DEMANDS IN IRAQ
The Euphrates is the longest river in western Asia.
Arising near Mount Ararat at heights of around
4500 m near Lake Van, the Euphrates drops on
average 2 metres per kilometer of length in Turkey
and then crosses into Syria.
In Iraq, the Euphrates reaches a giant alluvial delta
at Ramadi where the elevation is only 53 m above
sea level. Further downstream, near Nasiriyah, the
river becomes a tangle of channels, some of which
drain into the shallow lake of Hammar as the
remainder joins the Tigris at Qurna. The Euphrates
has a very gentle gradient in Iraq.
The River Tigris, which is the second-largest river
in western Asia, originates near Lake Hazar
(elevation 1150 m) in eastern Turkey. The Tigris is
fed by several tributaries in Turkey. It forms the
Turkish–Syrian boundary for 32 km, and crosses
into Iraq. Within Iraq, the Tigris has several
tributaries which contribute significantly to the
water potential of the river. The combined
Euphrates and Tigris rivers are named Shatt-al-
Arab, forming a river almost a kilometer wide and
190 km long. Iran is a co-riparian of the Tigris–
Euphrates system by virtue of her contribution to
the River Tigris via the lesser Zab, Diyala and
The estimates of mean annual natural runoff of the
Euphrates and Tigris rivers are given in Table 1.
The characteristic feature that distinguishes the
hydrological regime of the Euphrates–Tigris river system
is the irregularity of flow both between and within years.
The annual precipitation in the Anatolian and Zagros
highlands exceeds 1000 mm. There are steep
differences between maximum and minimum monthly
flows, which for the Tigris are nearly 80-fold and for the
Euphrates 28-fold. The concentration of discharge over
the months of April and May causes not only extensive
spring flooding, but also the loss of much-needed water
required for irrigation and power generation purposes
during the summer season.
The hydrologic records (1946–1994) of
average annual flow for the Euphrates and
Tigris rivers are shown in Figure 2. At the
Turkish–Syrian border, for the Euphrates,
annual discharge values range from a
minimum flow of 14 km3/y (1961) to a
maximum of 57 km3/y (1969). The
discharge values for the Tigris at the Turkish
border dropped to 7 km3/y in 1961 and rose
to 34 km3/y in 1969 .
It seems that the anticipated combined demand for
water from transboundary rivers by riparian counties is
actually greater than the total volume of the river
system as could be seen from Table 4. Turkey started
the GAP project in the 1960s which is a group of
thirteen projects ( The full development of 22 dams and
19 hydropower plants). The mean natural flow of the
Euphrates is about 32 billion cubic metres (bcm) per
year. It is estimated that as much as 90 percent of the
total flow of the Euphrates is generated within Turkey,
with a further 10 percent produced by runoff from
Syria. Except in times of unusual rainfall, Iraq’s
contribution to the Euphrates water is almost nil.
Water use and water availability can be expressed in cubic •
metres per capita per year, which is total annual average
runoff in a country divided by population. When water
availability per capita is 500 m3/person per year or less, a
country is accepted as being beyond the ‘water barrier’ of
manageable capacity, which is the case for Jordan and
Palestine. The limit of 1000 m3/person per year indicates
chronic ‘scarcity’, while less than 1600 m3/person per year
is termed as water ‘stresses. For the real water-rich
countries of northern Europe and Canada, the water
availability is around
10 000 m3/person per year or more. Water availability in •
Turkey, Syria and Iraq is given in Table 6.
The total storage of the existing dams on the
Euphrates is 148.8 km3, or five times the river’s
average annual flow. On the Tigris, existing
storage totals more than double the average
annual flow of the Tigris. The values given in Table
4 represent the best estimates of the extent of
irrigable lands in Turkey, Syria and Iraq. At present
it is estimated the irrigated areas cover 202 000 ha
in south-eastern Turkey, 350 000 ha in Syria and
2.8 million ha in Iraq.
Many innovations may affect the water supply and
the use within the next four decades, the full
development scenario indicates a water deficiency
in the Euphrates basin (Table 5). This picture
signals a water shortage that will emerge some
time after 2020. The application of water-saving
techniques in irrigation could help to save 10–
20% of irrigation demand. Turkey has already
started using water-saving technologies by
switching to low-pressure pipe systems rather than
open canals and flumes.
The use of water-saving innovations requires
higher investments and necessitates education
of the farmers, which may take years to progress.
Nevertheless, once the full use of water is
reached, water-saving techniques become
compulsory as part of a scarcity regime. Water
pricing is one of the key issues that must be
introduced if efficiency of water use is targeted.
Properly applied, water pricing can not only bring
about some water saving opportunities but also
provide much-needed funds for improving
distribution systems. Conversely, a lack of water
pricing would encourage waste and improper use
of the water.
