People pray for rain following prayers at Kocatepe mosque in Ankara, Turkey, on Friday.
By Associated Press Writer
updated 8/13/2007 10:26:17 AM ET 2007-08-13T14:26:17

With arms outstretched and the palms of their hands turned toward the ground, worshippers are praying for rain at mosques in the Turkish capital, which is suffering from drought and serious water shortages.

Record-low snow and rainfall this past winter, coupled with searing summer temperatures, have shrunk the reservoirs of Ankara, a city of some 4 million people, leaving just enough water to last another three months, according to Hayday Kocaker, who heads the state water authority.

As city authorities come under criticism for their handling of the shortage, Turks have turned to God for relief.

"We stand before you, we beg you to answer our prayers," said Fikret Latifoglu, the imam of the Hacibayram mosque, one of the city's oldest, in leading special prayers for rain before the start of traditional Friday prayers.

His words were broadcast through loudspeakers to the faithful standing in the mosque's courtyard.

"Don't leave innocent children and the old, animals who cannot speak for themselves, the trees, the ants and the birds without water. We helplessly beg for Your mercy," he said.

Similar prayers were said at about 750 other mosques around the city, with worshippers holding the palms of their hands toward the ground — instead of toward God, as in traditional Muslim prayers — to symbolize falling rain.

Hoping to stretch supplies, the municipality began on Aug. 1 supplying water to homes only in two-day intervals. But increased pressure while reopening pipelines caused two main lines to burst, leaving residents without water for about five days.

The city's mayor, Melih Gokcek, faces calls to resign for allegedly failing to take drought precautions. Critics say he has wasted Ankara's money on embellishing the city, building parks and establishing a soccer team, without investing in its infrastructure. Gokcek denies the accusations.

He also drew ire by suggesting that residents take vacations and leave the city to lower demand on water supplies.

The municipality began a project to divert water from the nearby Kizilirmak river in March, but the water was not expected to reach the city until late November.

Hospitals were being supplied water through tankers. But concerns over hygiene forced at least two hospitals to begin delaying non-urgent surgery, keeping visitors to a minimum and discharging patients who are not in life-threatening condition.

Authorities have also debated whether to delay the start of the school year by a month — to mid-October — to avert the possible spread of diseases at schools.

Sales of large, plastic water containers have surged in Ankara as have the sales of bottled drinking water. The containers, which sold for about $4.50 before the water cuts, were now selling for $13.

Some restaurants began serving food on paper plates with plastic knives and forks.

Bans on watering lawns and washing cars with hoses have been in place for months, and there have been television ads and Friday sermons at mosques to encourage people to save water.

Kocaker said the water shortage in the city should be taken as a warning of worse to come unless residents begin to save water.

"Its absence causes us huge grievance and yet when we have it we waste it without realizing what an important blessing it is," Kocaker told AP Television News in an interview.

The city has suffered three droughts in the past 50 years, Kocaker said.

"But with the development of agricultural irrigation, population increases and increase in the amounts of water people use, as well as the period of drought, global warming and climate change, we are experiencing this extraordinary situation," Kocaker said.

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