TIGRIS AND EUPHRATES RIVERS AND WATER 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 Karun rivers. 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 availability 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 saved. 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 rivers. Problems Related to Water Utilization 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 follows. Environmental Problems— Mesopotamian Marshlands 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- operation are: • 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 and droughts. • 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.
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