Case Study of Transboundary Dispute Resolution: the Tigris-Euphrates Basin
|Geolocation:||31° 24' 17.3531", 46° 54' 10.215"|
|Total Population||53,909,200 million|
|Total Area|| 789,000789,000 km² |
304,632.9 mi² km2
|Climate Descriptors||Semi-arid/steppe (Köppen B-type), Arid/desert (Köppen B-type), Humid mid-latitude (Köppen C-type)|
|Predominent Land Use Descriptors||industrial use, urban- high density, religious/cultural sites|
|Important Uses of Water||Agriculture or Irrigation, Domestic/Urban Supply, Hydropower Generation|
|Water Features:||Tigris River, Euphrates River|
|Water Projects:||Southeast Anatolia Development Project|
- 1 Summary
- 2 Natural, Historic, Economic, Regional, and Political Framework
- 3 Analysis, Synthesis, and Insight
- 4 Key Questions
- 5 External Links
In 1975, unilateral water developments came very close to leading to warfare along the Euphrates River. The three riparian’s to the river- Turkey, Syria, and Iraq -had co-existed with varying degrees of hydropolitical tension through the 1960s. Bilateral and tripartite meetings, occasionally with Soviet involvement, had been carried out between the three riparian’s since the mid-1960s, although no formal agreements had been reached by the time the Keban and Tabqa dams began to fill late in 1973, resulting in decreased flow down-stream. In mid-1974, Syria agreed to an Iraqi request that Syria allow an additional flow of 200 MCM/yr. from Tabqa. The following year, however, the Iraqis claimed that the flow had been dropped from the normal 920 m3 /sec to an "intolerable" 197 m3 /sec, and asked that the Arab League intervene. The Syrians claimed that less than half the river's normal flow had reached its borders that year and, after a barrage of mutually hostile statements, pulled out of an Arab League technical committee formed to mediate the conflict. In May 1975, Syria closed its airspace to Iraqi flights and both Syria and Iraq reportedly transferred troops to their mutual border. Only mediation on the part of Saudi Arabia was able to break the increasing tension, and on June 3, 1975, the parties arrived at an agreement that averted the impending violence. Although the terms of the agreement were not made public, Iraqi sources are cited as privately stating that the agreement called for Syria to keep 42% of the flow of the Euphrates within its borders, and to allow the remaining 58% through to Iraq.
Natural, Historic, Economic, Regional, and Political Framework
Image 1. Map of the Tigris-Euphrates Basin
The Tigris-Euphrates River Basin is a transboundary basin that exists in parts of Iraq (46 percent of the Basin), Turkey (22 percent), the Islamic Republic of Iran (19 percent), the Syrian Arab Republic (11 percent), Saudi Arabia (1.9 percent), and Jordan (0.03 percent). The Islamic Republic of Iran is riparian only to the Tigris, and Jordan and Saudi Arabia are riparian only to the Euphrates. Both the Euphrates and the Tigris originate in the mountains of eastern Turkey and the basin has high mountains to the north and west with extensive lowlands to the south and east. Two-thirds of their courses go through the highlands of eastern Anatolia in Turkey and the valleys of the Syrian and Iraqi plateaus before descending into the arid plain of Mesopotamia. The Euphrates and Tigris join near Iraq’s southeastern border in a combined flow called Shatt Al-Arab, which empties into the Persian Gulf. However, more upstream within Iraq both rivers are also connected through several man-made canals.
Most of the Tigris-Euphrates River Basin has a sub-tropical Mediterranean climate that has wet winters and dry summers. In the mountainous headwater areas freezing temperatures prevail in winter and much of the precipitation falls in the form of snow. As the snow melts in spring the rivers rise, augmented by seasonal rainfall which reaches its maximum between March and May. In southeastern Turkey as well as in the north of the Syrian Arab Republic and Iraq the climate is characterized by rainy winters and dry warm summers. Average annual precipitation in the Euphrates–Tigris River Basin is estimated at 335 mm, although it varies all along the basin area. In the Mesopotamian Plain the annual rainfall is rarely above 200 mm, while it reaches 1 045 mm in other places in the basin. The summer season is exceedingly hot and dry with midday temperatures approaching 50 ºC and with daytime relative humidity as low as 15 percent. Approximately 60 percent of the Syrian territory receives less than 250 mm/year of precipitation and 70 percent of Iraq receives on average 400 mm/year. A region is considered semi-arid if it receives less than 700 mm/year of precipitation and arid if it receives less than 350 mm/year of precipitation. The annual average temperature of the entire Euphrates–Tigris River Basin is 18 ºC. The average temperature of the basin in January is 5 ºC, though it can decrease to –11 ºC in the coldest places in the basin. In July, the average temperature of the Euphrates–Tigris River Basin reaches 31 ºC, although in the hottest places it can increase to 37 ºC.
