Tourism and agriculture's tax on arid Mediterranean

By the numbers: a snapshot of development's impact on water usage in the basin.

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    Depleted: This sinkhole in Obrek, Turkey, used to be full. But as irrigation and lower rainfall levels deplete the region's hydrologic systems, the water level sinks.
    Melanie Stetson Freeman – staff
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  • rich clabaugh - staff
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By regional standards, Turkey has a wealth of water, but its economic growth – spurred by rising prosperity and population – is also among the highest.

In the next two decades, water usage is expected to grow by 60 percent. But already the effects are startling: two significant lakes, Aksehir and Eber, have nearly completely dried up, leaving an arid plateau in their wake. Lake Tuz, one of the largest salt lakes in the world, has shrunk by a third.

In Turkey and the rest of the Mediterranean, the biggest drain on water is agriculture. But in specific locations, especially in coastal areas and on the sea's many islands, the huge spike in demand during the peak summer tourism months – also the region's driest – can lead to severe local shortages.

Now, tourism is expanding to some of the driest areas in the region, including North Africa.

A snapshot of development's impact on water usage:

•The average tourist uses one-third more water than a local.

• During peak tourist season, the population of some areas can more than double.

• In some areas, water use in the summer is five times greater than in winter.

• A single golf course uses as much water in a year as a city of 12,000 people.

• 50 percent of the region's wetlands are at risk.

• In order to meet seasonal demands, some islands have had to import water or build desalinization plants, which are expensive and energy-intensive.

Sources: WWF, European Economic Agency, and the UN-sponsored Blue Plan.

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