The Southeastern Anatolia Development Project (GAP in Turkish), is one of the most ambitious development projects in the world. It plans to utilize the waters of the Euphrates and the Tigris rivers with the construction of 22 dams and 19 Hydroelectric Power Plants (HEPP). It also plans to divert the waters of the basin, with immense tunnels into the Harran field, where 1.7 million hectares of land are waiting to be irrigated. The GAP was created to develop Southeastern Turkey, a region long ignored by the Turkish government.
The Turkish government, as the upper riparian, wants to utilize the waters of the basin, which would in return contribute to alleviating Turkey's electricity and agriculture needs. The GAP project, when it completed, will help Turkey to utilize the basin with mega dams like Ataturk, Karakaya, and Keban. The project also creates a great deal of resentment from Syria and Iraq, the other riparians of the basin. The tensions over the waters of the basin have reached internationally acknowledged levels, and a lack of cooperation among the riparians confronted the world with a new potential conflict area. This situation threatens the delicate political stability in the Middle East, and further polarization in the region continues with Turkey and Israel's alliance against Syria, Iran, and Iraq. The basin is one of the most unstable political areas in the region, and water plays an important role. This is a classic case of water quantity issue, and use of the available water in the basin. Therefore, a much needed understanding of the developments in the basin has been researched by the author to provide insight into the situation. In addition, past and current standings of the three riparians are presented to establish an objective evaluation of the conflict, and suggestions for preventing a major conflict in the area are explored for future use.
Our planet is known as the blue planet, due to its extensive reserves of water. The three fourth of the earth's surface is covered by water. Unfortunately, 98% of this surface water is in the oceans, the remaining two per cent accounts for the fresh water supplies of the world. More drastically, 90% of this fresh water supply is either in the poles or remains under the ground. Therefore, we humans actually have access to only .000006% of the water available on our planet. As fresh water resources they make up only .26 per cent, which is available to human consumption.
The importance of scarce fresh water is yet to be understood by many people and nations, despite the fact that most of the developing nations are located in the arid or semi-arid regions of the world, where water is the most scarce. For example, Europe alone contains the half of the running surface water in the world alone, at the same time in the Middle East, the water scarcity is so severe that nations are threatening each other with war.
In 88 developing countries, with nearly 40 per cent of world's population, water shortages are already a serious constraint on their development. The water scarcity barrier for human consumption is accepted to be a mere 1000 cubic meters per person annually, and many of the Middle Eastern countries fall below this barrier. Besides Turkey, Syria, and Iraq, who share the Euphrates-Tigris water basin, almost all of the nations in the Middle East suffer from serious water scarcity.
This research is concentrated on water scarcity and the potential conflicts over water in the Middle East. The main goal is to identify the conflict zone with its past and present problems and offer suggestions for the future cooperation among the riparian countries and the region overall. The Euphrates-Tigris basin is one of the most important waterways in the world and plays an extreme important role in the future of water availability in the Middle East. Therefore, an in- depth analysis about the basin and suggestions for future cooperation among riparians are provided by the researcher in order to address the tense political situation in the region.
Geography of the Region
The Euphrates river has its springs in the highlands of Eastern Turkey and its mouth at the Persian Gulf. It is the longest river in Southwestern Asia with 2,700 km, and its actual annual volume is 35.9 billion cubic meters (bcm). The Euphrates river is formed in Turkey by two major tributaries; the Murat and the Karasu. These two streams join together around the city of Elazig, and the river Euphrates follows a southeastern route to enter Syria at Karakamis point. After entering Syria, the Euphrates continues its southeastern course and is joined by two more tributaries, the Khabur and the Balikh. Both of these tributaries have their sources in Turkey and they are the last bodies of water that contribute to the river. After entering Iraq, the river reaches the city of Hit, where it is only 53 m above sea level. From Hit to the delta in the Persian Gulf, for 735 km, the river loses a major portion of its waters to irrigation canals and to Lake Hammar. The remainder joins the Tigris river near the city of Qurna, and the combined rivers are called the Shatt al-Arab. The Karun river from Iran joins the Shatt at Basra, and they empty into the Persian Gulf altogether.
