Turkey Changes Heart, Says It Will Increase Water Flow of Rivers

Turkeys Environment Minister, Veysel Eroglu

Turkey's Environment Minister, Veysel Eroglu

In a change of heart, Turkey said Thursday it would strive to increase the amount of water it releases to Syria and Iraq through the historic Tigris and Euphrates rivers but warned that it too was suffering from a severe drought.

Hours earlier, Turkish Energy Minister Taner Yildiz had said his country was already too overstretched with water and power demands and could not raise the flow of water any further….

Turkey’s environment minister, Veysel Eroglu, said his country would try to release as much water as possible over its legal obligation of 500 cubic meters per second….  “But our own capabilities are limited.” Eroglu would not say how much more water Turkey could allow its neighbors…


Comments (33)

norman said:

Syria should try to find better ways to conserve water and try to recycle it and have plans to collect rain water for use , others here for sure have better ideas on how to use the water in Syria and make it last , Ehsani mentioned the population growth and the need for more jobs , water is going to be the most compelling problem that Syria will face .

September 4th, 2009, 9:50 pm


majedkhaldoun said:

There is a lot of water thar flows from the mountains in western Syria,many springs they flow to the sea,there are small but numerous streams,this water must be collected,pumped,and taken inland, the same for Nile river in Egypt it still flows to the sea.many rivers flow from Syria and Lebanon,to the sea,all are lost water.
Asi River flows to Iskandaron, Turkey stopped the flow of the river that used to flow to Aleppo,Syria must dig wells up north close to the turkish borders,Also dig wells along the eastern Lebanese mountains.
Barada is small river we need to dig wells close to Zabadani Area ,to increase its flow.

September 5th, 2009, 4:24 pm


netsp said:

An interesting excercise if you want to look at water issues is:

1- Find a problem river. One that flows through multiple countries and is under pressure for its water due to deceased rainfall

2- Work out how the agreement has been worded. It could be that a fixed amount is required to be let through, a fixed amount taken out or it might be phrased as a percentage.

The India-Pakistan water agreements are defined as a percentage of water India is allowed to remove from the river(s) before Pakistan sees any. Most of the water gets through today, but summer flows are declining because the amount of glacial ice left to melt is in decline. Due to the way the agreement is worded (even though supposedly the numbers are generous), the entire deficit is absorbed by Pakistan. It is feasible that at some point the agreement will mean that India get all the water & Pakistan dries up. The geography is not dissimilar to the Tigris and Euphrates or the Nile.

While I don’t know the specifics, it sounds as if Turkey is in the opposite situation: They are required to allow a minimal flow. Beyond that, any deficit is absorbed by Turkey.

September 5th, 2009, 10:31 pm


Shai said:

Israeli media today referred to Bibi’s recent move as quick calculated-response to an attempted Putsch by hawkish right-wing politicians. But notice who will actually authorize the building of hundreds of new units in the West Bank – none other than “Liberal Leftist” Ehud Barak. It is no coincidence, that the same PM under whom more new settlements were created than ever before or since, is now authorizing further building. Gaining a few extra seats in the next Elections is always more appealing than upholding one’s ideology. Words are cheap, electorates are not.


It is becoming evident that the Palestinians’ biggest mistake now, would be to continue to “negotiate” for a 2-state solution. Now is the time for Abu Mazen to prove real leadership capabilities, by announcing the immediate withdrawal from any attempted negotiations, by announcing that the 2-state solution has been officially buried forever, and that from this moment on it is the Palestinian people’s aim and struggle to achieve free and equal status as Israeli citizens.

I believe this “bomb” will drop atop Israeli heads harder than any Iranian nuclear bomb ever could. When we finally begin to understand that it is we who over 42 years have been slowly burying any option of a state for the Palestinian people, a 2-state solution will have already been rendered impossible.

I am saying this not because I prefer a 1-state solution right now, but because I don’t believe that enough Israelis could end the Occupation unless they were put face-to-face with this reality. Without Abu Mazen making such declaration, I doubt anything will change.

September 6th, 2009, 2:35 pm


sam said:

majedkhaldoun, I agree that they need to harness water from somewhere, but I’m from that area you mentioned, those streams and creeks are being used by the govt, to collect them in man made ponds, that farmers syphon out for their fields. There is room for better water recycling however, there are many underground springs that need to be tapped.

September 6th, 2009, 3:44 pm


sam said:

A one state solution, is a bomb that is more damaging than a nuke. They should have been demanding that from the beginning, they would have had the 2 state deal done by now. It’s south africa all over again.

September 6th, 2009, 3:48 pm


norman said:


you might remember or have read , as you might be younger than to remember that until the late eighties or early nineties , the PLO was calling for a secular independent state for all the citizen of Israel /Palestine , and at that time Kaddoumi did not mind calling it Israel,That was on ABC , with one man one vote , That was rejected and that is when the 2 state solution came , If anybody is going to declare the 2 state solution dead and to call for one state solution with equal rights to all , It should be the US with teeth behind equal rights to all and threat of sanctions , If what you , Shai, wanted Abu Ma zen to do happen , it would be a very big slap in the face of the US ,that just convinced BEBI to accept , I do not know if you want him to do that so the Palestinians would be the ones who are saying no to 2 state solution which will put them at odd with the US administration.and bring the wrath of the US on their head , I hope you are not doing that to make it difficult for the Palestinians to get any support in the US .

