TURKEY’S TRANSBOUNDARY WATERCOURSES AND THE EUPHRATES-TIGRIS BASIN
Prof. Ünal Öziş, Dr. Yalçın Özdemir
Dokuz Eylül University, Faculty of Engineering , Civil Engineering Department TR-35160 Buca, Izmir, TURKEY firstname.lastname@example.org
Transboundary watercourses provide roughly 70 km /year or 40 % of the gross water potential originating in Turkey; the Euphrates-Tigris basin represents about 4/5th of this figure. Development projects in such basins, including the Southeastern Anatolian Project (G.A.P.), basically comply with U.N.’s principles of equitable and reasonable use. Moreover, dams in Turkey provide significant benefits to downstream countries; such as sediment retention, flood mitigation and temporarily low flow augmentation. The average water potential of Euphrates and Tigris in Turkey is around 32 km /y and 24 km /y, respectively, including the tributaries flowing directly to downstream countries. Ultimately, under average conditions, about 40 % in Euphrates and 65 % in Tigris will continue to flow towards downstream countries. However, because of the significant stochastic variation of discharges in spite of the huge reservoirs in Turkey, the amount of water in any allocation agreement should be set according to different levels of probabilities. The water potential of the transboundary Euphrates-Tigris basin is quoted with large differences according to various sources; hence the determination of the accurate water potential is an essential prerequisite for any allocation among riparian states and eventual diversions to other middle-eastern countries. Keywords: Euphrates, Tigris, transboundary watercourse, Middle-East, hydropolitics.
More than 200 watercourses in the world are of ‘transboundary’ and/or ‘boundary forming’ nature; they cover almost half of the continents. The 1997 U.N.-Convention use the unfortunate, misleading term ‘international’ for these watercourses, although they have been called ‘transboundary’ watercourses during several decades of preceding drafts and discussions. The term ‘multinational’ watercourse could have been a rational compromise, if the expression ‘national’ were to be maintained in the terminology.
Most of the transboundary and/or boundary-forming watercourses cause often conflicts of interest among the riparian countries, and around 300 treaties between various states have been so far concluded for the use of these watercourses (Biswas 1994).The world’s renewable annual water potential per capita was in the order of 7,000 3 m /y/capita at the turn of the century, but its distribution in time and space is highly varying so that several countries, including those in the Middle-East, have potentials well below the world’s average. As an example, the domestic water potential was 2,900 m3
/y/capita for Turkey,500 m3
/y/capita for Syria, and 1,400 m3
/y/capita for Iraq, when only waters originating within the country are considered. The rapid population growth in middle-eastern countries on one hand, the qualitative deterioration of fresh water resources on the other hand, significantly accelerate the water scarcity in these countries, to be still worsened by anticipated negative effects of climate change processes.
In such comparisons, the figures will be misleading, when waters originating in upstream countries are also taken into account. The inclusion of discharges of the Euphrates and its tributaries, the Afrin tributary of Orontes from Turkey, and Upper Orontes from Lebanon, would increase the water potential of Syria to 3,000 m3
/y/capita. Similarly, the inclusion of the discharges of Euphrates from Turkey and Syria, Tigris and tributaries from Turkey and Iran, would increase the water potential of Iraq to 5,200 m3
/y/capita (Öziş, 1997). Although the domestic water potential of Turkey appears to be quite high when compared to her neighbors, it is less than half of the world’s average; and its distribution in time and space is so unbalanced, that Turkey can beneficially control only two thirds of her water potential. Turkey is confronted by pressure from the outside, primarily related to the Euphrates-Tigris basin, although she voted (with China and Burundi) against the 1997 Convention of United Nations, requiring several permissions and restrictions, beyond the ‘equitable and reasonable use’ and ‘causing no significant harm’ principles. In this context, Turkey has to put utmost emphasis in evaluating her necessities, opportunities and foreign policy with regard to transboundary water courses.
The development of land and water resources in Turkey causes worries in downstream countries with regard to an anticipated decrease in quantity and deterioration in quality of the water. These are especially related to the implementation of the Southeastern Anatolia Project (Turkish acronym: G.A.P.) in the Euphrates-Tigris basin, where Turkey is the upstream riparian in both main rivers. The worries are based on:
(a) evaporation losses from reservoir surfaces, created by large dams in order to regulate beneficially the highly varying discharges of Euphrates & Tigris and control the floods;
(b) the diversion to and consumption by large irrigation systems in the basin; and
(c) substantial urban and industrial water supply requirements in the region.
On the other hand, dams in Turkey provide significant benefits to downstream countries as well; such as sediment retention, flood mitigation, temporarily low flow augmentation. Moreover, development projects in such basins, including the G.A.P., basically comply with U.N.’s principles of equitable and reasonable use. In fact, the Mesopotamian part of the middle-eastern water crisis appears to be an irrelevantly exaggerated problem, compared to other conflicts in the region. However, water allocation disputes among riparians on one hand, water diversion issues from Tigris to Euphrates and eventually from Euphrates to the neighboring Jordan basin on the other hand, put the Euphrates-Tigris basin in the foreground of international interests.
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