Turkey Continues to Hold Euphrates from Flowing to Syria

Calling on Int’l Community, Self-rule Officials Warn Of Likely Disasters
A Syrian man fills up water from a water tank, provided by humanitarian organisations, during a water outage in Syria's northeastern city of Hasakah on August 22, 2020. (Getty)

Officials in the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria, in addition to advocacy groups such as “Syrian Observatory for Human Rights”, denounced Turkey’s decision to reduce the amount of water flowing from its lands to Syria through the Euphrates. The move has negatively affected the river’s neighboring regions which are depending on its water for agriculture, drinking and generating electric power.

Mazloum Omar, a member of the Joint Presidency of the Executive Council in Al-Tabaqa, which is close to Raqa, said that Euphrates has “almost run out of water” due to the limited amount of water flowing currently from Turkey to Syrian and Iraqi territories. This came after Ankara decided to lower the level of Euphrates water flowing from its territories from 500 m³/second to 200 m³, since the beginning of this year.

“Ankara’s decision to reduce the water level is a kind of indirect war against Syrian people. It is an attempt to weaken the Autonomous Administration to stir sedition and cause public pressures. However, it didn’t succeed as there is widespread outrage and discontent with the policies of Turkish President Recep Tayyib Erdogan against the Syrian people,” Mazloum told Majalla.

Omar revealed that the Administration filed a complaint to the U.S.-led international coalition against ISIS, in which it condemned the “Turkish violation” of Syria’s rights over the Euphrates.

He added that “there is no alternatives to Euphrates” stressing that “the Autonomous Administration is taking emergency measures in the affected regions, using tankers to transport water for the residents. But electric power produced by the region’s three dams is reduced to 5 hours a day.”

An official said that electricity sector has been largely affected, so production was reduced to 5 hours daily to save the remaining water in the lake behind the Euphrates dam.” He accused Ankara of noncompliance of more than two treaties signed with Damascus on the share water that is required to flow from Turkey to Syria and Iraq.

The official also warned against the consequences of the continuing Turkish prevention of Euphrates flow to Syria, particularly that various self-rule regions which depend on the river.

Three dams are located in the autonomous region which includes governorates of Hasakah, Raqqa and parts of Aleppo and Deir Ez-Zor. The first dam is located in Raqqa, the second in Manbij, and the third in Tabaqa.

"Buffalos from a nearby farm, gather on the shore of the Tigris river in al-Malikiyah in Syria's northeastern Hasakah province, on October 31, 2020.  (Getty)"
Buffalos from a nearby farm, gather on the shore of the Tigris river in al-Malikiyah in Syria's northeastern Hasakah province, on October 31, 2020.  (Getty)

Turkey’s non-compliance with Treaties

In the same context, Ahîn Siwêd of the Autonomous Joint Presidency’s Energy department said, “Turkey has been fighting against the people of north eastern Syria since the beginning of this year by reducing the Syrian Euphrates’ shares, specifically since January 27.”

She added that “Syria’s shares do not exceed 200-250 m/sec, which is very low compared to the share which was stipulated in prior treaties between Ankara and Damascus. This share includes 75 m³ which is vaporized along the river. 25 m³ is allocated for potable water while more than 125 m³ for irrigation, which is much below the regular amount.”

Siwêd explained that the reasons which pushed Turkey to cut the flow of water are clear: its continuing policy to fight Rojava’s people since the eruption of their revolution. It occupied the cities of Tell Abyad, Afrin, and Ras al-Ain (Sri Kayne) and others. Turkey also cut water supply from Alouk station to the millions of residents in Hasakah and Tell Tamer, then went on to cut Euphrates share for all regional residents.”

 “Talking about the Syrian Euphrates share, we focus on the 1987 agreement between Turkey and Syria, which was signed in Damascus and thereby specified Syria’s share by 500 m³/sec. Two years later, another agreement was reached between Syria and Iraq to specify Iraq’s share. 42% was allocated for Syria, while 58% was allocated for Iraq,” Siwêd explained.

According to Siwêd, many vital aspects of life have been affected in the self-rule region due to the drop in Euphrates water levels. She clarified that this has led to a “spread of various environmental problems due to rising pollution and diseases, especially in the time of the pandemic. Also a layer of algae started to grow on the surface of the river.”