September 6th, 2009, 4:59 pm


EHSANI2 said:

I think that we debated this one versus two-state scenarios on SC in the past:


September 6th, 2009, 7:01 pm


Off the Wall said:

On Coastal Mini Rivers and Ground Water Springs
There are key issues that one must be consider before large scale utilization of coastal mini-rivers. First, these rivers are a very important element of a coastal ecosystem, their fresh water cause localized variation in sea-water salinity, which allows for certain species of fish to survive near the coast and to provide for a source of food and commerce to coastal fishermen who do not have the capacity to venture further into the sea. Notwithstanding coastal ecosystems, the riparian corridor of such mini-rivers, can suffer significantly if the water flow is reduced due to tapping the water. These rivers also raise the ground water table and provide for a buffer against sea-water intrusion in to the nearby aquifers. That brings us to the notion of underground springs. This is also a very important component of the integrated and rather interconnected system. To my understanding, the geology of the region results in many Karst aquifers, as evidenced by the prevalence of small caves with fresh water ponds along the coastal mountain range. It is these aquifers that feed the fresh surface water springs, so tapping them significantly will only result in drying these surface water springs out. The whole hydrosphere is interconnected and these connections are most sensitive ins small watersheds such as coastal watersheds. Very thorough geohydrologic studies must be conducted before any project. These studies must use state of the art isotope analysis to discern sources and pathways accurately. Otherwise the consequences could be devastating.
On Conservation and Water Scarcity
I fully agree with Sam on the need for conservation. I believe it was Yossi who mentioned some of the strategies adopted in Israel, and in other countries, but the most significant of these strategies will have to be more irrigation efficiency. Syria will not feed its population by increasing the acreage of irrigated lands, it can only do so by increasing the yield of both land and water, meaning that each acre (or hectare) must produced twice as much crop with half as much water. It must and can be done. But it requires major investment not in reclamation of marginal lands, as most developing countries do on 5-years plan after another, but in improving the lands already reclaimed land and in improving the efficiency irrigation practices and re-thinking strategic and non-strategic crops. Similarly, cities must learn to adapt. Granted, the per/capita water use in Syria is very low, but that is precisely why water distribution networks needs retrofitting to reduce or even eliminate network wastes. Over the long term,, ducts and open canals must be replaced with under ground pipes, leakages must be plugged from the faucet to the reservoir. Sewage water must be reclaimed instead of being given freely to farmers who spread it over vegetable fields around the cities. With improved irrigation efficiency, and perhaps complete elimination of irrigation by flooding, part of the reclaimed sewage water will go back to these farmers, and part can be used to recharge over depleted aquifers (which results in further cleaning of the water, already clean at 99.99% purity). These are not issues facing Syria only, just look at this map, the thin blue lines define major continental and sub-continental scale surface water basins and the shades indicate the level of exploitation. If you super-impose the map over a satellite image of the earth, you can clearly see that most over-exploited basins are in the arid/smi-arid band north and south of the Tropic of Cancer (23 degrees north of the equator).
Last but not Least Climate Change, The elephant in the Room
Here is another map . The map shows water scarcity index according to a simple but powerful definition (Falkenmark water vulnerability index). The definition of Falkenmark Index indicates that once availability/capita is between 1000-1700 cubic meter year/person, the population is vulnerable to water stress and the economic development would be affected proportionally. When the index reaches 1000 and below, water scarcity would become the primary cause of stunted development. Syria is in the very vulnerable situation, imagine with population increase and assume that global change will not change the internal availability of water in the country, population growth alone will drive the country from being vulnerable into being stunted. Add climate change to the picture, which includes increase in temperature and decrease in precipitation over most of the Arab world including Syria, the picture is very gloomy. To my knowledge, the only Arab country taking this issue seriously is Morocco, not only by seeking scientific help, but also in restructuring water governance in the entire country and in developing one of the most enlightened long-term water management plan. Egypt assumes that its power will force its southern neighbors to continue providing the same unchanged flow into the Nile, Syria only goes after increasing share from the Euphrates and Tigris, and increasing water extraction, but unless major restructuring and investment in agricultural and municipal efficiency, no Arab country will survice except those with major oils reserves, until……. And you know the rest of the story.
Here is another figure for all to see, it is the IPCC fourth assessment report multi-model projection of changes in precipitation, soil moisture, evaporation, and runoff using many models and assuming moderate change scenario. The figures shows the relative change for the period 2080-2090 when compared with 1980-1990. The dots are areas with higher certainty in the projection (actually lower uncertainty). Notice that the average projection show, with greater level of certainty that Turkey, Syria, and Iraq are all going to witness substantial reductions from the baseline. Notice also that Oman, Yemen and Sudan are expected to benefit, but with porbable increase in floods (major problems in Sudan) and Landslides (In Yemen). And yet, you never hear anyone talk about this, not in Arab press. In know that Arab countries are forming a major council, but it is not different from most international organization, mostly very high level policy. Much need to be done at the technical and operational levels. And much more science need to be done locally (like Morocco is trying to do). This is perhaps the most serious threat not only to the economic development but to the national security. Is anyone listening?.

September 6th, 2009, 9:28 pm


norman said:


how does KSA manage water supply ,Where does she get what she needs for her people.

September 6th, 2009, 9:53 pm


Off the Wall said:


Excellent depiction of the story between India and Pakistan, especially the note on Glaciers’ demise. This is also a major climate change catastrophe, not waiting to happen, but has been happening as you noted, for a while. Bangladesh and India also have similar problem.

There is a concept in legal water rights in the US called “prior appropriation”, the concept specifies “older” downstream rights as being superior in priority to newer upstream rights. In the western US, this means that If a reservoir manager releases water into the stream for delivery to downstream superior right, no one upstream from that right holder can touch that water. This is the concept Egypt is trying to convince Nile Basin countries of adopting. In the Euphrates, Tigris case, I am not sure if Turkey buys that. Turkey seems to follow th model of India (it originates on my land, it is my water) at least in terms of principle, but the difference is in the fact that Turkey is conciensioualy trying to play a major regional leadership role by projecting true smart power and improving not only its relationship with its neighbor but in genuinely being a considerate neighbor and partner. I do not foresee Turkey committing itself to a set amount other than the minimum requirements, which will off course be subject to negotiations as is now the case due to the major drought. It is hard times that test friendships, and Turkey seems to be intent on passing the test as much as possible.

I am still unhappy about the 32 Billion GAP project. I believe that any such major project should have been a basin-wide effort, through which all countries in the basin can participate and plan together, Turkey may end up with fewer reservoirs, and Syria or Iraq with a few more, but basin-wide integrated management can ensure delivery of power to Turkey, and it can reduce the huge ecologic damage due to such a large concentration of dams in the upper part of the basin and reduce polluted return flow throughout the basin. One could have envisioned major cross-boarder agricultural projects, which for an optimist, could also have been seen as a region wide sincere effort to develop the Kurdish areas in all three countries instead of only in one. But such would have required a bravery non of the countries had when the GAP project was planned and developed. What a wasted opportunity.

