Jul 04 2018

Water problem to cause inevitable rift between Turkey and Iraq - analysis

The impact of the controversial Ilisu dam in Iraq is set to be worsened by diminishing snowfalls and higher evaporation rates at the source of the Tigris with panic sweeping Iraq at the start of June due to low water levels, Erika Solomon and Laura Pitel wrote in their article for the Financial Times.

Ilisu - Turkey’s 1,200 megawatt dam project intended to provide the necessary electricity and water for East Anatolia - has sparked an international outcry as many fear its construction would result in a dramatic reduction of the water level, prompting thousands of residents in the region, who have nowhere to go and nothing to do aside from agriculture, resettle.

“By 2035, we will have lost 11bn cubic metres of water,” the article quoted Jassim al-Asadi, an environmentalist at Nature Iraq, as saying.

Some 650 Iraqi villages already went dry for days this spring, it explained, among them, the town of al-Adel, where farmers said it was the driest spring in 30 years.

A rural exodus from rural areas to town centres has already begun , with security forces breaking up gun battles over water in the village of al-Kheir after the mayor felt forced to make the call for help.

‘’Village elders are unsure how to advise people steeped in agriculture for generations who may have no option but to head to the expanding slums of Iraq’s major cities — places known to be recruiting grounds for militants,’’ the article said, quoting a local to asked, “How can they make a living in the city? They can’t raise buffalo there, they can’t farm, and they certainly cannot fish.”

Pitel and Solomon also note that Turkey’s grand dam-building ambition has been sucked into the country’s ongoing Kurdish conflict; in the 1980s, the decision to build the huge Ataturk dam was seen as a spur for Syria’s decision to start backing the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), an armed group fighting for autonomy in Turkey for three decades.

Kurdish campaigners maintain that the environmental, cultural and social damage caused by the Ilisu dam will exacerbate, the root causes of the conflict with some claiming that the government’s primary aim with the project is to crush Kurdish political aspirations.

The Iraqi administration, for its part, accuses Ankara of using water as a commodity that can be bargained with and stresses that the country,  whose ability to negotiate has been severely undermined by the unrest and war, will remain vulnerable as long as there is no shared interpretation of international water law.

For those along the Tigris, adaptation is not even an option. ‘’We won’t survive in a city,” one local said. “The marshes are our life.”

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