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Dispute over the Euphrates and Tigris rivers
The primary cause of the disputes over the Euphrates and Tigris rivers lie in Turkey. In 1977, Turkey announced plans for the region’s biggest water development project ever, the South-eastern Anatolia Project (GAP), which included 22 dams and 19 hydropower projects. GAP is intended to provide irrigation, hydropower and socio-economic development. The project area encompasses south-eastern Turkey, around the headlands of the Euphrates and Tigris rivers, and covers approximately 10% of Turkey’s total population and territory. The project is designed to harness the vast, untapped water potential of the area. In 2005, the natural flow arising in Turkey was 28.3BCM, 89% of the natural flow of 31.8BCM. The balance – 3.5BCM or 11% – arises in Syria. The Euphrates is the main source of water for 27 million people across three countries. The Ataturk Dam in Turkey can hold over two years equivalent of the entire natural flow of the Euphrates.
By 2003, hydropower production was 96% of capacity. However, the major impact on downstream water resources will only be felt in the coming years. The irrigation programme is years behind schedule. Current irrigation diversions from the Euphrates in Turkey are only 20% of the planned levels. Syria, too, has major plans to double the area irrigated by the Euphrates. By 2013, the flow into Iraq had . The dwindling quantity, exacerbated by drought conditions in the 2000s, had already led to a movement of people who depend on the river. As mentioned above, the water-sharing arrangements currently in force – that Turkey will release to Syria a minimum of 15.7BCM per year and Syria will release to Iraq 9.1BCM – are well below recent use levels in Iraq of 15BCM. The lack of cooperation between the three riparians has prevented the development of an integrated water plan for the entire basin and creates particular risks for Iraq as the downstream riparian of a diminishing and increasingly uncertain flow.
|Basins||Total available conventional water 2016 (MCM)||Water resources projections in 2050 (MCM)||Total projected demand 2050 (MCM)||Projected deficits in 2050 (MCM)|
|Barada & awaj basin||881||458||1255||797|
|Dajleh & Khabour Basin||2207||1944||4463||2519|
Table 1. Estimated year of depletion of Euphrates river water.
 Ward, C. and Ruckstuhl, S. 2017. Water scarcity, climate change and conflict in the Middle East. Securing livelihoods, building peace. London: I.B. Tauris