BTW, I noticed your comment on my friend Yossi’s blog, welcome to SC.

Dear Norman
Sorry for not mentioning that yours was the first post in this thread to argue for conservation.

September 6th, 2009, 9:59 pm


Off the Wall said:

Dear Norman
Mostly excessive ground water pumping, in addition to major importation of bottled water like in UAE.

I believe that KSA also has one or two minor desalinzation plant.

KSA has made a major policy shift recently. After decades of wasting ground water resources to achieve grain self sufficiency, the leadership of the country recognized the danger of continuing that policy. It is being scaled down substantially and the Kingdon is now again an importer of “green water” as agricultural produce and grains are now called in international water management circles.

By making this major policy shift, KSA will protect the precious ground water resources it has, or whatever left of it. I met one of the senior professionals in the water sector of KSA and I was immensely impressed. We need many more like this distinguished person, at such a senior level. But we also need major focus on hydrologic and environmental education at university level and at graduate school level, many many more.

September 6th, 2009, 10:17 pm


Off the Wall said:

Dear Norman

I am really sorry, I have grossly underestimated desalination capacity in KSA. Here are some information about one of their new plants (phase 2 finished in 2003)

Shoaiba Plant
(MSF)Estimated project cost$1.06 billion
Population served 1.5 million
Product water output 74,000m³/day (Phase 1);
450,000m³/day (Phase 2)
Final total production capacity 150 million m³/year

This makes the Shoaiba plant one of the largest if not the largest in the world (Far from being minor, isn’t it). Kudos KSA. Syria can probably only do similar things if it gets major Nuclear power plants. The interesting thing is that the cost per population served is less than $800/person. Not bad at all by many standards considering that we may spend two times as much on gasoline per year.

September 6th, 2009, 10:33 pm


norman said:


What kind of fuel it uses?.

September 6th, 2009, 11:02 pm


Off the Wall said:

Sorry for the late response. The plant has its own Oil powered power station. It has turbines and heat recovery steam system (to increase efficiency) where the hot steam heats the seawater distillers. according the official description, Shoaiba’s power plant is an integral part of the operation providing both electrical power and residual heat. Smart design

September 6th, 2009, 11:34 pm


Off the Wall said:

Dear All
Please forgive my grammatical and stylistic blunders today. I just read my own posts and I know they could have been written with much more care than that.

September 7th, 2009, 12:09 am


Off the Wall said:

Amazing what some research can show. KSA provides 70% of drinking water from desalination. I guess I really rushed. I knew that KSA and UAE are very large bottled water importer, and I knew that KSA has been using ground water heavily, but the scale of desalination is just outstanding. Here is a quote from SAMIRAD (Saudi marketing agency). I have no reason to doubt their voracity:

The Kingdom is now the world’s largest producer of desalinated water. The 27 desalination plants provide drinking water to major urban and industrial centers through a network of water pipes running for more than 2,300 miles. Desalination meets 70% of the Kingdom’s drinking water requirement. Several new desalination plants are under construction. Once completed, the Kingdom’s network of desalination plants will have a capacity of 800 million gallons a day.

Desalination plants also generate electricity. In 2000, the Kingdom’s desalination plants generated a total of 28 million Megawatt Hours”

September 7th, 2009, 1:12 am


majedkhaldoun said:

Dear Sam
I have visited that area,there are few ponds, and still there are many streams water which are lost to the sea.
as for O.T.W. argument,it is not correct,because we have the high dam in Egypt,which diverted huge amount of water,much more than what I am talking about, it had very little effect on the ecology, this argument serve only Israel,as it will improve the syrian economy, and may reduce the jordan water flow,tapping underground water will provide us with three rivers each the size of Barada, it has been studied, and it is long due, and it is time to work on it.

September 7th, 2009, 1:17 am


Off the Wall said:

Thanks for the corrections. However, I disagree with much of what you wrote, for non-technical summary of the impacts of dams, small and large, please see,


I only listed a few, but there are many more: Here is some more about never-happened ecological impacts of the Aswan Dam on Aquatic life in the Mediterranean, especially the coast of Egypt, please see:


Since the above-mentioned study, there has been a major recovery of fisheries along the coastal area near the delta, but according to a recent study (Oczkowski et. al.,2009), this enhancement is coincident with increased nutrient from fertilizers use to compensate for the nutrient rich sediment held behind the dam, and more surprisingly also because of the substantial increase in sewage waters dumped in the Mediterranean. The same type of enhancement is observed along the northern rim of the Mediterranean basin. These new sources increased the nutrient content in the nutrient poor sea.

I am not against building dams or against using ground water resources, I am all for a well done study and for not using any aquifer beyond its safe yield and for not running rivers so dry in manners that cause many environmental disasters. Contrary to many, I happen to believe that Dams are necessary and I would love to see the resources you talked about better utilized, but Every river is an ecosystem and is a part of a larger ecosystem. Coastal rivers are ecosystems and they are also part of the aquatic ecosystem along the coast. All I am arguing for is that ecological issues are considered. A volumetric study of the available flow is not enough, every dam project must have an environmental and ecological impact study. The High Marine Institute at the University of Tishrin has been actively documenting and studying a variety of endangered marine species along the coast (Saad and Darwish, 2004). The impact of reduced flow from coastal rivers due to dams on these species must be considered in any study, not to mention the impact of the dam on the rivers’ ecosystems themselves. That said, I and few others in my field do believe that Dams have been quite popular in developing countries because, in addition to their intrinsic tremendous economic benefits, finance and development entities such as the World Bank have been eager to finance them because these entities know very well how to spend a billion dollars on one single gigantic project but they never learned how to spend a million dollars each on a thousand small but highly effective projects. Our dear Ehsani may argue for the economy of scale, but microfinance seems to be doing good as well.
As for Barada and Figeh, there were quite few Isotope studies performed for the precise reason I outlined. The one I liked the most was an Isotope study on the Karst aquifer of the Figeh done by the Atomic Energy Commission in Syria and published in a very prestigious journal (Kattan, 1997). Dr. Kattan’s excellent study estimated the Figeh storage at 3.9 Billion Cubic Meters total storage and at 50 years residence time. But the yield identified in the study has been exceeded by now due to the large increase in the size and population of Damascus. My argument for sewage treatment is more than supported by another study of Dr. Kattan (2006) in which he reports significant decrease in salinity in the Adra Aquifer due to the establishment of a sewage treatment facility in 1997.