Historically, the Euphrates derives its name from the Sumarian Buranun, which became Purattum in Akadian, Ufrat in old Persian, Euphrates in Greek and Latin, Furat in Arabic, and Firat in Turkish. The Euphrates is highly non-navigable upstream from Hit, where rapids and shoals make it impossible for transportation use. Although downstream from Hit it is highly unpredictable, it allows certain modes of transportation, and after Basra the Shatt becomes more navigable for modern transportation.
This river, along with the Tigris, was the cradle of the early Mesopotamian civilizations and irrigation made it possible for the locals to develop agriculture. This resulted in the development of great ancient civilizations, where water played an important starting role. Mesopotamia, the land between the Euphrates and the Tigris, remained as the center of many different civilizations and gave life to millions of inhabitants. Tigris River: The Tigris river also has its springs in the highlands of Eastern Turkey, but the main contribution to the river comes from the tributaries in Iraq. The Tigris river follows a southeastern route in Turkey to the city of Cizre, where it forms the border between Turkey and Syria for 32 km before entering Iraq. In Iraq it meets its tributaries: the Greater Zap, the Lesser Zap, the Adhaim, and the Diyala. It joins the Euphrates in Qurna and continues its journey as the Shatt al-Arab to the Persian Gulf The Tigris river carries more water than the Euphrates river, due to its tributaries from the Zargos mountains. These tributaries are fed by melting snows in the spring and rainfall during the summer and fall. But, the extensive irrigation and diversification canals remove around 70-80 per cent of its waters before forming Shatt al-Arab.
The Tigris is the second longest river in Southwest Asia at 1,840 km. The city of Baghdad is located on the conjunction of the Tigris and Diyala rivers and navigation is possible from Baghdad downstream. Although the river allows some transportation to Mosul in the North, it becomes unnavigable afterwards. Because of the irregularities of the tributaries' flows, the Tigris is widely known for its infamous floods. To control these floods, the Iraqis divert water from the Tigris to the Euphrates, where the Euphrates has less alleviation than the Tigris.
The name for the Tigris river comes from the Sumerian Idigna, which became Idiglat in Akkadian, Tigra in old Persian, and Tigris to Herodotus (circa 450 B.C.E) and those after him. Modern Turks refer to it as the Dicle, which is also the Arabic name. The Tigris too contributed greatly to the development of civilizations, many ancient cities were built on the banks of the river. The major contribution of the river to the civilizations was its suitability to irrigation, and as a result the earliest farmlands were developed around the Tigris river. The region prospered and hosted many civilizations, and up the modern times it has remained as an important center for civilizations.
Hydrography of the Basin
Turkey contributes 98 per cent of the water potentially carried by the river. According to the official estimates Syria contributes around 12 per cent of the total, however, as Kolars noted, 10 per cent of that 12 per cent originates from the northern tributaries, the Khabur and the Balikh, and both have their catchments in Turkey. The observed average annual flow across the Turkish Syrian border is 29.8 bmc. The natural flow of the river can be given as 33.4 bmc annually. No other tributaries flow into the Euphrates after the Khabur, except in Iraq, where some of the Tigris' waters are added to the Euphrates. Tigris River:
The Tigris river is a different case than the Euphrates if contribution patterns compared, where the main stream in Turkey, along with the Khabur river (not to be confused with the Khabur shared by Turkey and Syria farther west) only accounts for an annual flow of 20.5 bmc. At Baghdad, the Tigris records a maximum annual average flow of 70.4 bmc, and 55 % of this flow originates from its tributaries in Iraq. Therefore, Turkey contributes around 51.8 per cent of the Tigris' flow, with Iraq contributing 49.2 % and Syria contributing nothing at all. Some of the waters of the Tigris river have been diverted to the Euphrates river, and the irregular water flow from the tributaries makes the Tigris a very unstable and unreliable river, in terms of annual flow and floods. Turkish use of the Euphrates river:
Today, Turkey utilizes only a minor portion of the water potential of the river, and most of the use goes into the HEPPs. Currently there are three major dams operational on the Euphrates river: Keban, Karakaya, and Ataturk. The Birecik dam is being constructed and the fifth and final dam, the Karakamis, is at the beginning stages of its construction. Only the Ataturk, Birecik, and Karakamis dams are going to be an integral part of the GAP, and the Keban and Karakaya dams were designed primarily for hydroelectric power production. The Ataturk dam and its reservoir have been completed and filled to final levels, and the Urfa tunnels have been delivering the waters of the Euphrates into the Harran plain. However, those are only a small part of the GAP, and a full utilization of the Euphrates river will not be achieved until the year 2020 according to current plans.
