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ICE Case Number 132, Ataturk Dam and the Environment, Nathan Martz (June, 1994)

I. Case Background
II. Environment Aspect
III. Conflict Aspect
IV. Env. - Conflict Overlap
V. Related Information


1. Abstract

In the beginning of 1990, Turkey began to fill the reservoir behind the giant Ataturk dam in the southeastern part of the country. The dam sits on the Euphrates river that also supplies Syria and Iraq with a large part of its water supply. There has been dispute between Turkey and its neighbors regarding water supply and such disputes can be expected to become more common as water becomes a more valuable asset in the Middle East. When Iraq objected to the Turkish dams, the Turkish government stated that water was a natural resource. Turkey doesn't tell Iraq what do to with its oil and Iraq should not tell Turkey what to do with its water.

2. Description

Former Turkish President Turgut Ozal decided to build a series of 22 dams on the Tigris and Euphrates river systems. The Ataturk dam, the world's fifth largest, is part of the Southeastern Anatolia Project, or GAP. GAP is designed to bring electricity to the area and to provide irrigation to almost 30,000 square miles of arid and semi-arid land. The area is larger than the area of the Benelux countries combined and will supposedly allow Turkey to grow much of the food for the Middle East. The venture is projected to irrigate 1.7 million hectares (4.2 million acres) of land that will produce an estimated $6 billion food surplus.(2) The irrigation would enable Turkish farmers to raise cotton, sugarbeets, tobacco, soy beans and other cash crops instead of the grain they now raise.

The controversy is not only just over what rights a country has over water and the politics of water, but archaeologists are also protesting the fact that these dams are destroying many unexplored ancient cities.

Because of the controversy over water rights, the World Bank refused to fund the building of the dams. Turkey built Ataturk dam anyway. Anticipating its neighbors complaints, the Turks increased water flow 50% from the Euphrates river for six weeks before cutting the flow to a trickle in order to fill the reservoir. Besides the environmental problems that go along with an irrigation project of this magnitude, Turkey has a history of strong earthquakes that could potentially destroy Ataturk dam. The Turks claim the dam was designed to withstand quakes of up to eight on the Richter scale.

Iraq has actually threatened a regional war if its water needs are not met. Turkey claims that its water policy is not political, but has been very critical of Kurds in Iraq that have been conducting cross-border raids into Turkey. Turkey has also conducted talks with Israel, as well as other neighbors, about a possible joint water project that would use a pipeline to carry water. These talks stalled mostly because Turkey wanted the oil producing countries to devise a similar pipeline to bring oil to Turkey.

3. Duration


4. Location

Continent: Mideast
Region: Mideast-Asia
Country: Iraq

5. Actors

Iraq and UN

Treaty of Friendship and Good Neighborliness (1964) Between Iraq and Turkey

II. Environment Aspects

6. Type of Environmental Problem


7. Type of Habitat


8. Act and Harm Sites:

Turkey and Iraq

III. Conflict Aspects

9. Type of Conflict


10. Level of Conflict


11. Fatality Level of Dispute (military and civilian fatalities)


IV. Environment and Conflict Overlap

12. Environment-Conflict Link and Dynamics:

Since most nations in the Middle East do not trust one another, they try not to be dependent on others. This is especially true in the area of agriculture. Although many food items may be cheaper to import, most of the countries prefer to grow their own food. This uses a very large portion of some nations available water supplies. For example, Jordan uses 73 percent of its water for agriculture.(3) These water-poor countries need to set aside enough water for domestic purposes and then use whatever is left over for agriculture, according to some experts. This certainly makes economic sense, but fear and distrust have more to do with policy in the Middle East than economic sense.

13. Level of Strategic Interest


14. Outcome of Dispute:


V. Related Information and Sources

15. Related ICE Cases

16. Relevant Websites and Literature

Allen, Tony.  "Middle East:  MEED Special Report on Water Policy-Management Must Supply and Demand."  Reuter Textline Middle East Economic Digest, January 24, 1994.

Armagan, Haldun.  "A few too many Flags on Tigris and Euphrates;
     Turkish Hydroelectric Plans Worry Iraq, Syria." WorldPaper,
     October 1992, 13.

BBC Monitoring Service, Middle East " Iraqi Official Says Turkey's Water Policy Could Ignite Water War in Region."  BBC
     Monitoring Service, August 23, 1993.

Beschorner, Natasha.  "Middle East: Water - The Problem of Regional Rivalry."  Reuter Textline Middle East Economic Digest,
     January 29, 1993.

Demisar, Metin.  "Syria Urges Water-Sharing Pact over Euphrates." Reuters World Service, February 5, 1994.

Maddox, Bronwen.  "The World's Tap Dries Up." The Financial Times, March 17, 1993, 14.

Middle East Intelligence Report.  "Official Criticizes Turkish
     Water Policy, Dam Project."  International Intelligence
     Report, Inc., August 21, 1993.  

Vesilind, Pritt J.  "The Middle East's Water:  Critical Resource." National Geographic, May 1993, 38-70.

Ward, Diana Raines.  "In Anatolia, a Massive Dam Project Drowns
     Traces of an Ancient Past." Smithsonian V. 21(August, 1990:


(1)  H. Armagan.  "A few too many Flags on Tigris and Euphrates;
Turkish Hydroelectric Plans Worry Iraq, Syria."  WorldPaper, Oct. 1992, 13.

(2)  M. Demirsar.  "Syria Urges Water-Sharing Pact over Euphrates." Reuters World Service.  Feb. 5, 1994.

(3)  P.J. Vesilind.  " "The Middle East's Water:  Critical
Resource."  National Geographic, May 1993, 59.