Middle East: Water wars or cooperation ahead?


18 November 2021

IZTECH Lecturer, Water Policy Association and Hydropolitics Academy Center Director Dursun Yıldız pointed out that approximately 884 million people in the world have trouble accessing water and underlined that the sharing of water throughout history has also caused tension.

Dursun Yıldız, Director of Hydropolitics Academy Center, presented Turkey's water policy and the water threat facing the Middle East (UHA) to Ataner YÜCE from the International News Agency.

Dursun Yıldız said that with this decision of the United Nations dated 28 July 2010, the right to access clean drinking water and sanitation is defined as a basic human right to benefit from life and all human rights.

Emphasizing that attention has been drawn to the water scarcity  facing humanity under the name of World Water Day every year since 1993, Yıldız said that according to UN data, approximately 884 million people in the world do not have access to safe drinking water and  by 2050, this is expected to rise to more than two billion,

Dursun Yıldız drew attention to the fact that this growing threat, especially in recent years, also triggered social and political developments, and that the issue of water sharing, which has caused wars and conflicts throughout history, also played an important role in shaping the foreign policy of countries, and that one of those countries had a wide range of countries such as the Euphrates and the Tigris. He stated that Turkey is the starting point of two rivers, which are the lifeblood of geography.

Water in the Middle East  is on the way to securitization

Reminding that Turkey had complained to organizations such as the Arab League and the Organization of the Islamic Conference in previous years due to its water policies, Director of Hydropolitics Academy Center Dursun Yıldız summarized the importance of water for the region with the words “water for peace and prosperity”

Yıldız stated that water cooperation issues  has fallen off the agenda due to the conflicts currently taking place in the region and warned that the issue may turn into a vital problem under increasing climate change effect and lack of confidence. Water can be  sharply securitized

Underlining that in the post-conflict period, controlling and utilizing water and energy resources in Syria and Iraq will be a matter of debate, Dursun Yıldız said later. He stated that the effect of climate change in North-East Syria is being studied at the Hydropolitical Academy and reached some results that water quality and quantity is under threat due to contamination and climate change.

 Water Wars  Ahead?

Dursun Yıldız, Director of the Hydropolitics Academy Center, who is the author of the book "So-Called Water Wars ", said, "Global powers continue their hegemony plans using the strategic importance of water. On April 5, 2021, US Vice President Kamala Harris kept the issue on the agenda by declaring that "Wars have been due to oil so far, but will be due to water soon".

“Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stated on water wars also released an Intelligence report in her term. There are some hot regions in the world regarding conflicts from water. Some global strategy centers are constantly working on these regions.” he explained.

 Dursun Yıldız reminded that there is always the risk of water-related conflicts in regions where water resources are limited, and expressed this risk with the words "There will be tensions regarding water in the future. There may even be a war."

Yildiz said that there is a point that should be taken into account and said, "It is necessary to take a precise  look at whether this will be a war directly caused by water conflict or a war waged by using water tension as a tool."

Dursun Yıldız stated that there is already a war of sharing water resources between cooperates on a global scale commercially and between countries geopolitically.

“There is also the war of the poor for access to water and sanitation in Global South. In which war in the world, an average of 1000 people, most of them children, die every day. But we know that  1000 people who do not have access to healthy and adequate water die every day," he said.

Is water used as a weapon in wars?

Yıldız, Director of Hydropolitics Academy Center, underlined that the strategic importance of water comes to the fore especially in conflict zones and that the parties strive to be the front that keeps water under control in wars.

Emphasizing that organizations such as ISIS are aware of the strategic importance of water, Dursun Yıldız said, "Water resources and the dams that provide the opportunity to control them are the most important structures that are tried to be controlled within the war operation plans. Their control brings a great strategic advantage both during and after the war. "We have seen this strategic advantage in the regions tried to be controlled by ISIS in Syria and then in the new borders that were tried to be created in Northern Syria," he said.

Yıldız: Turkey don't use water as a weapon

Reminding that the issue of water sharing caused tensions between Turkey and its neighbors in the 80s and 90s, Dursun Yıldız said that at the center of the tension was the Southeastern Anatolia Project (GAP), which envisages the establishment of 22 dams and 19 hydroelectric power plants in the Euphrates and Tigris basins of Turkey. He stated that the project, which includes the Atatürk Dam built on the river, has escalated tensions with Syria, which is worried that Turkey will reduce the water supply.

Stating that "Turkey has never used water as a weapon," Yıldız pointed out that the GAP is not only  a regional development project in Turkey but also  an opportunity to provide  water and food security to the whole  region  

Dursun Yıldız also drew attention to the fact that Turkey has developed many projects on water transfer such as "Peace Water", which aims to transfer water to the Middle East, was prepared during Turgut Özal's prime ministry period of time, and this project was not accepted because the countries did not trust each other and didn't want to depend on another country for water. Lack of confidence between riparian states and conflict intense characteristics of the region hinder regional cooperation that can be developed based on water, food, and energy security nexus approach.

Will Turkey become a water-poor country?

Stating that the amount of usable water per capita in Turkey, which is located in the semi-arid climate zone, is approximately 1,300 cubic meters per year, Hydropolitics expert Dursun  Yıldız said, that "This situation puts Turkey among the countries suffering from water stress. As of 2030, the amount of water per capita in Turkey is expected to decrease to 1100 cubic meters per year. This means that Turkey categorically moves towards the water-poor countries class," he said.

Dursun Yıldız explained the situation of Turkey, "Turkey is not a water-rich country. Actually, it is not poor in water either. Water resources, population, and industrialization are scattered in different regions in Turkey. Internal migration from regions with more water to regions with limited water continues. For this reason, Turkey is a country that has to use its water resources rationally and efficiently".

Listing topics such as climate change, migration from rural to urban areas, and pollution as threats to Turkey's freshwater resources, Yıldız said:

"Well, what needs to be done in Turkey

Turkey had initiated institutional infrastructure creation and legal regulation studies in water management ten years ago. In this context, she prepared plans such as the National Water Plan, Basin Management Plans, Drought Action Plan, etc.. Great progress has been made in planning in Water Management, but the practice is not yet widespread

 Strong new institutional structures need to be formed at the basin scale. The institutional structure of water user organizations is weak and participatory water management is not settled effectively. Social awareness has not increased how we like, Turkey's water management is a little late, especially in preparing for climate change. Water users should change their water usage habits and we need a paradigm shift in the water management approach considering changing conditions. "

News: Ataner YÜCE- Correspondent- National News Agency

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