Turkish use of the Tigris river
If Turkey uses a limited portion of the waters of the Euphrates river, it certainly uses only a minimal fraction of the waters of the Tigris river. There are no major dams built on the river and a number of projects are continuing, including the construction of the Kralkizi and Dicle dams, eight more dams are at the stage of being planned and designed. Because of its geographic location, the Tigris river has been the last major river system in Turkey to be developed. Its waters travel through mountainous terrain, and only the lower parts of the Tigris river are going to be utilized for the irrigation purposes. Also, the Turkish government plans to use the Tigris river for extensive hydroelectric production. Turkish National Hydro-Development Programs GAP (Southeastern Anatolia Development Project):
Southeastern Anatolia Development project, or GAP with its Turkish initials, is the biggest development project ever undertaken by Turkey, and one of the biggest in its kind in the world. It is a project that was envisioned by the Turkish leaders in 1950s and 1960s and began with the construction of the Keban dam in the upper Euphrates river. The main push for the project came during the 1980s and in 1986, the Turkish government established the GAP as one of the main regional development programs in the country.
The integrated, multi-sectoral project includes 13 major projects which are primarily for irrigation and hydropower generation, planned by the State Hydraulic Works. The project envisages the construction of 22 dams and 19 hydroelectric power plants on the Euphrates and Tigris rivers and their tributaries. It is planned that at full development, over 1.7 million hectares of land will be irrigated and 27 billion kilowatt hours (kWh) of electricity will be generated annually with an installed capacity over 7,500 megawatts (MW). The area to be irrigated accounts for 19 % of the economically irrigable area in Turkey (8.5 million hectares), and the annual electricity generation accounts for 22 per cent of the country's economically viable hydropower potential (11 8 billion kWh). This project plans to develop the long ignored Southeastern Turkey, where a major outflow of population has been combined with high levels of unemployment and political instability. Also, the region the hot bed of a separatist Kurdish movement, led by the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK). Further, the region has been hit hard economically, by the UN sanctions on Iraq, because the trade with Iraq accounted for a major portion of the region's total economy before the sanctions. The Turkish government perceives the GAP as a solution to the problems in the region and places heavy emphasis on its existence. This is a very critical point to understanding the Turkish attitudes towards the entire issue. Syrian use of the Euphrates and Tigris rivers:
Historically, the waters of the Euphrates river were minimally utilized by the local people of Syria, and only for their agricultural needs. However, after the French colonization of the land, there were detailed plans for the construction of a major dam on the Euphrates river, and the waters from this dam were to be used to irrigate the cotton fields of Northern Syria. Following independence, the Orontes river was first to utilized by the Syrian government, and the utilization of the Euphrates river came during the late 1950s.
The French dream of a major dam on the Euphrates river became a major priority for the Syrian government, and growing relations with the soviet Union after the disruption of the United Arab Republic (U.A.R) led to a joint operation to built the Tabqa Dam, which was officially inaugurated in July of 1973. Lake Assad was formed behind the Tabqa Dam, and it was used for Syria's increasing irrigation needs, which was predicted by the Syrian's to be around 640,000 hectares (ha).
Unfortunately, as summarized in the USAID 1980 report, the Euphrates basin soils are in large part gypsiferous, crust, prone to erosion, and suitable only for careful applications of irrigation water. Therefore, the recent reports from Syria suggest that the waters from Lake Assad have been utilized to an absolute maximum of 240,000 ha. Also, there was a decline in actual irrigated area between 1983 and 1986 of 8,500 ha. Although there are no data available since 1986, Kolars believes that such a shortfall is possible due to the litany of bureaucratic ineptitude, engineering over-optimism, and the true difficulty of the land in the region.
