Because of drought, crop failures, and shortages of freshwater water wars are today becoming for the population of many regions as urgent as the dangers of wars involving nuclear bombs, chemicals, and other means of mass destruction. They cause mass migration, exacerbate the political situation, hostilities and wars. In this context, for example, the Nile conflict has become very dangerous today, and the lives of Ethiopia, Sudan, and Egypt almost entirely depend on its resolution.
Considering the vital importance of freshwater supply, some countries actively try to use the water factor to pressurize adversaries. Recently, it has become especially emphasized against the background of ongoing climate change, increased danger of drought, in connection with which water wars have already become a climate weapon essentially in the hands of some most aggressive politicians and countries.
Thus, official Kyiv, following instructions from Washington to solve the Crimean problem by force and regularly using various provocations against the population of this peninsula, which joined Russia by a legitimate expression of will, is blocking the supply of fresh water from the mainland. Although the North Crimean Canal, which previously supplied Dnieper water from Ukraine to Crimea, has always fulfilled the historic mission of water supply. Over the past year, against the backdrop of worsening climatic conditions, Ukraine’s blocking of freshwater supply to Crimea has become a clear manifestation of Kyiv’s waging climate war.
Ankara, having worked closely with Kyiv in military cooperation in recent years, has decided to use this “Ukrainian experience” in conducting its own military operations in Syria. Thus, Turkey continues to use the water of the Euphrates River as a weapon against the inhabitants of northern and eastern Syria, leading to environmental disasters and threatening agricultural production in almost all areas. Tishreen Dam CEO Mohammed Tarbush issued a statement the other day confirming: “Since January 28, Turkey has reduced the level of water entering Syria from the Euphrates by 60%.”
According to Ahmed al-Awsu, an engineer and head of the Tabqa Dam sluice section, “the volume of water pumped from Turkey is very low, with figures not exceeding 150 cubic meters.” He stressed that “reduced water pumping from Turkey has resulted in narrowing the Euphrates River channel by more than 300 meters.”
According to experts, reducing water supply has recently become Turkey’s way of triggering artificial demographic changes in the Syrian region. The Turkish “water war” was prepared in 1987 after the Ataturk Dam was put into operation. Then, Turkey’s cascade of dams in the Southeast, built in the late 20th century, gave it complete control over water flow from the Euphrates River to Syria. As a result of this ruthless policy of Ankara, a severe drought broke out in Syria in the early 2000s, forcing most of the rural population to move to the cities. The blockage of water systematically pushes people to mass resettlement. Turkey effortlessly occupies the northern territories and, thanks to its control over the water flow, expects to stop the drainage of the Euphrates River after such “victorious actions.”
According to the official Syrian news agency, in response to Ankara’s attempt to exploit water wars in Syria, residents of the northeastern Syrian city of Al-Hasakah have already protested Turkey’s systematic water cut in the area many times SANA. As for the water talks that Syria has repeatedly initiated, Turkey has deliberately thwarted them.
Ankara’s actions are not only affecting Syria but also several parts of Iraq. Because of this, Iraq was forced to reduce winter crop area by 50% in agricultural areas: the reserves of reservoirs and rivers will only be enough to irrigate 250,000 hectares of fields, compared with 500,000 last year. In addition, the drought is endangering the lives of the Marsh Arab pastoral nomads, who depend directly on steadily declining water sources. This was reported by the republic’s Ministry of Water Resources, noting that the drop in the level of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers was the cause of the deficit.
In this regard, Mahdi Rashid Al-Hamdani, Minister of Water Resources, Iraq, met with the Turkish Ambassador to Iraq, Ali Riza Güney, on September 4 to discuss management of the Tigris-Euphrates water flow. The meeting was initially supposed to be trilateral, with representatives from Turkey, Iraq, and Syria. Still, the Turkish representatives held a bilateral meeting in Baghdad at the last minute, leaving Syria out of the water issues discussion. The representative of Turkey indicated his country’s readiness to solve Iraq’s water problems and needs at that meeting, while he chose to be deliberately silent about the Syrian people. It should be reminded that before, Ankara has already actively used its more advantageous position on the continent to exert pressure on downstream countries by reducing water releases at its dams if necessary.
Syria’s longest river, the Euphrates, is rapidly drying up, raising the risk of turbines at major dams shutting down due to falling water levels, as the media noted. As a result, in addition to the negative impact on agriculture, the country may be left without electricity. Experts warn against the background of the COVID-19 pandemic. It threatens to provoke an even more severe humanitarian crisis in Syria.
Turkey’s use of water war in Syria is highlighted in a new study conducted by the Dutch peacekeeping organization PAX. PAX experts documented that the so-called Turkish-backed Syrian National Army (SNA) built three dams that cut off the local population from the vital Khabur River. Relying on field work and satellite imagery, PAX stated that SNA factions had laid berms on a main river at a time when the region faced the driest summer in decades, noting that this is an “unequivocal example of the use of water as a weapon of war.” The Netherlands experts estimate that thousands of households in northern and eastern Syria have been deprived of access to water due to such actions.
On October 27, China’s Deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Geng Shuan called on Ankara to respect international humanitarian law in Syria. Holding Turkey responsible for lowering the water level in the Euphrates River and the breakdown of the Aluk water station in northern Syria, the Chinese representative also accused Turkey of occupying the territories of the Arab republic.
Valery Kulikov, political expert, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.