04 March 2014 16:03

Mehmet Eligon points to a yellow patch of grass on his sprawling farm to show how this year's meagre rains are drying up feed for his goats, sheep and Holstein cows.
"Because of the drought this year, there's no water in our wells and the crops are drying," says the 49 year-old Turkish Cypriot wearing military-style fatigues — popular attire for farmers on both sides of Cyprus.
He and his two brothers who have worked since childhood on the 800-hectare farm have one source of hope: a new water pipeline that will soon link Turkey with Cyprus' Turkish side and potentially eliminate chronic water shortages for generations.
It's an ambitious plan that some argue may even help open a path to reconciliation: For Greek Cypriots, access to the Turkish water could ease their own vulnerability to drought, while the energy-poor Turkish side might benefit from natural gas projects Greek Cypriots are planning with international companies.
"Inshallah," Eligon says in the traditional Muslim entreaty to God. "We shall have this water."
But nothing is simple in a country where mistrust born of traumatic partition lingers: Instead of an instrument for reconciliation, the pipeline has become — in the eyes of the 850,000 Greek Cypriots an emblem of a sinister plan to turn Cyprus into a Turkish dependency.
The Turkish side has played its part in fueling suspicion: Although completion of the 107 kilometre pipeline is officially slated for September, Turkish engineers say they're speeding up work to finish by July, the month that will mark the Turkish invasion's 40th anniversary.
The pipeline project, estimated to cost more than 1.5 billion Turkish Lira ($680 million), will feed water from the massive Alakopru dam on the Turkish mainland to a smaller dam in the village of Panagra in Turkish held north Cyprus, near the coast.
For a quarter million Turkish Cypriots in the breakaway north, the pipeline project is an unprecedented marvel of Turkish engineering that will finally quench a parched earth where widespread extraction of groundwater risks turning fertile land into desert.
Construction of two pumping stations in the north and a water treatment plant is well under way. Diggers are already laying pipes as part of a 475-km network to deliver drinking and irrigation water across the north.
The trickiest part of the project is the stretch of pipeline that will traverse the 80 km of Mediterranean sea between Turkey and Cyprus. The pipeline will be anchored to the seabed which goes as deep as 1,400 metres.
"There is no example like it anywhere else in the world," says project director Birol Cinar.
Some 75 million cubic metres of water is estimated to flow to the north annually, enough to meet needs of Turkish Cypriots for the next half century. Half of that amount will be for drinking water and the rest for irrigation.
Some have already taken to calling the project the "water of peace," in hopes that a mutual need for the precious resource can inject impetus to a fresh round of reunification talks now underway.
Osman Ertug, spokesman for Turkish Cypriot leader Dervis Eroglu, says an offer to share in the water is on the table — as long as Greek Cypriots share in natural gas reserves
"Just as coal and steel laid the foundation for the creation of the European Union," says Ertug, "so can oil, gas, water and any other natural resource pave the way for reunifying Cyprus."
Not quite, says Tasos Tzionis, the Cyprus Foreign Ministry's top civil servant.
Tzionis labels the pipeline as an "act of aggression" dressed up as a well-intentioned gesture that only helps to entrench division.
"In reality, it reinforces the status quo and makes it even more unacceptable since the pipeline will deepen the occupied areas' dependence on Turkey and it will lead to an influx of Turkish settlers," he told a parliamentary committee.
"Consequently, this project will bolster prospects of the occupied areas' full integration with Turkey."


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