Experts note that, when it comes to water, the Tigris and Euphrates are almost as often fought over as the Nile, but the fact is that these two rivers have more than an adequate amount of water for the three countries they run through -- Turkey, Iraq and Syria.
These same experts note that it is due to the inefficient use of water by both Iraq and Syria that more than half of the water from these rivers pours into the Persian Gulf.
Professor Mehmet Dalar from Abant İzzet Baysal University's department of international relations says that 20 billion of the Euphrates' 36 billion cubic meters of water, and a full 20-30 billion of the Tigris' 45 billion cubic meters of water, pour completely unused into the sea.
İbrahim Erdoğan from the Faculty of Economics and Administrative Sciences at Balıkesir University -- an institution known for its research on transnational water resources -- asserts that, in fact, the Tigris and Euphrates posses more water than Turkey, Iraq and Syria even have a need for.
Ruled by dictatorial regimes for many years, neither Iraq nor Syria responded positively to calls from Turkey to use water from these rivers in smart, optimal ways. Instead, policies from these countries turned these waters into a significant source of tension and problems.
Professor Timuçin Kodaman from Süleyman Demirel University's Faculty of Economics and Administrative Sciences says if the sharing of the waters of the Tigris and the Euphrates were to develop parallel to regional levels of democracy, current problems could certainly be transcended with ease. He adds that these two rivers could even turn into guarantors of peace for the larger region.
In the meantime, neither the United Nations nor other significant international organizations have been able to come to mutual agreements on the sharing of water resources. While some countries take advantage of river water that runs through more than just their own country, other countries accept such waters as being “international.”
According to a study undertaken by the UN'S Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) and the German Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources (BGR), there are 263 transboundary rivers in the world and more than 300 aquifers which flow through multiple countries.
This same study underscores the importance of transboundary waters, such as the Tigris and the Euphrates, in terms of the opportunities they actually provide for unity. At the same time, the study notes that when cooperation is not achieved over such waters, they can wind up introducing clashes, pollution and excessive salinization.
Over the past 25 years, four essential accords have been signed on the subjects of the Tigris and the Euphrates, which provide water to an area larger than 900 square kilometers and a life source to more than 54 million people.
According to the Protocol of Economic Cooperation signed by Turkey and Syria in 1987, Turkey agreed to allow 500 cubic meters of water to flow into Syria per second.
Afterward, the Turkish-Syrian Strategic Cooperation Council accord signed in 2009, in line with already-developing relations between the two countries at that time, aimed to increase the quality of water as well as the number of shared water pumping stations and dams.
An accord reached that same year between Turkey and Iraq called for the sharing of hydrological and meteorological information between the two countries as well as cooperation between water resource experts.
Dalar notes that if these three countries that share shorelines with the Tigris and the Euphrates were to sit down in good faith with one another, then many problems linked to these rivers would be eliminated. He asserts that the real and biggest problem lies simply in the lack of effective and productive sharing of water resources.
He also says that though Turkey has worked to solve the problem of sharing water through technical paths, the other two countries used the rivers in the past as a tool for political maneuvering.
According to the study, the quality of the waters of the Tigris and the Euphrates as they run through Iraq and Syria is fast declining due to pollution and salinization. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan also notes that one-third of the water running through Syria winds up evaporating.
Erdoğan says the dependence on agriculture for survival in countries of the region means these problems are not getting solved and that this problem has compounded trust issues between the region's countries.
Another point of conflict between the three countries when it comes to the Tigris and the Euphrates concerns the status of the basin formed by the two rivers. While Turkey insists that there is just one basin -- formed by the Shatt al-Arab River, which is created by the union of the Tigris and Euphrates -- Iraq and Syria insist that there are two different basins formed by the two rivers.
And while Turkey also insists that talks and accords need to include the waters of the Asi River (Orontes), Syria opposes this. In the same way, Iraq insists that any agreements on these matters are not to include the issue of waters flowing from Iran onto Iraqi land.
Erdoğan expresses certainty that there is no problem concerning the rivers that cannot be solved as long as the three countries sit down and sincerely work on the issue, though he notes that Iraq and Syria always bring water demands greater than their actual needs to meetings about the Tigris and the Euphrates.
Kodaman says that in order for the two rivers to turn into a source of peace rather than conflict, regional conflicts must come to an end and democracy must be fostered.
But as he sees it, there is no war on the immediate horizon over the waters of these two critical rivers, and he adds that if Turkey increases its soft power, any risk of war would be completely eliminated.
The prime minister says that while Turkey follows more effective policies regarding the rivers compared to Iraq and Syria, it still lags behind global standards and needs more effective mid and long-term planning on water usage.
As for Dalar, he notes that Turkey's very ambitious Southeastern Anatolia Project (GAP) has only been able to achieve around 10-12 percent of its goals for irrigation and around 50-60 percent of its goals for dam construction.
Kodaman additionally stresses that Turkey's water usage projects cannot be called very productive, as the country has not been able to deduce just how much water it actually has.
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