Iraq’s water crisis between Iran and Turkey and international agreements

Iraq’s water crisis between Iran and Turkey and international agreements

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Researcher Shatha Khalil *
With the beginning of the summer of 2019, where the repercussions of the water crisis appear clear on Mesopotamia , land, people and economy, how will the file of this crisis be addressed .. Can be solved?
Iraq has faced a continued and rapid decline in its water resources, over the past three decades; it has lost half the water it enjoyed in the first half of the last century. According to the agriculture and water committee of the Iraqi parliament , Iraq has lost about 80% of water flowing to it from Iran after cutting about (35) main tributaries, the remaining (7) Iranian tributaries only, and that Tehran is in the process of building new dams on them.
Since the middle of the last century, Iraq has not reached final solutions to its recurrent crisis, which has become a pressure card with the upstream countries of Turkey and Iran, to achieve political and economic gains by absolute controlling over the flow of water of Tigris and Euphrates rivers .
The United Nations Convention on the Law of the use of International Watercourses for the Non-Navigational purposes of riparian states for the Year 1997 can be read which contains 37 articles classified in (7) sections, but in very brief terms Iraq can claim its legitimate right to preserve the life and economy of its people. In short , the Convention focuses on not harming the interests of riparian states , and national sovereignty of any party on its territory , its skies and its waters can not be underestimated in any way and should avoid causing damage to the interests of riparian States.
The Convention applies only to non-navigational uses of international river courses and does not apply to navigational uses except insofar as it affects non-navigational uses. This is confirmed by Article 1 of the Convention, which sets out the scope of the Convention.
It is notable that the two neighboring countries, North and East, have not signed the Convention on the law of Non-navigational Uses of International watercourses (1997), and the failure to sign or not to ratify them does not exempt the State from its obligations under the principles of international law, since the latter is based mainly on customary law.
At the same time, it should be noted that the failure to sign this agreement does not constitute a serious impediment to the basin countries from reaching long-term agreements between them in accordance with national and regional characteristics, whether bilateral, trilateral or quadruple agreements (in the case of the Tigris and the Euphrates). The failure of the two neighboring countries to sign the United Nations Convention should not be a deterrent to Iraq’s efforts in trying to reach a fair and equitable division of the waters of the two rivers to guarantee the rights of all.
Iran and the crisis: The Algiers Convention (1975), which was abolished in 1980 by Iraq after the fall of the Shah, triggered a devastating war and was reintroduced after the end of the war as a final status agreement t that needed to be adjusted according to the logic of Iraqi weakness and Iranian power. , and ultimately it was neglected , and considered by former President Jalal Talabani canceled ( it was signed between Saddam Hussein and Shah Mohammad Radha Baaloui and not between Iraq and Iran, “he said !!), Iran used it under the weakness of Iraq to impose its policy easily on the overall interests in the border strip of water Oil and land.
