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An analysis of the causes of water crisis in the Euphrates-Tigris river basin


The Euphrates-Tigris river basin now faces severe water crisis that have been fueled by national development projects in a mainly water-scarce region. Increasing demand-induced scarcity is further complicated by a history of international tensions between the three riparian nations of Turkey, Syria and Iraq and has occurred in a changing climate. Water is a critical security issue for these nations. This essay analyses the causes of the water crises by reviewing the historical hydropolitical international relations of the region.

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  1. Turkey, Syria and Iraq are the major riparians in the Euphrates-Tigris river system. Iran, also, contributes about 9 % of the Tigris river flow.

  2. Shlomi Dinar, “Geopolitics of Hydropolitics: Negotiations over Water in the Middle East and North Africa,” SAIS Working Paper Series Working Paper, No.: WP/01/03, (2003), p. 9.

  3. See Kibaroglu, Building a Regime for the Waters of the Euphrates-Tigris River Basin, p. 222.

  4. The Treaty of Friendship and Good Neighbourly Relations between Iraq and Turkey, Protocol on Flow Regulation of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers and of their tributaries, United Nations, Legislative Texts and Treaty Provisions Concerning the Utilisation of International Rivers for Other Purposes Than Navigation, UN/Doc. ST/LEG/SER. B/12, 1963.

  5. Kibaroglu, Building a Regime for the Waters of the Euphrates-Tigris River Basin, p. 170.

  6. Ibid., p. 174.

  7. Ibid., pp. 197–199.

  8. Ibid., pp. 209–211.

  9. Disputes over this province emerged in the 1930s; when following a plebiscite held at the end of the French mandate, Hatay became part of Turkey, although this was disputed by Syria. See Kibaroglu and Kibaroglu (2009).

  10. The regional context in which water issues may or may not lead to inter-state conflict, and the role non-water issues played (i.e. territorial claims, support for separatist movements, security issues in general) are analysed, for example, by N. Beshorner (1992/93), Water and Instability in the Middle East, Adelphi Paper 273, Winter; Scheumann (2003); Lorenz and Erickson (1999).

  11. Article IV of the Helsinki Rules on the Uses of the Waters of International Rivers, and Article 5 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of Non-Navigational Uses of International Watercourses are dedicated to the principle of equitable and reasonable utilisation and participation. In addition, these principles of the Helsinki Rules and the Convention enumerate the factors relevant to equitable and reasonable utilisation in Article V and Article 6 of these documents, respectively. See ILA, Report of the Fifty-second Conference Held at Helsinki, 484 et seq. (1966); General Assembly Resolution 51/229 of 21 May 1997 (Convention on the Law of the Non-Navigational Uses of International Watercourses).

  12. For further details on the three-stage plan, see Kibaroglu (2002).

  13. The final communiqués of the 16 Joint Technical Committee meetings were reviewed with the permission of officials of the State Hydraulic Works and revealed the above arguments—on file with the authors.

  14. For the incentives for cooperation resulting from the linking of inter-sectoral and intra-water sector issues, see LeMarquand (1977) and Dombrowsky (2010).

  15. Protocol on Matters Pertaining to Economic Cooperation Between the Republic of Turkey and the Syrian Arab Republic, United Nations Treaty Series 87/12171, 17/7/1987.

  16. Law No14 of 1990, ratifying the joint minutes concerning the provisional division of the waters of the Euphrates River, see Accessed 30 May 2010.

  17. Even though, the riparians had managed to build an institutional framework, namely the Joint Technical Committee (1980–92), they couldn’t succeed to empower it with clear and jointly agreed mandate. Instead, they continued unilateral and uncoordinated water and land development ventures. Thus, a series of diplomatic crisis erupted since the early 1970s.

  18. “MIDDLE EAST: Talking about climate change”, 27/12/2012,

  19. “Turkey, Syria, Iraq sign MoU for use of water resource”, 04/09/2009, Also; Turkey –Syria Relations

  20. N. Shamout, “Syria Faces an Imminent Food and Water Crisis”,, 24/06/2014

  21. A. Aso-el, “Irak ve Suriye deniz suyu içecek”,, 11/07/2014


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Correspondence to Aysegül Kibaroglu.

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Kibaroglu, A., Maden, T.E. An analysis of the causes of water crisis in the Euphrates-Tigris river basin. J Environ Stud Sci 4, 347–353 (2014).

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