Analysis of the situation of the Euphrates-Tigris-Shatt Al Arab river system and possible solutions of the devastation of the ecosystem


  • Matija Kordić
  • Miloš Milanković



GAP Euphrates Flow


International waters are the most problematic area of water management because there comes to a collision of rights between the riparian’s, and the most complicated is the problem of trans-boundary rivers. The Euphrates-Tigris-Shatt Al Arab river system is the largest water resource in the Western Asia with a topographic catchment of more than 900,000 km2 from the Taurus-Zagros Mountain Range to the Persian Gulf and is populated by around 54 million people. The riparian’s: Turkey, Syria and Iraq have different views on the resources of these rivers. Turkey doesn’t agree with the term “sharing waters”. They see it as inadequate. For them the Euphrates is a trans-boundary river that is under theirs sovereignty as long as it is within its territory. Iraq and Syria view it as an “international river” that should be treated as a shared entity. According to Turkey the Euphrates and Tigris form a single water basin, but Iraq and Syria consider them as two separate basins (UN-ESCWA and BGR, 2013). Turkey says that in order to reach an allocation, negotiations should include all available water resources, but Syria and Iraq disagree. On the 1997 UN Convention on the Law of Non-navigational Use of International Watercourses Turkey was the only Euphrates Basin country that voted against. If they had signed, that could give riparian’s a veto right over their developments plans. In 1987 Damask and Ankara signed a protocol which guaranteed Syria 500 m3/s of flow on the Euphrates River, which was not respected during the filling of Ataturk Dam in 1990. The flow of the river has been cut in half by 2010 on the border with Syria and by 2/3 for Iraq since the development of the GAP project. In 1977 Turkey initiated the Southeastern Anatolia Project (GAP in original) to harness the water of the Tigris and the Euphrates for energy and agricultural production thus providing an economic boost to south-eastern Anatolia by creating 4 million new jobs. The project covers an area of 74,000 km2 and is populated by around 7 million people. When completed, there will be 22 dams and 19 hydroelectric power plants on these Rivers. The plan is to produce 27,367 GWh of hydroelectric energy per year and to double irrigable farmland to 1.8 million ha (UN-ESCWA and BGR, 2013). Today almost half of GAP has been fulfilled. This led to increase in salinity and serious changes of the ecosystem and river flow regimes. This caused a discord from the riparian’s, NGOs and activists worldwide. International experts think that GAP when finished is going to consume more than 50% of the Euphrates and about 14% of the Tigris. To show this two periods have been selected. First period is from 1938-1974 and it represents the natural flow of the Euphrates River before the construction of the Keban Dam in Turkey and Lake Assad in Syria and the second is from 1974-1998 as the first phase of the evolving infrastructure on the Euphrates basin. The average flow was measured in Jarablat (Syria) and for the first period is around 950 m3/s and for the second around 800 m3/s, than Hit (Iraq) decreased from 970 m3/s to 720 m3/s and Hindijah (Iraq) from 630 m3/s to 470 m3/s. We can see a pattern and a decrease in flow of around 150 m3/s. Of course, regulation of the Euphrates can protect downstream countries from floods and droughts. The effects of water pollution are mostly visible downstream in Syria because Turkey diverts water from the main course of the Euphrates at Lake Ataturk. The water goes through the Urfa tunnels to the Urfa-Harran agricultural area in the upper Jallab/Balikh and Khabour sub-basins. The return flows from irrigation are large in quantity but poor in quality and they enter Syria mostly through the Jallab River near Tell Abyad and enter the Euphrates through the Balikh River around 200 km from the Syrian-Turkey border. This shows us why the Euphrates water quality has remained almost unaffected by the agricultural development in Turkey on the Syrian-Turkey border. There should come to a conjoined look from the riparian’s on the rights of the ecosystem and the serious damage that is being done to it, for the sake of the greater good and the legal obligations of the riparian’s between themselves. This is extremely difficult especially now with the rising political problems between Turkey and Syria. International experts in all fields relevant to this problem should meet and discuss this problem and enforce laws that will stick and solve the problem and save this fragile ecosystem. The most important thing should be the environment but we should not look the other way for the needs of the riparian’s and their development too. So very important would be the research and potential of all available resources and their combined usage. There should be a good monitoring network of the underground and surface waters and calculation of the regime, balance and reserves and the amounts of water the riparian’s need, then determining the connection of overall water flow because of the circulation of pollution. Then, there should be an assessment of geothermal potential of the area and its possible usage considering the North and East Anatolian Fault Zone. For example for the producing of electricity we could use the solar or geothermal energy, the energy of the wind and the energy of biomass and use as many of them individually or together. For irrigation where there are underground waters we could use a variety of methods, such as „AGRONET“ or drip irrigation technique to decrease the usage of surface waters and their pollution. We could even use the polluted waters to produce energy by constructing a hydroelectric power plant in the area where polluted waters are flowing and after or in it there could also be a water treatment plant. Polluted waters should be monitored and diverted into one water course which should be regulated by a hydro-isolator securing the ground beneath and on the sides of this new course.


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Issa, I.E., Al-Ansari, N.A., Sherwany, G. and Knutsson, S. (2014) Expected Future of Water Resources within Tigris-Euphrates Rivers Basin, Iraq. Journal of Water Resource and Protection, 6, 421-432.

Kibaroglu (2002) Building a Regime for the Waters of the Euphrates-Tigris River Basin, London, The Hague, Kluwer Academic Publishers.

Stevanović Z., 2011. Menadžment podzemnih vodnih resursa, Faculty of Mining and Geology, Belgrade (in Serbian)

UN-ESCWA and BGR (United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia; Bundesanstalt für Geowissenschaften und Rohstoffe). 2013. Inventory of Shared Water Resources in Western Asia. Beirut.




How to Cite

Kordić, M., & Milanković, M. (2016). Analysis of the situation of the Euphrates-Tigris-Shatt Al Arab river system and possible solutions of the devastation of the ecosystem. Geology, Geophysics and Environment, 42(1), 83.