The 5th World Water Forum

Home to one of the world's oldest 'water' civilizations, Turkey this year is hosting the world's biggest ever meeting on water, the 5th World Water Forum, where the future of this essential element will be discussed 16-22 March.

The Istanbul district of Üsküdar flashes across the screen of TRT2, Turkish State Radio and TV's documentary channel, like a series of picture postcards. The simple black and white images recall friendly chats with friends and neighbors under rose bowers and in front of doorways. The smells and flavors of childhood.... roasted chestnuts, hard candy, linden tea, crusty village bread with walnuts, sesame oil mixed with molasses... The narrator is speaking now of Üsküdar's natural springs and fountains, whose waters, I learn, were famous in those days for their distinctive tastes. I'm actually jealous of the crystal-clear water that ran from those spigots... Just browse the pages of history and some story about water will burst out at you at every turn. The popular Istanbul district of Taksim, for example, whose name means 'division' or 'distribution'. What exactly was distributed here? Water, of course. This glorious square was once a major distribution center for the city's water.  I appeal to all those in the tourism business. Please add the city's historic water infrastructure to your cultural tours. You will win the hearts of all culture and history buffs, because Anatolia has been a haven of hydro infrastructure since time immemorial.

Turkey's historic hydro infrastructure was first taken up at the 5th World Water Forum Izmir/Gümüldür Regional Meeting on 26-27 June of last year. The oldest example of this infrastructure is the Karakuyu Dam built by the Hittites in the 2nd millennium B.C., the most interesting the collecting of spring waters at Boğazkale and the Şamram Canal, an Urartu legacy. Every civilization that made its home in Anatolia left behind structures that contribute to these lands being remembered as a water paradise.

The Sumerians were the first people to regulate the use of water and maintain waterways in the 3rd millennium B.C.
According to journalist Turgay Türker's study, 'The Story of Water', the proceedings  of the State Hydraulic Works (DSI) Conference on Water Infrastructure, and Prof. Dr. Özhan Uluatam's book, 'Drop by Drop: Middle east's Water Problem', vestiges of these historic springs can be found at Alacahöyük, Boğazköy and Beyşehir. Now on the World Cultural Heritage list, the spring waters of Hattuşaş were conveyed to the capital through clay pipes laid underground. The cisterns at Sarıkale, Büyükkale, and Karataş-Sameyük stored rain water, and the first sewage canal was unearthed at Yazılıkaya.

Known as 'the 2808-year-old queen', the 56-km-long Şamran Canal is named for Şamaran (Semiramis), wife of the Urartu King Menua. Built in the 8th century B.C., the canal today is part of an irrigation system that waters two thousand hectares.

Trading partners of the Greeks on the island of Crete, the Minoans laid two separate systems in which pipes were used to carry both fresh water and waste water under pressure as well as being the first people in the world to create syphons.
The Romans were the first to bring water from a great distance to Istanbul through multi-story aqueducts. The Emperor Hadrian had the aqueduct built that still bears his name today. Remains of baths are encountered at Miletus, at Ankara-Çankırıkapı and at Ephesus. The Romans' open aqueducts were the perennial target of their enemies.

The aqueducts built by the Emperor Constantine I stretched to Istanbul all the way from the İstranca Mountains of Thrace. The Emperor Valens had aqueducts built to distribute the waters of the Kağithane Stream (the once-famed Sweet Waters of Europe) throughout the city. Theodosius and Marcianus, too, had a large number of cisterns and aqueducts built around the city. Among them, the first large, covered cistern, Binbirdirek, whose name literally means 'a thousand columns', and the Yerebatan cistern are both impressive for their aesthetic qualities.

Arriving in Anatolia in the 10th century, the Seljuks built waterways and dams all over Anatolia, mainly in the Konya region, to support irrigated agriculture. They were also responsible for the construction of numerous stone bridges, monumental fountains, public drinking fountains and mosque pools with fountains.

Among the Ottomans, Mehmed the Conqueror had the Turunçlu, Fatih, Şadırvan and Mahmutpaşa waterways built. In the 16th century, the architect Mimar Sinan built a giant waterway by repairing one left earlier by the Romans. Water was brought in from the Belgrad Forest north of the city, and a total of 33 aqueducts, some of them on a massive scale, were constructed. The foundation of the Kırkçeşme Water Distribution Plant, which is still in use today, was also laid at this time. Ottoman Istanbul's water distribution system was divided into four parts: Halkalı, Kırkçeşme, Taksim and Hamidiye-Kayışdağı.

As the cradle of the great water civilizations, Turkey is now going to host the world's largest-ever meeting on the subject of water. Some twenty thousand participants, including 150 government ministers and fifteen heads of state are expected to attend the 5th World Water Forum, which will be held at the Feshane and the Sütlüce Conference Center on the Golden Horn. Backers of the giant meeting include the State Hydraulic Works (DSI), the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Environment and Forestery, the World Water Council (WWC), the Istanbul Water and Sewage Administration (İSKİ) and the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality (IBB).
Six main themes and 23 subject headings covering all water-related topics will give shape to the forum, which will consist of a minimum 100 sessions. A 'Heads of State Summit' will be held for the first time to ensure participation of policy and decision-makers, and a joint communiqué will be issued following the Ministers' Conference. For the first time as well, an 'Istanbul Water Consensus', containing pledges on the subject of water to be signed by all world mayors, will be presented at the 5th Water Forum, where all those who share water will come together, including national governments, local administrations, the business world, organizations of civil society and academics as well as farmers, workers, women, children and young people. To ensure fair participation, registration fees and food and accommodation for 1000 participants from less developed countries will be covered by the forum organizers.
A 40,000-Euro, media-oriented “Turkish Republic Prime Minister's Water Prize” will also be awarded for the first time this year. Other awards include Japan's 'Kyoto Prize', Morocco's 'King Hassan II Prize' and Mexico's 'Compromiso Mexico'.   A 'Global Water Education Village' is going to be set up with outreach to future generations through a 'Children's Forum' and 'Youth Forum'. An area of approximately ten thousand square meters will be made available for the fair and accompanying Water Exhibition. At the initiative of the Green Forum, Turkey is going to put its signature on its first major environmentally sensitive event by planting a sapling at Çatalca for every participant.  Created using advanced web technology, the Virtual Meeting Space ( will bring everyone together in one global water family.
Water is precious in Turkish culture. And the history and culture of water in Turkey are going to be further enriched by the 5th Water Forum. This is a last call. The doors of the water civilizations heaven are open to everyone. We await you, in the hopes of “Bridging Divides for Water” on 16-22 March 2009...

The Communications Platform