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Urban sprawl threatens Istanbul drinking water

gas station July 26, 1997
Web posted at: 3:15 p.m. EDT (1915 GMT)

From Correspondent Peter Arnett

ISTANBUL, Turkey (CNN) -- Istanbul is a city virtually surrounded by water, but none that is good enough for drinking.

What to the uninitiated visitor in Istanbul may look like a gas station is in fact a water station, where people fill up containers for their homes. Many people living in the city do not want to drink tap water because they say it's muddy and makes them sick.

Istanbul, situated on a land bridge between Europe and Asia, has no natural aquifer. Throughout history, drinking water has been brought in by aqueducts from lakes and reservoirs from well outside the city. But the areas where these natural resources lie is being threatened by the explosive growth of the city. From 7 million people in 1990, Istanbul has grown to an estimated 12 million inhabitants. And the city is still growing.


The precious green belts on Istanbul's eastern and western sides are disappearing because of uncontrolled settlements. About 1500 years ago, the Byzantines built a wall to extend from the Black Sea to the Sea of Marmara. The idea was to protect Constantinople, now the modern city of Istanbul, from invading armies. But now, the invasion approaches the wall from the other direction -- in the form of urban sprawl.

Environmentalists have launched a project to protect both the Byzantine wall and surrounding areas as a green belt, a sort of green "lung" for Istanbul.

Environmentalists say that if the area were to be declared a world heritage site, it would force local government to contain runaway development and thereby preserve precious water resources.

"I wouldn't say water resources are within critical limits," said urban planner Sumer Gurel. "But if no precautions are taken in good time, we might confront rather catastrophic results in the very near future."

Itanbul's water board is in a constant race to deal with new needs and to replace the old leaky pipes, which give city tap water its bad name.

But if Istanbul protects the wall as a part of its historical heritage, that very heritage may once again protect the city's inhabitants.


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