Finally, I fail to see how protecting syria’s environmental resources has any positive or negative impact on Israel, why does everything we do have to be looked at from that prism.


Oczkowski, AJ; Nixon, SW; Granger, SL; El-Sayed, AFM; McKinney, RA. 2009. Anthropogenic enhancement of Egypt’s Mediterranean fishery. PROCEEDINGS OF THE NATIONAL ACADEMY OF SCIENCES OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA 106 (5): 1364-1367..

Kattan, Z. 1997. Environmental isotope study of the major karst springs in Damascus limestone aquifer systems: Case of the Figeh and Barada springs. JOURNAL OF HYDROLOGY 193 (1-4):161-182, .

Kattan, Z. 2006. Characterization of surface water and groundwater in the Damascus Ghotta basin: hydrochemical and environmental isotopes approaches. ENVIRONMENTAL GEOLOGY 51 (2): 173-201..

Saad Abid, and K. I. Darwish, (2004), Field Study of Proposed Marine Protect Area and their Role on the Coastal Sustainable
Development in Syria, Abstract, Regional Workshop on Marine Sciences and Natural Resources, Tishreen University, Lattakia, Syria, 25-26 May 2004.

September 7th, 2009, 3:29 am


trustquest said:

OTW, I think there is a fine line between your argument and the opposed one. On one side the dams proved to be not all good benefits as it once thought to be but still has its necessity and compel us to develop smarter ways to use it, such as smaller dams and like keeping small rivers to keep flow continues for healthy ecosystem. I completely agree with you on the idea of micro projects and the need of the third world to look at themselves reasonably, so that to encourage the flourishing of small villages than big cities to counter the already depleted hydrological system.

I think the practical proposal regarding basins and aquifers should be walking between your argument and the opposing one, meaning considering both issues the echo system and the call for human consumption. A basin is consists of many aquifers and these aquifers are interconnected and water resources management is the field which stipulates plans for using these resources in non harmful ways to hydrology system, environment and humans on both levels long and short term. I will generalize the case of one aquifer to give you my idea of the analogy of the direction I suggest (I don’t know if I’m right on this). If you look at the aquifers arrangement in one location they are usually consists of many aquifers in the vertical direction above each others. Each one of these aquifers has been established in a different time period, meaning each one is developed in different space of time. The upper one is renewable from rain the deeper you go you reach the aquifers which took thousands of years to develop. Water resources field study the hydrology system of these aquifers before using them. Water resource studies make sure to tap into the aquifers which are renewable first and to use the other ones intermittently without drying them out. You should not use an aquifer without data on your hands and without measurement and observation system to keep healthy cycle of hydrology. The data should belong to the public and should be published, comments should be generated and NGO should be established. In Syria, the lack of university participation, lack of NGO, public participation and the stiff bureaucracy system did not allow for science and smart decisions to evolve. This is another case where the structure of the political system stands in contrast to environmental and human development requirements. Any suggestion to solve the water issue should be intertwine with the need to call attention to this connection. A nice article was published last year on the Syrian economic society about skewing of collected data, by S. A. Dieb, illustrate the previous idea. http://www.mafhoum.com/syr/articles_08/dib.pdf

September 7th, 2009, 11:32 am


Akbar Palace said:

More Terrorist Myths Debunked

It looks like another Islamist group has been found guilty of planning large scale terrorism similar to 9-11:


1.) Suicide bombers are poor, destitute, single and have no children.

2.) Suicide bombers are oppressed by Israelis.

3.) George Bush or Israel was somehow involved.


Islamic extremists guilty of airline bomb plot


September 7th, 2009, 3:12 pm


norman said:

No comments,

Email Author
Rabat, September 07, 2009
First Published: 23:51 IST(7/9/2009)
Last Updated: 23:53 IST(7/9/2009)
‘Arab suffering huge losses from brain drain’
Over 70,000 graduates in Arab countries move abroad each year in search for job.

With reference to the international NGOs reports, a report in Arab newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat said on Sunday that shortage of local jobs, low salaries and multiple bureaucratic impediments force the young to leave their home countries.

Countries such as Egypt, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan, which raise plenty of skilled personnel, should create jobs and attractive working conditions so that young people return and work home, the report said.

Currently, about 54 per cent of Arab students educated abroad prefer to stay in host countries. It is necessary to create 55-70 million jobs with account of growing populations within the next decade, it said.

According to statistics of the League of Arab States and the International Labour Organisation, about 100,000 skilled engineers, doctors and researchers leave Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Jordan, Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco and Algeria each year. About 70 per cent of them stay abroad permanently.

© Copyright 2009 Hindustan Times

September 7th, 2009, 3:24 pm


Off the Wall said:

I love it, in fact I was very tempted to link to THIS FIGURE yesterday to highlight the notion of groundwater age. But I could never explain it as well as you did. Thank you for that.

By definition, the concept of safe yield i mentioned earlier, which has been recently modified heavily to a concept of sustainable yield tries to do exactly what you proposed. I do believe that resources are there to be extracted and used, there is no doubt about that. I am only concerned that the notion of sustainability has not yet taken roots in our modern culture, while in fact, it was a major characteristic of our earlier culture. If anyone has a little more patience with my stories, I would like to further explore this issue.

