Water: source of life and conflict in the Land of Rivers

(by Joris Leverink, via ROARMag)

Iraq: Kurmashia Marsh: February 18, 2004: A Marsh Arab poles his canoe through Kirmashiya Marsh in southern Iraq.
Iraq: Kurmashia Marsh: February 18, 2004: A Marsh Arab poles his canoe through Kirmashiya Marsh in southern Iraq.

Where oil is widely considered to be one of the main causes for the region’s instability — mainly because it drew imperialist powers to the region that eagerly supported local dictators to ensure continued and unlimited access to the precious liquid — another potential source of conflict is often overlooked. Water, the first and foremost source of life in the barren desert regions of the Middle East, which allowed for the world’s first civilizations to develop on the fertile floodplains between the Euphrates and Tigris rivers, is becoming ever more scarce, and the struggles to safeguard a fair share are growing fiercer by the day. […]

On several occasions over the past decades local development projects on the Euphrates and Tigris rivers have brought the three neighboring states Turkey, Syria and Iraq to the brink of war. When in 1990 Turkey blocked the flow of the Euphrates for nine days to fill the reservoir of the Atatürk dam, Iraq massed troops on its border and threatened to bomb the dam. Nowadays, tensions remain high as yet another Turkish mega-dam is about to be completed — the Ilisu dam on the Tigris river — which will severely reduce the water flow to Iraq and destroy thousands of years of cultural and historical heritage at home. […]

Topping the list of concerns of many local and international campaigns against the construction of the Ilisu dam is the fate of the town of Hasankeyf. The town and its surroundings are home to numerous archaeological sites — some of which remain unexplored — that date back more than 12,000 years. The ruins of an 11th century bridge mark the spot where the Silk Road once crossed the river Tigris and the thousands of human-made caves that dot the mountains bare witness to the unique culture of the region. All of this is set to disappear below the surface of the water once the inundation of the dam reservoir begins.

Immediately after the announcement of the project in 1997, a social movement emerged. Civil society groups, local professionals and international NGOs joined forces to oppose the project and raise awareness about the potential destruction of the natural environment, the cultural heritage and the displacement of up to 78,000 people from their homes in and around Hasankeyf.

A successful international campaign temporarily halted the project in 2009, when a number of European financiers withdrew their support after it was exposed that Turkey failed to meet the international standards of dam-building set by the World Bank to protect the environment, affected people, riparian states and cultural heritage. However, after Turkey turned to its national banks to provide the necessary funding, the project is now back on track and is set for completion this year. […]

The Ilisu dam is part of the giant Southeast Anatolia Regional Development Project (GAP, after its Turkish acronym) which was launched in 1977 and aims to built a total of 22 dams and 19 hydroelectric power plants by 2015, covering nine provinces in southeastern Turkey. The GAP project is presented by the government as bringing development to the traditionally impoverished and underdeveloped regions where poor living standards have caused the local Kurds to rise up against the central state for many decades.

For years, the Turkish central government, led by the former prime minister and current president Erdogan, has claimed that there is no such thing as a “Kurdish problem”, denying the fact that the country’s Kurdish population has been discriminated against on the basis of its ethnic background, and arguing that the Kurds’ hardships stem from the underdevelopment of their traditional homelands in southeastern Turkey. […]

The finished GAP project will reduce water flows to Syria by 40 percent, and to Iraq by a shocking 80 percent. This, in combination with the severe droughts that have hit the region over the past few years, the ongoing conflict between the Iraqi state and it allies and the militants of the so-called Islamic State, and the millions of (internally) displaced people in the region, has the potential to unleash an environmental and humanitarian catastrophe that could cause a serious food security problem, destabilizing the region for years to come. […]

From the Marsh Arabs in southern Iraq to the Kurds in Turkey, the struggle for equal access to the Earth’s resources is connected across ethnic, religious and national boundaries. As such, it provides a unique opportunity to raise awareness about the interdependence of the region’s communities, forging bonds that transcend the interests of central governments and international powers.

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Read the full article at ROARMag: http://roarmag.org/2015/08/water-conflict-turkey-middle-east/

 

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