Bilateral and tripartite meetings, occasionally with Soviet involvement, had been carried out between the three riparians since the mid-1960s, although no formal agreements had been reached by the time the Keban and Tabqa dams began to fill late in 1973, resulting in decreased flow down-stream. In mid-1974, Syria agreed to an Iraqi request that Syria allow an additional flow of 200 MCM/yr from Tabqa. The following year, however, the Iraqis claimed that the flow had been dropped from the normal 920 m3 /sec to an "intolerable" 197 m3 /sec, and asked that the Arab League intervene. The Syrians claimed that less than half the river's normal flow had reached its borders that year and, after a barrage of mutually hostile statements, pulled out of an Arab League technical committee formed to mediate the conflict. In May 1975, Syria closed its airspace to Iraqi flights and both Syria and Iraq reportedly transferred troops to their mutual border. Only mediation on the part of Saudi Arabia was able to break the increasing tension, and on June 3, 1975, the parties arrived at an agreement that averted the impending violence. Although the terms of the agreement were not made public, Iraqi sources are cited as privately stating that the agreement called for Syria to keep 42% of the flow of the Euphrates within it borders, and to allow the remaining 58% through to Iraq.
In 1975, unilateral water developments came very close to leading to warfare along the Euphrates River. The three riparians to the river- Turkey, Syria, and Iraq -had been co-existing with varying degrees of hydropolitical tension through the 1960s. At that time, population pressures drove unilateral developments, particularly in southern Anatolia (Turkey), with the Keban Dam (1965-73), and in Syria, with the Tabqa Dam (1968-73). Additional tensions between Turkey and Syria involving Syrian support for Kurdish separatists (Kurdish Worker's Party, or PKK) and Turkey 's military support for Israel have exacerbated the water dispute. Military tensions flared between Turkey and Iraq in 1997, as Turkey invaded northern Iraq to attack Kurdish rebels in the area. In August of 1998, Turkey threatened military action against Syria if it continued to support the PKK. 
A study done using data collected by NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellite mission to evaluate freshwater storage trends in the north-central Middle East found that from January 2003 to December 2009 total water storage decreased approximately 143.6 km^3. The study cited the annual decrease in water storage of -27.2 ±0.6 mm/yr-1 as ‘alarming’, and called for increased scrutiny in the necessity of international water-use treaties and clarification of international water-use law.
The extreme decline in total water storage may be largely explained by a devastating drought that occurred in the summer of 2007, where many existing reservoirs were heavily used and annual groundwater resources went from previously near-stable levels to a heavy slide of -34.0±4.5 mm/yr-1. The over-use of groundwater as a result of the 2007 drought accounted for about 60% of the overall water storage volume loss of 144 km^3 over the seven year period. A Brookings Institution report found that as a result of this increased use of water, many hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced from their homes in northern Iraq due to lack of water. The drought also prompted increased use of the Euphrates along its path, such that it had decreased to approximately 70% of its normal flow by the time it crossed into Iraq, prompting increases in dependence upon groundwater which drove the high levels of total water storage loss.
Attempts at Conflict Management
The Southeast Anatolia Development Project (GAP is the Turkish acronym) has given a sense of urgency to resolving allocation issues on the Euphrates. GAP is a massive undertaking for energy and agricultural development that, when completed, will include the construction of 21 dams and 19 hydroelectric plants on both the Tigris and the Euphrates. 1.65 million ha of land are to be irrigated and 26 billion kWh will be generated annually with an installed capacity of 7,500 MW. If completed as planned, GAP could significantly reduce downstream water quantity and quality.
A Protocol of the Joint Economic Committee was established between Turkey and Iraq in 1980, which allowed for Joint Technical Committee meetings relating to water resources. Syria began participating in 1983, although meetings have been intermittent at best.