The tribal areas in the northern part of KSA (near the border with Jordan) were historically Bedouin herder society. Distribution of grazing domains was a contentious issue, and may have been a cause of much tribal fights for a long time. However, at some point in time, these tribes finally established agreed-on semi-permanent domains, along with huge tracts of land that were to be re-assigned every year. One of the major points in their agreement was the establishment of a Hima (protectorate) lands. Each year and before the grazing season, influential tribal leaders will have a Majles in which they agree on tracts of land that were to be protected by all of the tribes. These lands were identified by scouts who every year went on reconnaissance missions to determine which lands were suitable for grazing, and which lands were showing signs of degradation and need to be given a rest so that they may recover. The scouts were experts in that area and they made their recommendations to their tribal elders who took them to the Majles and argued for them. Once these tracts are defined, no one can violate the Hima, and violations carried severe punishments within and across tribes. The lands sustained these tribes and their herds for generations and the system worked very well for them despite of the harsh environment. It was amazing that grazing could be done in areas that were as forbidding as the semi-desert and amongst the sand dunes, but it was. Herds were small and were sufficient for sustainable life style.

Enters the establishment of the modern state of KSA. The government, in sincere effort to improve the quality of life of its Bedouin citizens and to carry favors with them established a heavy subsidy system. The system would provide feeds at a subsidized price. The subsidy system worked very well initially, it allowed the herds to grow substantially and resulted in a semi-sedentary life style for most of these tribes. As a condition of the subsidy system, the government argued that it and it alone has the right to make land-use decision on public lands, and as such the power of the tribal council in deciding Hima lands was abrogated, but such decisions were never made by the government and the lands became open for all as part of the public relation campaign. So here is what happened.

1. Herds sizes grew substantially due to subsidies, economic conditions improved significantly and some even became very wealthy

2. With the increased herd size, and recall that in most cases herders still had to buy feeds but now for much larger herds, their rational decision making kicked in. It worked like this, maximize the reliance on the free feed (grazing) so that you had to buy the minimum amount of feed even at the reduced price

3. The open, non protected public land are now completely transformed into a common pool. Everyone tries to maximize their own take and weakening the tribal authority resulted in individuals having no restraints, it became a first come first served all you can eat (graze) system.

4. Huge tracts of land were degraded quite badly and the grazing system collapsed completely. Since no land was protected, any small blade of weed or grass was used, and no piece of land was allowed to recover from the heavier grazing brought on by the much larger herd sizes.

5. One of the major impacts of the new system was the very large annual fluctuation in herd size. During good years, herds grew very large. In below average years, the frequency of slaughtering new born animals before they are ready increased substantially. With time, many herders realized that overall they are un-able to rely on the free grazing, for it was nearly gone as the lands never recovered, and even with subsidy, they could not sustain themselves any more. A whole life style and community were collapsing along with the ecological system.

About 15 years ago, I was approached by a Saudi colleague of mine to study this issue. We wrote a complex simulation-optimization model that took into account historical observations including satellite data. We ran the model many thousand times under different climate scenarios and initialized it with historical data my colleague has gathered from numerous interviews on the ground and verified our results from historical data as much as possible. Our model simulated the long term effects of both Hima and subsidy systems. And our results showed that, over the long term, the Hima system was not only sustainable, but it was economically more viable (Ehsani, we took inflation, current and future value, and commodity pricing into account, not fully, but sufficiently). As a left leaning person, the notion of subsidy being bad, and the concept of state interference being bad despite of good intention was not something easy to accept. But it was my simulations and the numbers were verified as much as possible. We also studied a system that allows for both subsidy and Hima and found that Hima regulate the impacts of subsidy as it provides for a control of herd sizes.

As you well described, ground water is very much like grazing lands. A certain level of pumping in fact increased the ability of aquifer to capture deep percolation and may increase the sustainable yield of the aquifer, but beyond that, the aquifer system itself begin to collapse as the pores become compressed and land subsidence may occur at high rates resulting in decreasing the available storage for the annual recharge.

Notwithstanding the issue of subsidy, I want to focus on governance and the role of central government and local governance in managing natural resources including water. More and more, water resources governance is emerging as the place where the two have to work very closely. Without central government with the resources to build and finance large projects, the full potential of these resources can not be realized, but without local concerns and holistic integrated assessment approach, you run the risk of having development projects yield good results only for a short period of time and result in catastrophic impacts over the longer-terms. This is where NGOs and civil society come in as you have articulated, they can even conduct studies that the government may not have and they are in a position to inform and enlighten. There is much to be learnt from the farmers who left a piece of land unused every few seasons and developed crop rotations. What they need now is not only more water, but technical help in improving the efficiency of their methods in manners that guarantee sustainability.

Finally, without putting the breaks on population growth, all what we say or write, and every technical solution will be un-sustainable.

Again thank you for your comment.

September 7th, 2009, 5:41 pm


trustquest said:

OTW, you reminded me with the optimization project I had in college, I haven’t used this term since long time, but I understand where you going, optimization of any aquifer is necessary before utilizing any pumping.

SC long time ago, Landis discussed how the Baath party cancelled the old social system which built on social fabric of each community, like Shiek Alhara, Almokhtar and others and replace it with bureaucratic system devoid of moral glue. They did the same for groundwater and water management. In Damascus, river Barada which has seven branches used to be cleaned and drudged from spring to its lower part in Ghota by an old system such as “ Hima” you have mentioned in the Saudi Bedouins Story. The Syrian Bedouins also have the same system by the way but government took over and failed to preserve the land and the environment not only because of bureaucracy but the main factor is the corruption in a system controlled by power of the army and authority which can override any law. I had a dear friend, agricultural engineer, who loved his job, the desert and grazing and who was working enthusiastically on this type of programs, had lost his job and been kicked out of government because he was not corrupt, not Baathi and activist Kurd. This type of system ( chaos or no system) suppose to last usually couples of years but to extend for long period of time it becomes chronic disease hard to cure. The suggested NGOs is not only essential in this phase of time but it is important to give civil society power and tooth to recover and stop deterioration, which is also unlikely like the un controlled population growth or the technical experts drain mentioned by Norman.