It is obvious that, in the full
development of the basin, the
independent undertakings of the
three riparian countries may bring
too many reservoirs into existence,
which may cause excessive
evaporation. Through full co-
ordination of river system operation
by the three countries, up to 7 km3/y
(or 50%) of the evaporation may be
The most important era of the negotiations on the
waters of the Euphrates–Tigris basin involved Joint
Economic Commission (JEC) meetings and Joint
Technical Committee (JTC) meetings. These
meetings were initiated in December 1980.
Although 16 JTC meetings were held between
1981 and 1992, no consensus could be achieved
for the settlement of disputes. The main argument
of Iraq during the negotiations was over its
‘acquired rights’ or ‘historical rights’ which stem
from the existing water installations and the
ancestral irrigation systems.
In 1995, ‘Three-Stage Plan for Optimum, Equitable
and Reasonable Utilization of Transboundary
Watercourses of the Euphrates–Tigris Basin', was
proposed, which involves: (1) compiling an
inventory of water resources; (2) compiling an
inventory of land resources; and (3) determining the
optimum total water demands of each country for
domestic, industrial and agricultural requirements.
Syria and Iraq stated that the Turkish three-stage
plan could not lead to an equitable and reasonable
solution. They accused Turkey of trying to seize the
largest portion of Euphrates waters, which should be
accepted as collective property. They insisted that
the Euphrates and Tigris are separate international
Problems Related to Water
The anticipated and declared demands of the •
riparian countries are greater than the total water
volume of the two rivers. Water is already becoming
a scarce commodity, as the 1999–2001 drought has
proven. There is a need to devise an arrangement for
using the waters of the Euphrates–Tigris river basin
in a rational, equitable and sustainable way.
Uncoordinated and independent actions of basin
countries may result in some difficult problems for
which remedies cannot easily be found. With proper
and coordinated planning and implementation,
however, many of those problems may be pre-
empted, eliminated or greatly minimized. Some of
the important problems of water resources
development and existing misconceptions are as
One of the more recent controversies about environmental •
problems was started in 2001 by a United Nations
Environment Program (UNEP) report which stated that,
between 1970 and 2000, 90% of the marshlands of
Mesopotamia, which originally covered an area of 15 000–
20 000 km2, had disappeared . A long-term recovery plan
requiring a holistic river basin approach based on the
ultimate goal of sustaining riverine ecology and in which
all Tigris–Euphrates riparian countries share the rivers’
water in a coordinated and equitable manner was called
for. Priority was to be given to allocating an adequate
amount of water to the wetlands, while water releases from
existing dams could be timed to natural flow patterns and
bring the marshlands back to life.
NEGOTIATION FRAMEWORKS IN THE EUPHRATES-
TIGRIS RIVER BASIN
Iraq was strongly opposed to examine the possibility •
of covering possible shortages of water supplied by
the Euphrates through diverting a part of the Tigris
River’s water to the Euphrates and insisted on
negotiating only the waters of the Euphrates, Syria
joined Iraq in advocating that the rivers be
considered separately. Hence, in 1972 and 1973 a
series of JTC meetings were held. The impounding
of both reservoirs, (The Tabaqa and Keban were
completed during this period (1974-1975)), in the
following two years escalated into a crisis in the
Spring of 1975 , a war over water was averted when
Saudi Arabia mediated that extra amounts of water
be released from Syria to Iraq.
Turkey refuses the downstream countries having the
rights of co -sovereignty on the waters of the upstream
country. The Turkish position is that international rivers
are only those that constitute a border between two or
more riparians. Turkey considers the Euphrates and
Tigris as a single Transboundary river system, which
crosses the common political border.
Advantages of Co-operation
There are distinct advantages if the basin countries •
come together and put forward plans for coordinated
development. Some of the areas of possible co-
• The waters of the Euphrates and Tigris can be •
utilized equitably and effectively, taking into account
seasonal and yearly variations in flow due to floods
• Conjunctive use of interconnected water and •
energy systems can be realized.
• Basin-wide management using remote sensing, •
geographical information systems (GIS) and
optimization technologies can promote optimal use
and water savings.
• Joint regional research institutes, training centres •
and pilot farms can be developed to exchange not
only engineers and technicians but also farmers.
• Water-augmenting techniques such as water •
harvesting, conjunctive use of surface and
groundwater sources, reuse of return water and,
if necessary, cloud seeding, can be studied,
encouraged and practiced.
• Demand management plans can be developed •
for municipal and irrigation water supplies,
especially for possible drought periods.
• Co-operative action may facilitate the •
achievement of environmental sustainability.
The overall objective of a Middle East water •
agreement is to provide sustainable utilization of
the region’s land and water.