A 1987 visit to Damascus, Syria, by Turkish Prime Minister Turgut Ozal reportedly resulted in a signed agreement for the Turks to guarantee a minimum flow of 500 m3 /sec across the border with Syria. According to Kolars and Mitchell, this total of 16 BCM/yr is in accordance with prior Syrian requests. However, according to Naff and Matson, this is also the amount that Iraq insisted on in 1967, leaving a potential shortfall. A tripartite meeting between Turkish, Syrian and Iraqi ministers was held in November 1986, but yielded few results.
Talks between the three countries were held again in January 1990, when Turkey closed the gates to the reservoir on the Ataturk Dam, the largest of the GAP dams, essentially shutting off the flow of the Euphrates for 30 days. At this meeting, Iraq again insisted that a flow of 500 m3 /sec cross the Syrian-Iraqi border. The Turkish representatives responded that this was a technical issue rather than one of politics and the meetings stalled. The Gulf War that broke out later that month precluded additional negotiations.
In their first meeting after the war, Turkish, Syrian, and Iraqi water officials convened in Damascus in September 1992, but broke up after Turkey rejected an Iraqi request that flows crossing the Turkish border be increased from 500 m3 /sec to 700 m3 /sec. In bilateral talks in January 1993, however, Turkish Prime Minister Demirel and Syrian President Assad discussed a range of issues intended to improve relations between the two countries. Regarding the water conflict, the two agreed to resolve the issue of allocations by the end of 1993. Prime Minister Demirel declared at a press conference closing the summit that, "There is no need for Syria to be anxious about the water issue. The waters of the Euphrates will flow to that country whether there is an agreement or not". Despite this pledge, no agreement was reached in the allocated timeframe.
In February 1996, a joint Syria-Iraq water coordination committee convened in Damascus, where the two sides discussed what would be a fair and reasonable distribution of the Euphrates and Tigris between Turkey, Syria, and Iraq. In this meeting, Syria and Iraq decided to coordinate their positions on the water dispute. In May of the same year, Turkey called on Syria to engage in talks over water. Turkey wanted to resolve the dispute by dividing water by cultivated land, whereas Syria wanted to divide the water equally.Tension between Syria and Turkey escalated in late 1998 over Kurdish rebels. To avert invasion by Turkey, Syria agreed to ban the PKK from Syria with the signing of the Adana Agreement on October 20, 1998
In 2001, Syria and Iraq held talks about the water of the Euphrates, and restated their commitment to take a united stand on the issue in any negotiations with Turkey. In August of 2001, Syria and Turkey agreed on a protocol of cooperation for Turkey 's GAP and Syria 's corresponding GOLD (General Organization for Land Development) projects.
Also in 2001, Joint Communiqué was signed between the General Organization for Land Development (GOLD) of the government of the Syrian Arab Republic and the GAP Regional Development Administration (GAP-RDA), which works under the Turkish Prime Minister’s Office. This agreement envisions supporting training, technology exchange, study missions, and joint projects, but is limited because it only involves Turkey and the Syrian Arab Republic. 
In 2002, a bilateral agreement between the Syrian Arab Republic and Iraq was signed allowing the installation of a Syrian pump station on the Tigris River for irrigation purposes. The quantity of water drawn annually will be 1.25 km^3, with a drainage capacity proportional to the aimed surface of 150,000 ha.
In April 2008, Turkey, Iraq and the Syria Arab Republic decided to establish a join water institute of 18 water experts from each country to work together towards solving water-related problems among the three countries. The institute conducts its studies at the facilities of the Ataturk Dam, the dam with the largest reservoir capacity in Turkey with the goal of developing projects for the fair and effective use of transboundary water resources. 
Despite these strides, the situation remains unresolved. As of 2003, Turkey would not sign a final accord regarding the sharing of waters with Syria and Iraq. Since the ousting of Saddam Hussein in Iraq by U.S.-led forces, the newly appointed Minister of Water Resources Abdul Latif Rasheed has stated that previous problems in trying to come to agreement on allocation of Tigris and Euphrates waters were due to the bad relations developed by the previous leadership. The new Iraqi government hopes to reach an agreement with Turkey and Syria over the waters. These new developments in the region may play a large role in the future of the sharing of the Euphrates.