Your both posts suggest that you need data, monitoring, design and transparency to get good results. So, first to have a system is better than not to have one. Also you suggest that the more natural the system is the better. But to have no system is very bad condition. But what about to not have a system and coupled with corruption, exudes of the brains and capitals this is must be the worst case scenario.

Today after reading to you I could say that this is the first time Saudi Arabia came on top of Syria in many fields, even in their slow human development, which we the Syrians usually get a lot of pride that we are way ahead of them on human development issues, which tell you that sometimes revolutions (even if they real, in Syria case was not) is not better than natural process. :))

September 7th, 2009, 7:14 pm


Yossi said:


Kudus to the Saudis for their initiative. If a 1bn plant provides water for 1.5mil people, it’s not a bad deal at all. I would imagine that these plants are high maintenance with the saline water corrosion, but even if you had to rebuild every decade or so, it still seems like something that a population can afford. However, they further increase their dependency on their petroleum with this move. Birth control is a must for all countries in the arid Middle East, followed by nuclear and solar energy. Both the KSA and Syria have vast desert plains that are ideal for solar power production, which could then potentially be used for desalinization. Also, KSA, Jordan, Israel and Syria, are all sitting on the Syrian-African rift and therefore could potentially have geothermal energy. Shai posted a piece a while ago showing how this applied to the Golan in particular.

September 8th, 2009, 1:24 am


Off the Wall said:

I agree with all of your points. I believe that plants are high maintenance, but they also generate electricity. So in the long run, the Saudis can reach a point where they maintain their oil reserves for their own use, but they are far from that at least for now.

I recall in earlier post of yours you argued for wind and solar energy initiatives. I believe that Syria has a huge wind power initiative in the valley corridor near Homs as well as in the northern part of Aleppo and in the north east. Solar energy is abundant for the taker. But both need major investments.

Birth control is not a matter of necessity, it is a matter of survival. I do not believe that under any optimistic economic and peace scenario the job growth can catch up with population growth. Educational systems, services, water, food, roads, housing, you name it will be subject to unbelievable and unmanageable stresses. Time to do something about that.


Nice post. I think the biggest lesson I learnt from your essay is that Revolutions that attempt to destroy existing social fabric do more harm than good. We see that in Africa as well. I do believe that there were many things in Syria in need of reforms in the 50s and 60s, but I do also believe that there were many many good things that should have never been dismantled the way the were. By the way, the Hima system is gaining popularity again. In Lebanon and KSA, efforts are undergoing to revive local systems and structure in collaboration with authorities and with conservation NGO. Egypt had some very dedicated group of academics trying their best, but again, the level of corruption is a major block.

You are absolutely correct in pointing that Hima system was not a monopoly of tribes in the peninsula. It was also practiced by all tribes in Syria, Jordan, Palestine, and Iraq. Up to the turn of the past century, the lands of all of these countries were the domain of the Bedouins, who cared less who is in power in the remote cities as long as they could sell the products and get back to their proud life style.

A second point you have very astutely captured was the need for monitoring and for the data to be in the public domain. I love the policy of the US regarding scientific data. Anything collected with public money is public property. Every citizen can obtain any scientific data collected by any federal agency (except for National Security Data), and the definition of what constitutes national security data is very narrow. I recall during my graduate studies, my advisor had a project in Oman. He received some documents in Arabic, and he wanted me to look at them. One of the documents, most of which dealt with meteorological observations was shiny and had the word SECRET stamped very promininently. The document was nothing more than a brochure for an auto-logged rain gauge translated to Arabic by the manufacturer and it could be obtained easily by merely calling the manufacturer (these were the days before internet was a world wide web). But the problem is not only in our countries. Many countries consider water data, especially streamflow and aquifer storages to be national secrets, especially if a river or the aquifer are transnational. This has posed a major problem for scientists who want to study trends and climate change.

There has been a tendency worldwide to cut the budget of hydrologic and hydrgeologic monitoring networks. The number of stations is in constant decline. Sadly enough, there were many more stations during the colonial era in most developing countries. The occupiers left the stations but left no one to care for them and no one who knew how to operate them and why they were there.

September 8th, 2009, 3:58 am


Innocent Criminal said:

how come no one is discussing the Iraqi-Syria row?

September 8th, 2009, 5:38 am


norman said:

here it is ,


Iraqi violence overshadowed
By Helena Cobban

WASHINGTON – Political violence in Iraq killed 456 Iraqis in August, the highest monthly death toll since July 2008. And with the United States showing no sign it plans to reverse the troop withdrawal that is now well underway, numerous struggles for power are shaping up inside Iraq.

They involve both competing factions within the country and also, perhaps more ominously, several neighboring countries.

These levels of violence are deeply entwined, as was shown by the aftershocks of the most deadly of August’s acts of violence: on August 19, unknown parties, suspected to be disgruntled Sunnis, detonated large vehicle bombs outside three Iraqi

ministries, killing 95 people and injuring more than 600.

Shortly afterwards, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki accused Syria of giving safe haven to the men who masterminded the bombings, whom he identified as followers of Iraq’s former Ba’athist rulers. (Close observers of the Iraqi scene are divided on the authenticity of the televised “confessions” on which he based this charge.)

As the heat of Maliki’s accusations rose, he withdrew his ambassador from Syria. That decision was all the more notable since just days earlier he had made a very friendly state visit to Damascus, where he and his hosts signed several important agreements.

In preceding months, Syrian officials had repeatedly stressed that they saw a strong interest in Maliki’s government successfully stabilizing its rule throughout Iraq. (Syria also started to work semi-quietly with US military planners to help achieve this.)

But as Maliki escalated his accusations against Syria, the previously burgeoning cooperation between the two governments lay in ruins. Syria, which had been one of the earliest Arab states to recognize Maliki’s government, also withdrew its ambassador from Baghdad.

The August 19 bombings were timed, perhaps deliberately, to be carried out on the anniversary of the massive truck bomb that in 2003 wrecked the United Nations mission in Baghdad, killing its head and many of his staff members.

That earlier bombing marked a turning point in Iraqi affairs. Before it, many non-Iraqis and even many Iraqis hoped that somehow, with the UN’s help, Iraq could emerge fairly peacefully from the devastation that the US military had inflicted in its assault and invasion of the country just five months earlier.

