The Tigris River has sustained the inhabitants of modern-day Iraq for millennia. Are Turkey’s hydraulic projects threatening this vital resource?
Turkey’s massive Southeastern Anatolia Project (GAP) is an effort to develop the country’s southeast region sustainably, through the use of hydropower plants, irrigation canals, and more. Whether such developments are truly sustainable has long been debated within Turkey. Now, international critics are arguing that Turkey uses its portion of cross-border rivers irresponsibly, without regard for the communities that rely on them downstream.
GAP is directly damaging relations between Turkey and Iraq, writes Iraqi water expert Ja’far al-Zarkoushi in the daily Iraqi government newspaper al-Sabah. Aside from the environmental degradation that Turkey’s dams have incurred domestically, their existence has become one of the biggest sources of contention between Turkey and Iraq.
Turkey has begun building hydraulic dams on the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, both of which are crucial watersheds for settlements in northern Iraq.
Yet no international agreements have been drawn up to establish the rights of Turkey and Iraq. Turkey has pursued its development goals unilaterally, even though it directly controls how much water is released from the rivers into Iraq. Over the next twelve years, an additional 1,700 dams are expected to be constructed as part of GAP.
Al-Zarkoushi argues that Turkey’s dams use water wastefully, leading to unnecessary water shortages in both countries. In Iraq, where ecosystems are already highly fragile and water-dependent due to the arid climate, these shortages have a much higher impact than in Turkey.
Turkey’s international reputation deteriorating
This isn’t the first time Turkey has come under fire for GAP’s effects on other countries. In June, the Iraqi government placed economic sanctions on Turkey over the issue, and the United Nations issued a harsh report accusing GAP of violating human rights.
Nor is this the only example of Turkey trying to secure an energy supply at the expense of its diplomatic relations with other countries. Turkey’s efforts to drill for natural gas in the Mediterranean have put a new strain on its already tense relations with Israel, Greece, and Cyprus.
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