside our apartment was an unbelievable sight. All I needed to do was turn the tap on and surprise: a sudden gush of water! We had come to the point where there was “no more walking for water”.
This change, of course, opened up spare time. Within a few days, it became clear that we could not use the tap water for drinking and that we would have to buy bottled water for daily consumption. I still remember my parents' discussions on how to manage the drinking water budget. One of our neighbours could not afford to buy any at all. They saved as much money as possible in order to have the means to send their son to university. Living with a limited budget became dreadful for many of us in the city.
Fast forward to 2020, safe drinking water remains a challenge, not only for Turkey but also for the world. United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres recently said that by "2025, 1.8 billion people will be living in countries or regions with absolute water scarcity, and two-thirds of the world's population could be living under water-stressed conditions”.
The Covid-19 pandemic forced us to quarantine and gave us all pause for thought amid our fast paced lives. It has given us the time to read more than usual. Despite our casualties, we acknowledged the time we had been consuming unnecessarily. During the lockdown, particularly with the striking rise in drinking water prices, we had time to reconsider our daily actions and behaviours, and it gave me another reason to read more about the situation with water worldwide and the possible solutions for it.
A thorough look at the United Nations websites and documents, particularly the history of the current Water Action Decade, encouraged me to look a little more at the work done by many other foundations and learn of their efforts. I came across many initiatives that attempt to provide either water-wells or sanitisation for rural and urban areas. What has happened until this point, however, is regrettably only a selection of temporary solutions. Over the years, a large number of organisations have assumed that it would suffice simply to build water wells, but they have not acknowledged or foreseen the later steps and hurdles. Despite how much their actions have been appreciated, “Walking For Water” remains an issue that has not been solved. This is of course in addition to water-borne diseases, violence among other challenges of desertification and drought. Reading through other material, I was reminded how the world is relying on groundwater in cities, agriculture and even for swimming pools. How long can groundwater last? What about our ecosystem? It seems that if not dying from COVID-19 and other possible future Pandemics by 2025 - which is not hugely far off - the human race could well find that hunger and thirst will prove even bigger killers.
“Earth provides enough to satisfy every man's needs, but not every man's greed”, said Mahatma Gandhi. He further said, "The future depends on what we do in the present."
What we need today is sustainable, renewable, accessible solutions for safe drinking water - not only for us but for generations to come.
Further Google searches led me to a new Global Program which carries a Turkish name, “CANSU”, a name that originated from Anatolia, meaning Life is Water. This is what I have been looking for: firstly, no more ‘walking for water’, second, a sustainable solution, and third, it is a green technology; it works everywhere for everyone without leaving anyone behind. The reason for all this is that the solution is based on producing water from the air. Am I going to see this in my village? We have air after all, do we not? Solving one crucial issue empowers us to improve living standards, health, sanitation, hygiene, education, economy, etc.
Are we going to see this everywhere? Are women going to start working to help their husbands? Are girls going to schools instead of carrying water? Are we going to see Cansu International in Turkey? I hope so, yes.
"As you start to walk on the way, the way appears." - Rumi