After the August 2003 bomb, that hope lay in tatters – and the UN greatly downgraded its engagement in Iraqi affairs.

After the August 19 bombings of this year, the hope that Iraq might emerge fairly peacefully from the six-year-long US occupation has been similarly seriously dented.

The three ministries targeted were each known to fall more thoroughly under the sway of Iraq’s big ethnosectarian factions than under Maliki’s direct control. (That was one result of the system of “apportionment” of state positions and patronage among Iraq’s sects and ethnicities that was introduced by the US occupation.)

So it is plausible that strong Iraqi nationalists, whether Ba’athists or others, who have been very disturbed by the emergence of these factions may have been behind the bombings.

Another possibility, mentioned by more than a few Iraqis, is that forces near to Maliki himself may have had a hand in them, in an attempt to cut down the factions’ power.

In the same period the August 19 bombs were being planned, all the other Shi’ite factions that in 2006 had helped boost Maliki to power formed a new coalition – but without him, or his Da’awa Party. Indeed, Maliki’s party and its non-Shi’ite allies did much better in last January’s provincial election than any of the other Shi’ite parties with which it was previously aligned.

“Right now, Maliki seems much happier hanging out people from the Sunni party he’s allied with than with his previous allies in the Shi’ite parties,” veteran Iraqi-American political scientist Adeed Dawisha told Inter Press Service.

There are further wrinkles in the story. Maliki is very close to the Iranians and receives strong backing from them – but so do just about all the other factional leaders who he is now opposing.

Iran has been a powerful player inside Iraqi politics ever since the US toppled Saddam Hussein. Now, as the US military footprint in the country contracts, Iran’s power there is growing very visibly.

This has greatly concerned all Iraq’s Arab neighbors – including Syria, despite the Damascus government’s lengthy de facto alliance with Tehran.

So one possible explanation for the vehemence with which Maliki accused Syria may be the Iranians urged it on him, in an attempt to deny the Syrians any potential influence over the Baghdad regime.

One notable aspect of the political tempests now swirling around Iraq is that neither in Iraq nor in the US has there been any significant movement calling for the US to delay or reverse its continuing pullout. In the US, much more attention is now being paid to the military’s deeply troubled engagement in Afghanistan.

Under the Withdrawal Agreement that president George W Bush concluded with the Maliki government last November, all US troops should be out of Iraq by the end of 2011. But significant voices inside and outside the Pentagon are now urging the US to speed up that timetable, to free up additional troops for Afghanistan.

When US commentators refer to the ongoing violence among Iraqis, which is not often, they express some mild regret. But none go on to urge that the US military there should do something active to bolster Iraqi security.

“There really is nothing the US can do in the security sector, at this point,” said Dawisha, whose latest book is Iraq: A political history from independence to occupation.

He also judged there is very little the US – or any other outside powers – can do to intervene at the political level, to help Iraq’s 30 million people meet the many other political challenges that lie ahead.

The only outside power Dawisha saw as potentially able to make a small difference for the better was Turkey. He was very dismissive of the idea that the UN could do anything useful.

Right now, two major issues top the country’s political agenda. One is the still-simmering contest between ethnic Kurds and ethnic Arabs over Kirkuk, an oil-rich region long coveted by the Kurds. The other is the next round of national elections, scheduled for January 2010.

Dawisha noted that not all the news from inside Iraq is bad.

He pointed in particular to signs that new cross-sectarian and cross-ethnic alliances are now emerging. “One of the most interesting is the ‘Hadba’ alliance that’s being built around the list of that name that did very well in the provincial elections in the northern city of Mosul,” he said. “And now, they’re making plans to field candidates in a number of other provinces, too, in the January elections.”

But the situation remains precarious. “The reconstituted Iraqi security forces have the numbers they need now, and much of the training,” Dawisha said. “But there is still a real risk they could implode if the internal politics can’t be stabilized.”

Helena Cobban is a veteran Middle East analyst and author. She blogs at http://www.JustWorldNews.org.

(Inter Press Service)

September 8th, 2009, 8:15 am


trustquest said:

Thanks YOSSI, for the addition and reminder of solar energy. I wish you mentioned the advancement achieved by Solel and Arava companies in Israel in this energy sector. Here is a video for the Solel company project to be built in California:

I would like to add that the Israeli advancement in science and technology is one of the main factors and incentive for the neighbors to make peace, but as you know peace is a reciprocal action needs both sides to find incentives for it.
Syria unfortunately needs visionary people to invest and harvest the solar and wind power you mentioned like what Morocco is striding now.

Additionally, Europe is in earnest developing solar energy and is tagging on southern neighbors to harvest this energy. A new project just started and has an ambition to cover a grid along the North African’s desert latitude all the way to the Middle East to be connected with European grid.

Desertec Foundation started already the project from Morocco even over the oppositions which say that these countries ruled by dictators can not be stable and reliable. The project aim to influence these countries in positive way that the benefit would convince and accelerate the democratization of the those countries.

September 8th, 2009, 10:36 am


Shai said:

Rise in energy consumption, water, population growth, unemployment, poor education, are all common enemies in our region. Fighting these true enemies together will tear down walls of suspicion and distrust. Our creativity and our efforts should go no less to discovering ways of battling these enemies, as to finding ways of doing so together! Those are the battlefields Syrians, Lebanese, Jordanians, Egyptians, Palestinians, and Israelis should meet on. Not the ones with tanks and bullets.

September 8th, 2009, 5:29 pm


IDAF said:

A good overview of the Iraqi-Syria row with historical context from Sami M. Maliki hangs tough on Syria
By Sami Moubayed

DAMASCUS – The Syria-Iraq crisis, which erupted after six attacks ripped through government buildings in Baghdad on August 19, seems to be snowballing on Iraq’s side.

Over the weekend, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki called for an international tribunal to bring suspects of the bombings to trial, claiming that the masterminds of the attacks were two Iraqi Ba’athists based in Syria.

