Turkey's Approach to Utilization of the Euphrates and Tigris Rivers

By Tomanbay, Mehmet | Arab Studies Quarterly (ASQ), Spring 2000 | Go to article overview

Turkey's Approach to Utilization of the Euphrates and Tigris Rivers


Tomanbay, Mehmet, Arab Studies Quarterly (ASQ)


SINCE THE 1970S, BOTH TURKEY and Syria have pursued large-scale irrigation and hydro-energy projects on the Euphrates and Tigris Rivers and their tributaries. With the commencement of these large-scale projects, water has become a source of tension between the riparian states of the Euphrates-Tigris river basin. The concepts of 'co-operation' and 'conflict' became the basic actors of the international debates on the utilization of the two aforementioned transboundary water resources. The rapid implementation of the Turkey's Southeast Anatolia Project (GAP) accelerated the debates of co-operation and conflict on the issue. As one of the basic users of the Euphrates and the Tigris Rivers in the near future, Turkey's policy for utilizing the waters of these two rivers has become a major concern, especially for neighboring countries; it has also attracted attention of the academic, political and media circles in regard to the inter-state relations in the Middle East as well as in the world.

On the other hand, insufficient water availability, rapid population growth, and industrialization coupled with pollution have brought to the forefront the problem of water scarcity in the Middle East. Books, innumerable articles and reports have been written on this issue. In many studies Turkey with its snowy mountains and climate characterized by relatively abundant precipitation is perceived as holding the key to the solution for the Middle East water shortages. Many observers look at the Euphrates as a regional water resource capable of overcoming water shortages in other Middle Eastern countries. As a result of this false perception, it is difficult to assess realistically Turkey's national policy for the utilization the waters of the Euphrates-Tigris basin in international meetings.

A realistic national policy for water usage can only be formed based on accurate inventories of the water and land resources and the need for those resources. Therefore, updated and dependable data on water and land resources in Turkey will help us to understand and to assess realistically Turkey's national policy for the utilization of the waters of the Euphrates-Tigris basin.

Evaluation of the main reasons for the Turkish Government's design and implementation Southeast Anatolia Project (GAP) will give us the opportunity to survey the water and land inventory of the region as a whole, as well as Turkey in particular.

In this essay I will first concentrate on these factors, then focus on Turkey's national policy for utilizing the waters of the Euphrates-Tigris Basin. In this way, it will be possible to understand Turkey's approach to the utilization of the Euphrates and Tigris Rivers.

THE MOTIVATION FOR THE SOUTHEAST ANATOLIA PROJECT

The Southeast Anatolia Project is the largest and the most comprehensive regional development project ever implemented in Turkey. There are two reasons for Turkish Government's design and implementation of such a large project in the Southeast Anatolia. First, Turkey's major water and land resources are located in Southeast Anatolia, and Turkey aims to use these resources optimally for the local region as well as for Turkey as a whole. Second, Southeast Anatolia is the most backward region of Turkey. There are huge economic and social differences between this region and the rest of Turkey. For these crucial reasons, the Southeast Anatolia Project is being developed on the Euphrates and the Tigris Rivers and their tributaries, which originate in Turkey.

To elaborate further on these resources, Turkey's water potential and the economic situation of the Southeast Anatolia should be assessed.

TURKEY'S WATER BUDGET

In the water related theoretical literature there are commonly accepted limits for water richness and water shortages, which were designated by hydrologists and experts. [1] If we assess Turkey's water resources according to these limits it appears to be unrealistic to classify Turkey as a water-rich country. …

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