The Tigris river only contributes to the Syrian demands on local and private land owners small scale agricultural and sanitary needs, but there are certain projects that have been evaluated by the Syrian government on future use of the river's waters. Syrian Hydro-Development Programs:
Syrian use of the Euphrates river has changed drastically over time, and couple of tributaries lost their flow into Syria, partly due to Turkish use upstream and partly to inefficient use by the Syrians. Therefore, Syria increasingly relied on the waters of the Euphrates river and downstream from the Tabqa Dam, the northern tributaries have been recently dammed, as one in the Balikh and two in the Khabur rivers, to provide more water to the growing Syrian needs. In addition to existing dams, another dam in the Khabur river is under construction. With the waters from these dams, Syria plans to irrigate around 240,000 ha of private land and 387,000 ha total land, which will reduce to the flow of the Euphrates river by 4.7 bmc annually. The future Syrian hydro-development programmers have to deal with two problems; they must respond to the Turkish manipulation of the river upstream and they must balance their own priorities internally. Iraqi use of the Euphrates river:
Iraq has been using the Euphrates river since the ancient times, and the ancient irrigation systems and the use of water in Mesopotamia are some of the Iraqi claims that responds to the situation in the Euphrates-Tigris basin. British hydrological engineer William Wilcox presented a report to the Ottoman Empire in 1911, which included his suggestions on the al-Hindiya Barrage on the Euphrates, the Kut Barrage on the Tigris, the Habbaniye projects, the Bekhume Dam, and the Mosul Dam. The British rule, and later the Kingdom of Iraq, established departments to regulate the irrigation activities in Mesopotamia. The Soviet Union helped the new Iraqi regime to develop programs to cover every aspect of the land use up to the year 2000. The Iraqi plans were disrupted by Saddam Husein's seizure of power, and the Gulf wars in the region further disabled these development programs.
Currently Iraq has seven dams in service; the Haditha Dam, the Bagdadi Dam, the Ramadi Barrage, the Hindiya Barrage, the Fallouja Dam, and the Hammurabi Dam. The Haditha Dam is used for hydroelectric production, and the others either regulate the river or divert water to irrigation canals. According to estimates, Iraq irrigates 1.2 million ha of land with the waters of the basin. The amount of land used is believed to reach to 1.8 million ha with full utilization of the Euphrates river. Only limited data is available on the Iraqi development projects and the current political strains and international pressure on weapons issues transferred the priority of the water behind political and economical issues.
Iraqi use of the Tigris River
Along with the Euphrates river, the Tigris has been heavily dammed by the Iraqis and the Ottomans. Out of the current operational dams, the Mosul Dam is used for hydropower production, irrigation, and flood control, and the Samara Dam and the al-Kut Barrage regulate the river with limited irrigation responsibilities. The Bekhme Dam on the Greater Zap, the Dokan Dam and the Dibbis Dam on the Lesser Zap, the Darbandikhan Dam and the Hamrin Dam on the Diyala are the remaining operational dams on the Tigris river. Supposedly, there are four more dams are either being planned or constructed for future use.
Also, the Main Outfall Drain, 500 km in length, with an average depth of 4 meters and a width of 180 meters, is intended to remove excess drainage water from the area between the twin rivers south of Baghdad and to discharge it to the Gulf near the Fao Peninsula after transferring it by siphon across the Euphrates river near Nasiriyah. Some reports indicate that this canal has already completed and ready for use. Increasing use of the Euphrates river by Turkey and Syria presents a great challenge for the Iraqi government, and they may have to divert more water from the Tigris river in order to utilize the basin to their needs. Status of Conflict in the Basin:
Between Turkey, Syria, and Iraq, there have been no war or an armed conflict relating to the water issues. However, there were open hostilities between the groups, especially during the filling stages of the great reservoirs of the mega dams. Currently, Syria and Iraq are complaining about the Turkish development projects, which they believe will reduce the flow of the Euphrates river to Syria and Iraq by 40 per cent and 90 per cent respectively. One must look at the present situation in the basin with an emphasis on an assessment of the degree and the shape of the conflict in the region. Across examination of the relations linked to the water issues would provide us a better understanding of the status of the conflict in the basin.
