Posted by Joshua on Friday, September 4th, 2009
(AP) A water rights battle over the historic Tigris and Euphrates rivers simmered Thursday, as Iraq and Syria appealed for increased water flows to cope with severe drought but Turkey said it was already too overstretched.
Energy Minister Taner Yildiz said Turkey’s southeast region was also suffering from low rainfall and drought but the country was still releasing more water than it was legally obligated to its neighbors out of humanitarian concerns.
He said Turkey was releasing on average 517 cubic meters per second instead of the required 500 cubic meters per second, sacrificing its own energy needs in the process.
“Water isn’t abundant in Turkey,” Yildiz said on the sidelines of a meeting between Turkey, Iraq and Syria to discuss water sharing. “We cannot top this amount any further.”
Turkey is advocating using water more efficiently and sustainably through joint projects instead of increasing water flows.
Thursday’s meeting was called to discuss setting up joint stations to measure water volume at the rivers, as well as exchanging more information about climate and drought and creating joint education programs for more sustainable water management.
Drought-stricken Iraq has accused its upstream neighbors Turkey and Syria of taking too much from the rivers and their tributaries. Below-average rainfall and insufficient water in the Euphrates and Tigris rivers have left Iraq parched for a second straight year, wrecking swaths of farm land and threatening drinking water supplies.
The rivers’ low water flows are caused in part by the construction of dams in Turkey and Syria.
“The water situation in Iraq in the past two years has not been good at all,” Iraq’s Minister of Water Resources Abdul-Latif Jamal Rashid said. “We are suffering from a serious water shortage. Rainfall has decreased by 40 percent. The drought has intensified.”
“This month Iraq will require more water from Turkey and Syria and we believe that this will not be denied,” he said.
Turkey’s Environment Minister Veysel Eroglu said in opening remarks that Turkey was sacrificing energy production to release water from dams and alleviate water shortages downstream.
“The Euphrates and Tigris basins are extremely arid,” Eroglu said. “We are relinquishing our energy needs to make sure that Iraq and Syria are not left without water.”
Nader al-Bunni, Syria’s irrigation minister, said his country was also letting more water flow into Iraq than required by agreements.
“We understand Iraq’s need for more water and we are letting 69 percent of the waters in the Euphrates for the bretheren people of Iraq. We have increased the amount from 58 percent to 69 percent,” he said.
Iraq, Syria huddle over water crisis
Published: Aug. 20, 2009 at 1:44 PM
Amid a worsening Middle East drought, Turkey’s cut-off of Euphrates River water to Iraq and Syria was high on the agenda when Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and Syrian President Bashar Assad met here this week.
Water supply, always an important element in this largely arid region, has become a strategic issue for Iraq and Syria since Turkey reduced the flow of the Euphrates to build a series of hydroelectric dams in the impoverished Anatolia region in the southeast.
Four years into a drought, Iraq’s woes have been compounded by what some officials call an “environmental catastrophe.”
A plague of unusually severe dust storms is drying up riverbeds and marshes and turning arable land into desert in an area known through the ages as the Fertile Crescent, where the first civilizations arose.
Agricultural production has plunged to all-time lows, and Iraq, beset by political feuding and sectarian bloodshed after six years of insurgency, now has to import 80 percent of its food.
The Euphrates and the Tigris, both of which rise in Turkey, are among the largest rivers in the Middle East. They flow through Iraq, where they join near Basra in the south to form the Shatt al-Arab waterway that runs into the Persian Gulf.
The flow of the Tigris, which runs through Syria, has not been particularly affected by Turkey’s ambitious $32 billion Southeast Anatolia Project, known as GAP after its Turkish name Guneydogu Anadolu Projesi.
But that does not diminish the fearful impact of the reduction in the Euphrates flow that has soured relations between Turkey, Syria and Iraq, which in the past have competed for regional leadership.
The Damascus summit did not announce any agreement between Iraq and Syria on how to get Turkey to increase the Euphrates flow. But Maliki and Assad formed a “high-level strategic cooperation council.”
It will be headed by the countries’ premiers and will meet every six months to cover foreign affairs, defense, finance, economic development and other key issues, such as water resources.
Iraqi Water Minister Latif Rashid, who accompanied Maliki to Damascus, last week accused Ankara of breaking a promise to increase the flow of the Euphrates.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu had said earlier that Ankara had fulfilled a pledge to boost water flow from 570 cubic meters per second, about half the 2000 level of 950 cubic meters a second, to 715 for July, August and September.
Baghdad claims that instead the flow rate was reduced to around only 250 cubic meters a second, one-quarter of the minimum required by Iraq for irrigation.
Under GAP, Turkey is building 22 dams and huge reservoirs, with 19 hydroelectric power plants, along the fabled rivers in nine of Turkey’s poorest provinces.
The $32 billion project is the centerpiece of Turkey’s development plans. It was started in the 1980s and is scheduled for completion in 2013.
It will generate 7,400 megawatts of electricity and 22 percent of Turkey’s energy, and irrigate 4.2 million acres of land for crops, an economic transformation that should turn a virtual dustbowl into a major granary.
The water issue is becoming an increasingly important political hot potato between Iraq and Turkey, its northern neighbor.
Relations between them had improved after Saddam Hussein was toppled in the U.S.-led invasion of March 2003. But plans by Iraq’s restive Kurds to establish their own state in northeastern Iraq have badly strained relations.
Turkey fears that will galvanize its own rebellious Kurdish minority in their two-decade-old armed struggle for autonomy.
Indeed, Turkey’s promise to release more Euphrates water for its drought-ravaged neighbor was accompanied by Baghdad announcing plans to crack down on Kurdish rebels on the border with Turkey.
But that is easier said than done. Maliki needs the Kurds as allies as he struggles to forge post-Saddam Iraq into a federal state at a time when U.S. forces are being withdrawn.
Moving against the Iraqi Kurds’ brethren would put that vital alliance in severe jeopardy at a critical time in Iraq’s reconstruction. Turkey is also one of Iraq’s main trading partners.
Ankara’s strategic leverage is magnified by the fact that one-fifth of Iraq’s oil exports from its northern oil fields around Kirkuk, 400,000 barrels per day, run through twin pipelines to the Turkish port of Ceyhan in the Eastern Mediterranean.