The Syrians have repeatedly asked Maliki to provide evidence that these two men were indeed involved in the attacks, but to date Baghdad has failed to provide any evidence, only recalling its

ambassador to Damascus.

On Sunday, the Syrian state-run daily al-Thawra wrote, “Syria never handed over people who took shelter from the threat of injustice, arbitrary acts and death.” The Syrians have repeatedly reminded Maliki that if they had answered any calls to extradite Iraqi refugees, not backed with proper evidence, then he would not today be the prime minister of Iraq. Maliki was a fugitive in Damascus during the long years of the Saddam Hussein era, and the Syrians repeatedly turned down extradition requests made by Saddam to hand him over to Baghdad.

The August attacks that hit Baghdad’s Green Zone, a safe haven since 2003, targeted parliament and the Ministry of Defense and devastated the Foreign and Finance ministries. More than 100 Iraqis were killed and another 400 were wounded, sending shockwaves throughout Baghdad and infuriating ordinary Iraqis who now hold their representatives accountable for the massive security breach.

The assumption that the masterminds are in Syria is based on a confession made by a former Iraqi policeman and Ba’athist, who was shown after arrest on state-run Iraqi TV on August 23 saying that he had received orders to carry out the attacks from Satam Falah and Muhammad Yunis Ahmad. The two men, both retired one-time senior officials under Saddam, were indeed based in Syria at one point, although it is unclear if they are still there.

And even if there were, there was no official request from the Iraqi government to its Syrian counterpart asking for their extradition, prior to the withdrawal of ambassadors. Sources point to an August 11 article by Reuters (eight days before Black Wednesday), in which a United States State Department official was quoted as saying, “Syria already this year expelled Mohammad Yunis, a main figure in the outlawed [Iraqi] Ba’ath Party, who is wanted by the US-backed Iraqi government but has little military operational importance on the ground.”

If anything, that proves that at least Yunis is no longer based in Syria. And even if he were, he is not capable of carrying out such an operation “with little military operational importance”. This supports the Syrian argument, which says that the Iraqi accusations are baseless.

Nevertheless, Iraq withdrew its ambassador from Damascus, demanding that Syria hand over the two men, while Syria reciprocated by withdrawing its ambassador from Baghdad. Many are already asking how this crisis will end. For their part, the Syrians have two uniform answers: either the Iraqis come up with concrete evidence proving that the two men are based in Syria, and were responsible for Black Wednesday. Or the Iraqi government needs to resend its ambassador to Damascus and apologize for the entire ordeal if it cannot produce such evidence.

This week, Iraq seemed far from giving anything close to an apology. Maliki’s al-Da’wa Party staged demonstrations chanting anti-Syrian slogans, raising tension to unprecedented levels between Damascus and Baghdad. The demonstrations, which took place in al-Hilla, south of Baghdad, brought 200 people to the streets, including officials in the Maliki regime. Many of the al-Da’wa members now spreading anti-Syrian rhetoric were one-time allies of Syria, who for years were protected by Syria against the dragnet of Saddam.

Reportedly, more demonstrations are scheduled for September 24, ahead of a United Nations Security Council meeting at which Iraq’s request for an international tribunal will be discussed. Certain Iraqi officials, however, are trying to downplay the crisis with Syria.

The Iraqi presidency released a statement on Tuesday, signed off by President Jalal Talabani, calling for “containing” the Syrian-Iraqi crisis, while ex-prime minister Iyad Allawi said that the entire ordeal was “fabricated” by the Iraqi government to cover up its own law-and-order shortcomings.

He added that accusations against Damascus were neither diplomatic nor professional. Reportedly, Talabani, who like Maliki is a former fugitive in Syria, will visit Turkey soon, where he might meet Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, with the aim of curbing the diplomatic row between the countries.

For its part, Turkey has tried in the past 10 days to play mediator between the two, banking on its excellent relations with both Damascus and Baghdad.

Vice President Adel Abdul Mehdi of the Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council (SIIC) is also critical of the prime minister’s approach, calling for a more even-handed and diplomatic resolution of the crisis with Syria.

This is due to two factors: the SIIC’s excellent relations with Iran and the fact that the SIIC is no longer allied to Maliki, having established a new Shi’ite coalition to challenge him ahead of parliamentary elections set for January. Mehdi is a prime minister hopeful, having nominated himself for the post twice and lost, once against Maliki’s former boss Ibrahim Jaafari and again in 2006 against Maliki.

Meanwhile, violence continues to shake Iraq, with a string of bombings on Monday leading to the killing of 18 and wounding of 40. Sunni guerillas targeted a checkpoint in Ramadi, a Shi’ite mosque in Baaquba and civilians in the holy Shi’ite city of Karbala.

On Sunday, a criminal broke into a house in Mosul, killing a three-year-old girl and her grandmother before fleeing, adding a new criminal dimension to the security chaos in Iraq.

Maliki has been arresting former Ba’athists in Iraq left and right to prove his belief that they were behind the attacks on August 19. In recent months, ordinary Iraqis have complained that Maliki had failed to revive the dislocated economy, had done a poor job in promoting reconciliation between Sunnis and Shi’ites, had provided no new jobs for thousands of the unemployed and had been unable to bring millions of refugees, uprooted after the war of 2003, back to Iraq.

Maliki had succeeded in bringing a certain level of security to war-torn Iraq, as seen by the relative calm witnessed in the 18 months prior to the August bombings. Now, security is no longer on the list of Maliki’s achievements, sending early signals that if he does not find a scapegoat – and answers to why this happened, fast – then he has begun his long march into history, ahead of the parliamentary elections.

Sami Moubayed is editor-in-chief of Forward Magazine in Syria.

September 9th, 2009, 8:04 am


milli s said:

Shocking article about effect of drought in Syria. I have never seen such pictures from Syria, even in really poor villages, this is really awful poverty.

Syria Today is becoming much better!


September 9th, 2009, 12:49 pm


Amir in Tel Aviv said:

Amen to that, Shai.
But more likely, Arabs will prefer to die from thirst, than to
do what you suggested…

September 9th, 2009, 4:03 pm


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