“How can Turkey justify its water policy while there are water shortages across the Middle East? Should the water sources of Turkey be shared with other countries of the Middle East?”
Water Wealth: Empowering Turkey Politically and Economically in the Middle East
Turkey’s water policy of damming the Euphrates and Tigris is in fact justified because there are water shortages in the Middle East and the world as a whole. This is largely due to massive population growth experienced across the world since the end of World War Two, as well as climate change which has created unstable weather patterns. As a result, especially in arid regions like the Middle East, water is becoming more precious than ever before.
Turkey is comparably rich in this resource and should therefore use it to both develop domestically and as a bargaining tool to gain concessions from downstream countries, especially Syria and Iraq. Given the volatility these mainly Arab countries demonstrate, and their frequent disputes with Turkey, the latter is being incredibly pragmatic and long sighted through creating an extensive network of dams. These will grant Turkey a critical negotiation advantage in further dealings with both Syria and Iraq.
Additionally, the water sources of Turkey can be sold or traded for other commodities with countries in the region. Thus, growing water shortages across the Middle East could result in an economic dividend for the country.
Water Scarcity: Globally and in the Middle East
Across the world, demand for fresh water is increasing. This is primarily the result of rapid population growth experienced during the last 60 years. In fact since then, the world’s population has almost tripled from 2.5 billion to over 7 billion today.1 Consequently, more water is needed for agriculture, health and manufacturing purposes than ever before. Food security is especially underpinned by water supplies as 70% of water utlisation worldwide is used for agriculture.2 It is important to note that it is not possible to substitute fresh water for any other resource.3
Additionally, climate change and the unpredictable weather patterns it has produced have caused droughts or floods in many parts of the world. Thus there is a valid degree of uncertainty in the minds of experts and governments about the capacity of states to maintain lasting water security.4
As Douglas Jehl of the New York Times points out, “By 2015, according to estimates from the United Nations and the United States government, at least 40 percent of the world's population, or about three billion people, will live in countries where it is difficult or impossible to get enough water to satisfy basic needs”.5
The Middle East is a part of the world where rapidly growing populations live in arid environments, and consequently is particularly water stressed. Some countries with access to the sea and concentrated populations, particularly states in the Persian Gulf, are able to meet their needs through desalination. But this is an energy intensive process reserved for nations meeting the right criteria in terms of hydrocarbon wealth, geography and population dispersal. Countries lacking either an abundance of cheap energy or unsuitable geography are unable to implement desalination as a practical solution for meeting their water needs.6
This situation has led to an array of disputes between states in the region over access to water sources, including between Israel and both Lebanon and Syria.7 Since the 1960s, Turkey has had numerous disputes with Syria and Iraq regarding utilization of their major, common water sources: the Euphrates and Tigris rivers.8
The Importance of the Tigris and Euphrates to the Region
When examining the Mesopotamia heartland of the Middle East (Turkey, Syria and Iraq) it is important to note that the region’s two most important rivers, the Euphrates and the Tigris, originate from Turkey....
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