The Iranian authorities, at the height of the escalation between Baghdad and the Kurdistan region during the crisis of the referendum on the separation of the Kurdish region from Iraq to cut off the tributaries of ” Upper Zab”, the largest arteries feeding the Tigris, it extends about 402 kilometers inside the Iraqi territory, the rate of 30 thousand m 3 / s , as a political sanction with the consent of Baghdad, which did not object to the Iranian action, and r Tehran returned the flow to the river again after the referendum, and specialists noted that it was less than the previous natural flow.
Iran has changed the course of the two most important tributaries, the Lund and the Karun, which had greatly affected the vast agricultural areas of Basrah (South), Wasit (south-east) and Diyala (northeast). The Wasit Governorate Council asserts that “the Iranians are delaying negotiations and they argue because of drought and lack of rain and coordination is only promises that do not apply in reality.
In 2011, the Iranian government approved a massive project to build 152 dams, some to control and “salvage” water entering Iraq, particularly the tributaries and rivers, while the Iraqi central government, despite the Iranian water abuses and causing a suffocating , severe water blockade on the main lands and agricultural seasons, did not complain against Iran’s behavior in accordance with international agreements governing the flow of water between countries , and the fruitless meetings held by Baghdad with Tehran in this regard have been confined to political orders that emphasize full concessions and full normalization. Mostly , the reference to Iranian damage is avoided to the Iranian and put full responsibility on Ankara to deprive Iraq from fresh water, and at a time when frequent and permanent meetings with Iranian officials were held , to raise the trade or political coordination, the problem of water is not addressed .
The city of Basra suffers from an old salinity problem due to its occurrence in the extreme south and poor water reaching it after a long journey inside the Iraqi territories of the Tigris rivers (1300 km) and Euphrates (1000 km), and the pollution caused by these water as a result of irrigation and domestic and industrial use, as well as drying marshes by the former regime in the nineties of the last century, and the creation of a third river to drain water from the north of Baghdad, a length of 565 km, which reaches north of the border point between the city’s areas and Zubair to be joined with the downstream channel to the sea.
After 2003, despite the close ties between the new Iraqi authority with Tehran, the latter does not weigh to the interests of Iraq, where the southern regions suffer from the destruction of agricultural land and lack of drinking water and raise the salinity as a result of transferring saline water from Iran to Iraqi territory , noting that Iran strongly opposes the establishment of Dam Shatt al-Arab (South of Basra, before the port of Abu Floss) designed to maintain the levels of fresh water high in the Shatt to reduce salinity, and prevent the saline tongue coming from the sea to climb to areas north of Basra.
“Iran opposes this dam and invokes by treaties or agreements related to the use of water with riparian countries,” said a member of the Basrah council, who asked not to be named. He added “the project is old, put forward again by Saddam Hussein’s government in the 1990s, and due to the blockade , the project was not achieved and after the change , it was put forward more than once, and after the “Saulat al-Farsan , ( Knight’s Assault) ” (2008) , a budget was allocated for it , but suddenly , Maliki’s government abandoned the establishment of it under the Iranian pressure.