In the Tigris-Euphrates river basin, the three riparians of Turkey, Iraq, and Syria are without an effective international water management strategy, meaning each country is free to act unilaterally. Economically, each is dependent on Tigris and Euphrates water for agricultural irrigation, a core component of the national economies. As the final downstream user of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, Iraq receives only the streamflow that remains after appropriations and diversions by Turkey and Syria.
The consequences of this lack of transboundary management are detailed in the GRACE study. The ultimate downstream user is left with little surface water availability and must deplete its nonrenewable reserves of groundwater. After the drought began in 2007, agricultural productivity declined for all three nations. Upstream, Turkey was least affected, with most crop yields slightly declining or remaining constant. However, downstream in Syria and Iraq, significant, larger declines occurred in all crops. The decline in agricultural output significantly influences economic stability in the region and will continue to be a threat owing to perennial limitations on water availability and the emerging threats of climate change, including more prolonged drought.
Issues and Stakeholders
Negotiating an equitable allocation of the flow of the Euphrates River and its tributaries among the riparian states of the Tigris-Euphrates Basin.
NSPD: Water Quantity, Water Quality, Governance, Assets
Stakeholder Types: Sovereign state/national/federal government, Non-legislative governmental agency, Industry/Corporate Interest, Community or organized citizens
In 1975, unilateral water developments came very close to leading to warfare along the Euphrates River. The three riparian’s to the river- Turkey, Syria, and Iraq -had co-existed with varying degrees of hydropolitical tension through the 1960s. The filling of two dams during low-flow period results in reduced flow to Iraq in 1975. Bilateral and tripartite negotiations continue with mixed success-no final agreement to date.
- Saudi Arabia
- PKK Kurdish rebels
- Southeast Anatolia Development Project
2007 Drought: Following a year of extreme drought, strained water resources were pushed to their breaking point, causing the relocation of hundreds of thousands of people, particularly in Iraq, and contributing to a severe economic downturn experienced in the areas that historically depend on the Tigris-Euphrates River Basin for irrigation and sustenance. So far, the region’s groundwater supplies have been able to make up the needed difference, but groundwater is considered a dwindling and non-sustainable resource, leaving the area desperate for a long-term solution to its lack of water.Lack of International Water Management: Although there have been some attempts to establish think-tanks to produce realistic and fair international water management processes, the lack of guidelines for regional or global international water management encourage each country to act unilaterally. In the case of the Tigris-Euphrates River Basin this places much of the determining power over the water resources of the region with Turkey, the nation in which the rivers originate. The ability to act near-freely in its own interest coupled with the largely unstable political situations of The Syria Arab Republic and Iraq in the past decade has been holding back international cooperation.
Analysis, Synthesis, and Insight
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Tigris-Euphrates Basin: Lessons learned and creative outcomes from the Transboundary Freshwater Dispute Database
Contributed by: Aaron T. Wolf, Joshua T. Newton, Matthew Pritchard (last edit: 12 February 2013)
Hydropower Dams and Large Storage Infrastructure:
Unilateral development of water resources leads to increasing tension over water. Developments in the basin have been made unilaterally without the cooperation of other riparian countries. This has increased resentment of downstream riparian’s that had no say in developments that occurred upstream.
Hydropower Dams and Large Storage Infrastructure: How do issues of equity and development impact the identification of stakeholders in cases involving hydropower or other revenue generating water infrastructure?
When one riparian holds the most geographic and military power, equitable agreements are difficult to reach. With the large majority of water originating in Turkey and Turkey having the most advanced military power, it has less incentive to work cooperatively with Syria and Iraq and to approach negotiations with a "basket of benefits" outlook.
Influence Leadership and Power: How does asymmetry of power influence water negotiations and how can the negative effects be mitigated?
When mostly bilateral talks are used to attempt to resolve issues, the most powerful country typically maintains their power. In bilateral talks, Turkey has succeeded in maintaining its power in the water dispute. Syria lost one of its "playing cards" in overall negotiations when it signed the Adana Agreement.
- Transboundary Freshwater Dispute Database (TFDD) (2012). Oregon State University. Tigris-Euphrates Case Study — The Transboundary Freshwater Dispute Database (TFDD) This website is used to aid in the assessment of the process of water conflict prevention and resolution. Over the years we have developed this Transboundary Freshwater Dispute Database, a project of the Oregon State University Department of Geosciences, in collaboration with the Northwest Alliance for Computational Science and Engineering.