Turkey and Syria, mainly over the waters of the Euphrates River, are in a serious escalation of hostilities, which could lead to an all-out conflict between the two nations. Turkey, with the completion of the GAP project, plans to fully utilize its share of the Euphrates river, which is the only reliable source of running water for Syria. Syria needs the waters of the Euphrates river to continue its irrigation programs and to keep the water levels high in the Assad Lake in order to sustain the hydroelectric production. Political status regarding this situation deteriorated rapidly during the 1980s, when Turkey finalized its plans for the GAP and began constructing it. Syria, worried about becoming totally dependent on Turkish control of the river, engaged in certain activities that targeted to create instability in Turkey. Among those was supporting the PKK in its campaign against the Turkish government. As a response, Turkey decided to use the water issue as a bargaining point against Hafez Assad, which eventually backfired. The Syrian support of the PKK continued and Turkey acknowledged a deal with Syria, which promised a 500m3/s water to Syria in exchange of an end to Syrian support of the PKK. Unfortunately, Assad one more time proved to be unreliable and the relations between the two countries deteriorated at a constant pace. The Turkish President Suleyman Demirel's words on this issue are a good indication of the frustration felt by the Turkish people:
"Neither Syria or Iraq can lay claim to Turkey's rivers any more than Ankara could claim their oil. This is a matter of sovereignty. We have a right to do anything we like. The water resources are Turkey's, the oil resources are theirs. We don't say we share their oil resources and they cannot say they share our water resources." Although today Syria cannot commit more troops to its northern borders and Turkey has been involved in operations in northern Iraq, an armed conflict between the two countries over the water issues remains within the range of future possibilities.
The relations between the two countries on water issues goes back to times when Turkey was not in the heat of the problems. As an upstream riparian to Iraq, Syria began to develop its irrigation programs during the late 1960s and early 1970s, when Iraq was trying to become a major power in the region. The hostilities between the two nations reached its peak during Syria's filling of Lake Assad, which reduced the flow of the river to a trickle. In 1974, relations continued to deteriorate, and an ill fated agreement was reached. The following year, Iraq accused Syria on holding back water and asked the Arab League to intervene. Syria, a dissatisfied party to the negotiation process, pulled out of the Arab League Committee on the issue. By the end of May 1975, relations between Iraq and Syria threatened to turn violent. Syria closed its borders and airspace to Iraq and both countries began to mass troops on their mutual borders. A Saudi Arabian brokered deal was reached, and although it was not made public, unofficially Syria agreed to keep 40 % of the water from the Euphrates river and let 60 % flow into Iraq. Iraq-Turkey: As the opposite ends of the twin rivers, the two countries had a relatively stabile relation over this issue. Only after the completion of the Ataturk Dam, the Iraqi government voiced its concerns about the waters of the Euphrates river. They continued to complain about the new developments in the GAP, especially regarding the projects on the waters of the lower Euphrates and Tigris rivers. In recent years, the Turkish armed forces repeatedly exercised cross border operations into northern Iraq, but this military supremacy does not provide Turkey with protection from Saddam's chemical and biological warfare capabilities.
Status of Cooperation in the Basin
Cooperation regarding the Euphrates and Tigris rivers between the riparians dates back to 1946, when Turkey and Iraq agreed that the rivers' control and management depended in great part upon the regulations of flow in Turkish source areas. Turkey, at the time, agreed to begin monitoring the two streams and to share the related data with Iraq. A later agreement came in 1980, when Turkey and Iraq established the Joint Technical Committee on Regional Waters. A bilateral agreement in 1982, followed by Syria's inclusion into the committee, created a common ground for the riparians. Unfortunately, this committee had a great deal of difficulty dealing with the issues on its subsequently held meetings in Ankara, Baghdad, and Damascus. Especially the completion ofthe Ataturk Dam in 1990, created problems that eventually led to the dismissal of the committee.
Besides the committee, Turkey and Syria held bilateral talks over the waters of the Euphrates river, and during a visit by then Prime Minister Turgut Ozal to Syria, both countries reached an agreement, where Turkey promised to allow 500m3/s water to Syria. But, since Turkey formed a military alliance with Israel, Syria and Iraq have improved their relations and assumed a united front against Turkey. However, there are reports indicating that Syria and Turkey continue their bilateral talks on the issue.
