How war, drought, and dam management impact water supply in the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers


The fast-paced conflicts in the Middle East can disrupt management and supply of water, particularly on dams and barrages along the Tigris and Euphrates rivers that have experienced threats or changes in sovereignty. Water supply is also under pressure from upstream water management, drought, and structural decline. In this research, we used a satellite-based algorithm, the normalized difference water index (NDWI), to monitor changes in the extent of surface reservoirs (1985-present). We compared the timeline of reservoir fluctuations with the timeline of events related to conflicts, droughts, and dam management. Our results show that the most sudden changes in water supply occurred during events related to conflict, but conflict was not often a cause of the greatest absolute changes to reservoir area. Though not as precise as on-the-ground information, satellite data can give insights to water supply when conflict has disrupted the flow of information or restricted on-the-ground data collection.

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The authors would like to acknowledge Nadhir Al-Ansari of Luleå University of Technology for his helpful email communications while researching and writing this paper.

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Correspondence to Mejs Hasan.

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Hasan, M., Moody, A., Benninger, L. et al. How war, drought, and dam management impact water supply in the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. Ambio 48, 264–279 (2019).

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  • Conflict
  • Euphrates
  • NDWI
  • Satellites
  • Tigris
  • Water