• If you are citizen of an European Union member nation, you may not use this service unless you are at least 16 years old.

  • You already know Dokkio is an AI-powered assistant to organize & manage your digital files & messages. Very soon, Dokkio will support Outlook as well as One Drive. Check it out today!


Tigris and Euphrates Setting the Scene

Page history last edited by nixonbl@dukes.jmu.edu 12 years ago




Setting the Scene


     The Tigris and Euphrates Rivers are found in southwestern Asia, in an area also known Asia Minor and Transcaucasia. The Tigris and Euphrates rivers have been flowing for thousands of years and have been documented as being part of the start civilization (Reed). Over the years, archaeological discoveries have uncovered multiple irrigation systems that diverted portions of the rivers for farming, and civil uses. It was these early irrigation systems that brought together early societies that formed “agrarian” societies (Reed), and the land became better known as the “fertile crescent” due to the abundance of water and fertile soils.     


     Over time, more societies were formed from the growing populations, largely because of the growing advancement in agriculture. Over the course of numerous wars, empires, and religions, the southwest Asia continent was divided into different countries, with different rulers and governments. It may be within this statement that reveals the possible reasons for the water crisis. The three countries focused on regarding the water crisis for this region are Turkey, Syria, and Iraq, all of which have different political views, religious views, and their own agendas for the rivers expenditures. It has been within the last five decades that the water conflict, has become a water crisis between the three countries. It is here that the research for defining, and attempting to solve the problem of the Tigris and Euphrates water crisis will begin. Below in Figure 1, the blue lines trace the Tigris and Euhrates Rivers as they make their journey from Turkey, through Syria and Iraq, and finally ending at the Persian Gulf.



Figure 1: Tigris and Euphrates Map. The Tigris River  is the river highlighted on the top right and the Euphrates River is seen highlighted on the bottom left.  These rivers meet in southeastern Iraq to form the Shatt al-Arab River which empties into the Persian Gulf. Retrieved September 18, 2011, from http://ehsworldstudiesjackoboice.wikispaces.com/Mesopotamia+-+Tigris-Euphrates+River+Valley+(Current+Events


        The Euphrates River is the largest river in Western Asia (Euphrates). The river, roughly 2,800 kilometers in length, originates near Murat Su,Turkey and flows through the three countries of Turkey, Syria, and Iraq, joining the Tigris River in southeastern Iraq to form the Shatt al-Arab which continues south until it reaches the Persian Gulf. The rivers length is divided between the countries as follows: forty percent in Turkey, twenty-five percent in Syria, and thirty-five percent in Iraq (Euphrates). The Tigris River also originates in Turkey, with the water source being Lake Hazar located within the Taurus Mountains.  The Tigris River is roughly 1,850 kilometers in length, flowing through the lower southeastern part of Turkey, then between Turkey, Syria, and Iraq to form a natural border between these countries.  The river continues through Iraq and eventually comes together with the Euphrates River to form the Shatt al-Arab which finally empties into the Persian Gulf.  Twenty-three percent of the Tigris River can be found in Turkey while the remaining seventy-seven percent can be found in Iraq.  While Syria has not been allocated a percentage of the Tigris River, the Syrian community still withdrawals water from the river.


     The flow rates of both the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers are greatly affected by the drought season.  This seasonal element results in a significant yearly fluctuation in the flow rate which make it difficult to estimate what the next annual flow will be.  The downstream nations of Syria and Iraq feel that Turkey is adding to the decreased water flow problem by withholding too much of the rivers’ water within its borders.  During the drought season the issue of water scarcity becomes more apparent and more of the blame for the lack of water flow is directed in the direction of Turkey causing tensions between these three nations to rise.  Turkey, being the most upstream and due to its military advantage over the other two nations, has no motive or reason towards working out an agreement to increase the amount of water that it releases to these downstream nations and considers the parts of the rivers in their country to be “Turkish Rivers”.  Their main explanation for this way of thinking is that the rivers are transboundry and the water is an asset to their land, to be used however they please. “Suleyman Demirel (President of Turkey) at the 1992 dedication of the Ataturk Dam stated, ‘Neither Syria nor Iraq can lay claim to Turkey’s rivers any more than Ankara could claim [Iraq’s] oil … The water resources are Turkey’s, the oil resources are theirs.  We don’t say we share their oil resources, and they can’t say they share our water resources." (ISAT)


Water Deficit


     Due to the ongoing water allocation disagreements between Turkey, Syria, and Iraq, there is still an insufficient amount of water availability for the parties involved within the Tigris and Euphrates River basin. The current water withdrawal surpasses the current Euphrates water supply by 17.3 billion cubic meters a year, and surpasses the Tigris water supply by 5.8 billion cubic meters a year, per the article titled “ The Tigris-Euphrates Controversy and the Role of International Law” from 1989 (Water Deficit). According to Figure 2, the consumption targets, which is the amount of water each of the three countries needs to have access to per capita, far surpasses the amount of water potential, which is the water amount that is available by the rivers within the basin. 


Figure 2: These graphs put into perspective the amount of water demanded from both the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers (blue bar,) and the actual amount of water that the rivers are able to supply (red bar). Numbers retrieved and adapted from the "Water Deficit 2003" article.


     There is not enough river water flow to meet the needs of the three countries within this region. With an ongoing population growth, hydroelectricity demand, and agriculture growth, the amount of water availability will continue to decrease as the amount of demand escalates. Without treaties, policies, water management, and water education, the people living within this basin may develop a far greater problem than mere water allocation. In Figure 3  below obtained from UNICEF, Iraq not only stresses the issue of limited water availability for the people, but also the fact that some may not even have access clean water at all.


Figure 3: This table depicts the accesibility to water of drinking quality in Iraq.



     Currently in southern Iraq, the Shat al Arab river is severely polluted by sewage and weapon production waste, and extreme salinity levels. So severe that the animals in this area do not drink from the river, and those that do are diseased. Without fair negotiations between all three parties involved in the Tigris and Euphrates River basin water conflict, a fair solution cannot be reach. There have been bilateral treaties and policies developed, however there is no record of a tri-country or tripartite agreement. Ongoing unilateral developments, religious differences, lack of communication, and insufficient water management have contributed to unsuccessful plans and options in the past. Iraq's lack of governmental representation over the past few years has placed them in a desperate situation. The current water demand outstrips the existing water inlet flow. Regardless of the political or religious beliefs, and ongoing controversies, the human population is growing within this region which will continue to increase the water resource demand on the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. The crisis in this area is increasing in magnitude everyday, and may soon escalate into an international need for intervention. Water is a human right, and without water a human cannot survive.





<- Back
Next ->

             <- Problem Overview          Climate Change and Drought ->


Site Navigation 




Comments (0)

You don't have permission to comment on this page.