The Marshlands suffer:
That the problem of the suffering of the marshes from the drought of water, which extends on a large area between Dhi Qar and Basra (8900 km), not limited to the recent period, and the causes are complex and overlapping, but the sharp decline in water levels of 20 cm in the last six months in submerged areas which cover only 10% of the original areas of the Marshlands before drying, which means that it is shallow water, according to the United Nations Environment Program, while the “Iraq Center for the revival of the Marshlands confirms ,” the deep areas of the marshes have high water by 30 cm, which is meant that the area listed by UNESCO as part of the world heritage are subject to extinction and the death of its environment, social culture and economic activities. The area of the marshes in Maysan has shrunk to only 35 km2 out of 1733 km 2 , and the process of maintaining the marshes need annually 16 billion cubic meters.
It seems that for a century, Iraqi governments have not succeeded in signing a binding agreement with the two neighbors that guarantees the rights of Mesopotamia permanently , where the total consumption rate for all needs in the country is about 53 billion cubic meters per year , while the quantity of river waters of good seasons are estimated by 77 billion cubic meters, and in the dry seasons about 44 billion cubic meters, and one shortage (1) billion cubic meters of Iraq’s water share means the exit of 260 thousand acres of agricultural land from production.
Iraq has not achieved any self-sufficiency in its strategic crops (wheat, barley, rice, maize), while cotton and palms have been largely destroyed. The Association of Agricultural Societies says that the area of rice cultivation has fallen to 40% and is located in limited land with low productivity, does not meet a quarter of the local needs per year, with an output of up to 110 thousand tons, and areas of rice cultivation in the Middle Euphrates in 2013 are decreased to 200 thousand acres, and in 2014 to 127 thousand acres, to reach in 2017 to 90 thousand acres only.
Turkey and the history of the crisis:
The Iraqi-Turkish water crisis dates back to the 1920s of the last century where the year of 1920 witnessed the signing of “trilateral and bilateral” agreements between Iraq, Turkey and Syria to divide the water according to the international standards followed by the signing of the Treaty of Peace between Turkey and the Allies in Lausanne 1923, it was multilateral agreement including a special text on the waters of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers , article 109 of the Convention states that “none of these three States shall have the right to build a dam or reservoir or to divert a river without convening a joint session with other States and consulting them to ensure that no harm is caused to any party . ”
In 1946, the two parties signed Protocol No. 1 on the regulation of the waters of two rivers annexed to the Treaty of Friendship and Good-Neighborliness signed between Iraq and Turkey, and then the first negotiations between the basin countries were held in 1962 to share water, where the Turkish side refused “and still refuses” to consider the Tigris and Euphrates rivers are international rivers and thus Turkey violated Article D of the Helsinki Principles of 1966, considering the Euphrates as an international river and regarded it as a transboundary river only.
The meetings and understandings between the two countries have not stopped , in Ankara in 1978, the protocol of bilateral economic and technical cooperation was signed following Turkey’s completion of the Keban Dam, which left a major crisis that returned to the façade in the early 1990s after the establishment of the Ataturk Dam, which caused a severe shortage of water in Iraq.
Despite the many memoranda signed between Iraq and Turkey, the latest of which was 2017, when the two sides agreed to activate the memorandum of understanding signed between them in 2014, which included cooperation in managing the water resources of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers and determining the share of each country, the problem of Iraq’s water imports from Turkey remains.
In 2018, the same scenario was repeated after the completion of the Turkish Elso dam, which will change the equation for the Tigris where the river will become a flowing channel within the Turkish border instead of a channel flowing out of the border within the Turkish water policy, represented by its giant project “GAP” which includes the construction of 22 dams and 19 Hydroelectric stations for the reclamation of 1.9 million hectares on the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.
Barham Saleh proposes a mechanism to solve the problem:
The visit of Iraqi President Barham Salih to Turkey led to a proposal and a mechanism to resolve the ongoing water crisis, in addition to the appointment of Eroglu, came at the request of President Barham Salih as a water expert who formed after his appointment a team consisting of officials from the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Natural resources and agriculture.
Eroglu plans to visit Baghdad soon to discuss the plan of action, because water is the focus of this visit, but it also includes commercial projects between the two countries, and can make Iraqis hope for serious and radical solutions to the crisis, and most important is to put the problem on the table and reach a common point of view related to the reason for the problem and solve it then they can pave the road for joint projects to enhance water use efficiency, prevent losses, replacement of ground channels with pipes, improve irrigation systems and dams, increase storage capacity, build water treatment facilities, rehabilitate riverbeds and prevent salinity .
Agriculture in Iraq faces water stress:
The “water stress index” means that the growth of any natural growth plant depends on the state of equilibrium between the water absorbed by the plant and what it loses. The imbalance may be negligible (ie, the water absorbed by the plant is barely enough to cover what its cells lose and is not in a state of fullness), the imbalance may be large and its effects appear as temporary wilting.
If the amount of water lost from the plant exceeds what the plant can absorb, and to a large degree, the symptoms of permanent wilt appear clear to it and often ends with the death of the plant, and although the water is very important in the life of the plant, but it may be a stressful environmental factor, Water stress is due to the following:
Water shortage stress (drought stress) increased Water stress (Immersion stress)
Therefore, water stress is the damage to the plant due to the lack or increase of water in the plant environment for optimum growth.
If the rapid solutions are not developed, Iraq will be a land without rivers by 2040, and the two great rivers will not reach the final estuary in the Arabian Gulf, and specialized studies add that in 2025 the features of severe drought will be very clear throughout the country with the almost total drought of the Euphrates towards the south, and diverting the Tigris River into a watercourse with limited resources.

Translated by : mudhaffar al-kusairi

Economic Studies Unit
Rawabet Center for Research and Strategic Studies