Position of Turkey in this Conflict
Turkey, on its 2763 km of borders, has 615 km of wet borders, and this fact presents us a good chance to look at the past record of Turkey on cooperation issues. The most notable agreements about this issue are with Greece and the former Soviet Union. In 1927, Turkey and the USSR signed a 'Treaty on the Beneficial Uses of Boundary Waters.' This treaty addressed the use of the Coruh, Kura, Arpa, and Aras rivers, the waters of which they agreed to share on a fifty-fifty basis. Later, a Joint Boundary Water Commission was established and in 1973 the two governments signed an additional Treaty on the Joint Construction of the Arpacay Storage Dam, which has been operated by a joint technical commission.
Similar cooperation was possible between Turkey and Greece. Beginning with the Treaty of Lausanne and continuing into the 1950s, the two governments established development projects that would allow Turkey and Greece to regulate the flow and irrigate 16,900 ha and 11,600 ha respectively. These border rivers that Turkey shares with other countries have been classified by the Turkish government as international rivers, but there are a number of rivers which cross the borders of Turkey at an angle rather than forming mutual boundaries, and they have been classified as transboundary rivers.
It is from this position that Turkey approaches the Euphrates-Tigris basin issue, and it offers a "Three-Staged Plan for Optimum, Equitable, and Reasonable Utilization of the Basin. " This plan was first introduced during the 5th meeting of the Joint Technical Committee between 5-8 November 1984. This plan proposes these three stages;
-Inventory Studies for Water Resources
-Inventory Studies for Land Resources
-Evaluation of Water and Land Resources
Finally, Turkey believes that an equitable, rational, and optimum utilization of water resources can be achieved through a scientific study which will determine the true water needs of each riparian country.
Position of Syria in this Conflict
The past record of Syria certainly reflects a different picture than the Turkish example, and Syria demonstrates past efforts to cooperate on water issues where the Syrian government holds the upper hand. The main agreements on water issues are between Syria and Lebanon on the use of the Orontes river, where Turkey happens to be the downstream riparian. Except with Lebanon, Syria has not been cooperative about the water issues, but the Syrian government carried out multiple bilateral talks with the concerned parties at almost all cases.
For the Euphrates-Tigris basin, Syria acknowledges that the rivers are international rivers and the Syrian government claims that it had acquired the rights to these rivers dating back to ancient times. As international waters, Syria wants to share the Euphrates and the Tigris rivers through a "mathematical formula," which foresees that: -Each riparian State shall declare its demands on each river separately -The capacities of both rivers in each riparian State shall be calculated -If the total demand does not exceed the total supply, the water shall be shared accordingly to stated figures -In case of total demand of water, declared by the three riparians, exceeds the water potential of a given river, the exceeding amount should be deducted proportionally from the demand of each riparian state Further, Syria believes that the UN must be present at all negotiations, and it requests that the International Law Commission's studies be finalized and that rules and regulations be established as soon as possible.
Position of Iraq in this conflict
Iraq, as the out most utilizing riparian of the both rivers, also claims that it has ancient rights, acquired through thousands of years of irrigation in Mesopotamia. Iraqi government believes that construction of such dams in the upstream countries would eventually damage the downstream riparian countries. Therefore, the Iraqi officials also came up with a "mathematical formula" to share the waters of both rivers: -Each of the riparian states will notify the Joint Technical Committee its water demand for each of its completed project as well as for the projects under construction or planned projects -Hydrologic data will be exchanged on Euphrates and Tigris rivers -After gathering all relevant data, the Joint Technical Committee (JTC) will, first of all, calculate the demands of water for the projects under operation, then for the projects under construction and finally for the planned projects. The determination of needs for these projects will be made separately Besides these proposals, Iraq demands that Turkey should release more than 500m3/s, favorably around 700m3/s, which would add up to 2/3 of the water flow carried by the Euphrates river. Iraq believes that, this type of action can be acknowledged as an "equitable and reasonable" sharing of the Euphrates river.
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© Tevfik Emin Kor