- ^ Product of the Transboundary Freshwater Dispute Database, Department of Geosciences, Oregon State University. Additional information about the TFDD can be found at:http://www.transboundarywaters.orst.edu/research/case_studies/Tigris-Euphrates_New.htm
- ^ 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 Aquastat, FAOâ€™s Information System on Water and Agriculture. Euphrates-Tigris River Basin. 2009. Accessed 7/20/2013. http://www.fao.org/nr/water/aquastat/basins/euphrates-tigris/index.stm
- ^ Community Adaptation and Sustainable Livelihoods (CASL). Arid and Semi-Arid Lands: Characteristics and Importance. Accessed 7/20/2013. http://www.iisd.org/casl/ASALProjectDetails/ASAL.htm
- ^ Lowi, Miriam (1991). West Bank Water Resources and the Resolution of Conflict in the Middle East. Paper presented for the project on Environmental Change and Acute Conflict, June 15-17, 1991.
- ^ Mideast Mirror (1998). Turkey-Syria crisis: Saudis to join mediation efforts. 12 (195), 9 October.
- ^ Mideast Mirror (1997). Turks attacks northern Iraq after renewing mandate of U.S.-led force. 11 (2). 2 January
- ^ Middle East Newsfile. (1998). OIC offers to mediate between Turkey, Syria. 18 October.
- ^ 8.0 8.1 8.2 "Voss, K. A., J. S. Famiglietti, M. Lo, C. de Linage, M. Rodell, and S. C. Swenson (2013), Groundwater depletion in the Middle East from GRACE with implications for transboundary water management in the Tigris-Euphrates-Western Iran region, Water Resour. Res., 49, doi:10.1002/wrcr.20078.Accessed 7/20/2013
- ^ 9.0 9.1 Gruen, G. (1993). Recent Negotiations Over the Waters of the Euphrates and Tigris. In Proceedings of the International Symposium on Water Resources in the Middle East: Policy and Institutional Aspects, Urbana, IL, October 24-27.
- ^ Ilter, K. (2000). Analysts expect no drastic change in Turco-Syrian relations. Turkish Daily News, 12 June.
- ^ Mideast Mirror (2000). Turkey's 'water weapon.' 14 (61) 29 March.
- ^ Technical Review Middle East. Syria and Iraq hold talks. July 31, 2001.
- ^ United Press International (2003). Turkish prime minister to visit Syria. 3 January.
- ^ Hafidh, H. (2003). Iraq wants to clinch water deal with Syria, Turkey. Environmental News Network. Updated 16 September.
|Agreement||Adana Agreement +|
|Area||789,000 km² (304,632.9 mi²) +|
|Climate||Semi-arid/steppe (Köppen B-type) +, Arid/desert (Köppen B-type) + and Humid mid-latitude (Köppen C-type) +|
|Geolocation||31° 24' 17.3531", 46° 54' 10.215"Latitude: 31.4048203|
Longitude: 46.9028375 +
|Issue||Negotiating an equitable allocation of the flow of the Euphrates River and its tributaries among the riparian states of the Tigris-Euphrates Basin. +|
|Key Question||How do issues of equity and development impact the identification of stakeholders in cases involving hydropower or other revenue generating water infrastructure? + and How does asymmetry of power influence water negotiations and how can the negative effects be mitigated? +|
|Land Use||industrial use +, urban- high density + and religious/cultural sites +|
|NSPD||Water Quantity +, Water Quality +, Governance + and Assets +|
|Population||53,909,200 million +|
|Stakeholder Type||Sovereign state/national/federal government +, Non-legislative governmental agency +, Industry/Corporate Interest + and Community or organized citizens +|
|Water Feature||Tigris River + and Euphrates River +|
|Water Project||Southeast Anatolia Development Project +|
|Water Use||Agriculture or Irrigation +, Domestic/Urban Supply + and Hydropower Generation +|
|Has subobjectThis property is a special property in this wiki.||Case Study of Transboundary Dispute Resolution: the Tigris-Euphrates Basin +, Case Study of Transboundary Dispute Resolution: the Tigris-Euphrates Basin + and Case Study of Transboundary Dispute Resolution: the Tigris-Euphrates Basin +|