She added that residents of Manbij, Kobani and Der Ez-Zor are primarily depending on Euphrates for drinking water. “Given the absence of purification methods, we’ll have a major catastrophe with about 6 million people living in the autonomous region.”

Food security in “Self-rule” areas

Turkey’s cut of Euphrates flow is threatening the food security of self-rule regions, as Siwêd said, “Most of our regions depend on Euphrates for  irrigation of agricultural crops. Consequently, the harvest of 2021 will drop due to low water levels, which means that millions are subject to food insecurity.”

As for generation of electricity in north and east Syria, Siwêd said that the level of Tishrin Dam (October Dam) should be at 325 meters, but now it’s at 321 meters, which means it has decreased by four meters in a short period of three months.

Moreover, she pointed out that “the river level of the Euphrates Dam should be at 304 m, but it’s currently at 298 m, that is, decreased by 5 meters also within three months.”

Ataturk dam under construction is the centerpiece of the 22 dams of the Southeastern Anatolia Project of Turkey and is built on the Euphrates river and completed in 1990 with the embankment 604 feet (184 m) high and 5971 feet (1820 m). (Getty)

Non-Strategic Alternatives

“Tishrin lake contains about two billion m², while Euphrates lake contains only three billion m². These numbers are terrifying for power generation, they are coming closer to shutting operation of the power generation,” Siwêd said.

She also highlighted that the dams’ management decided to reduce turbine working hours, specify a number of hours for each governorate, and use them in drinking and irrigation.

The official said that alternative solutions in case this drop in water persists are temporary and not strategic, given that the region is totally dependent on the river and its dams since their establishment. “For example, electricity in Jazira region can be generated by gas turbines in al-Jibssa fields.”

Some photos and video footage circulating across Syrian and international news agencies revealed that parts of Euphrates stream have become shallow after Turkey’s decision.

Earlier this month, the London-based Syrian Observatory renewed its

call to the UN and international community to press the Turkish government to restore the level of Euphrates water flowing to Syria and implement international agreements.

The Observatory published a statement in its official website stating, “As the Turkish side continues to reduce the amount of the Euphrates river water flowing from Turkish territory to the Syrian side, reaching its lowest level and the drought in underground wells and significant damage to the environment, livestock and farmers in villages adjacent to the river, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights renews its call for the United Nations, humanitarian organizations and international actors to exert pressure on the Turkish government to return to international agreements regarding the quantities of water as agreed to be supplied to the Syrian side.”

Later in April, Riad Darar, Co-chair of the Syrian Democratic Council, the political umbrella of “Syrian Democratic Forces”, accused Turkey of using water as a weapon against these regions.

Darrar also revealed to Kurdish media that his council will call on France and European countries to press Turkey in its reduction of the river’s flow to Syria, confirming that there are “shy” responses to letters directed to the United Nations and other world organizations.

This is not the first time that Turkey is using water as a weapon against civilians in self-rule areas, or in its fight against Syrian Democratic Forces. The country previously cut water supplies to Afrin during the Turkish army’s progress towards the city along with its pro-armed factions.

During 2016, Turkish authorities transformed the natural stream of River Tigris into farmlands in the village of Ain Diwar, of Malkiyyeh city (Dirik), north eastern of Syria. The water flooded the lands and the civilians were not able to plant the lands nor use the water in irrigation.

On March 19, 2019, Turkish artillery bombarded Alouk water station which supply Al-Hassakah governorate with water. It also targeted repair works which reconstructed the station, in spite of Russian patrol presence in the area.

Currently, Ankara is about to complete the southeastern Anatolia Project which includes construction of 22 large dams, such as Atatürk, Birecik, Karakaya, and others, over farmlands of more than 1.7 million hectares and with capacity of more than 110 billion m³, which is threefold the capacity of Syria and Iraq’s dams.

The project extends across the administrative borders of 8 provinces in Turkey, with mainly Kurdish residents. It is likely that Turkey will hold more than 80% of Euphrates water, and destroy Kurdish traditional cities and sites, in addition to displacing hundreds of thousands of civilians from these areas.

Although cutting water supplies threatens the lives of million residents in Syria and Iraq, and causes ecological imbalance in both countries, no official international reaction has been heard against these practices so far. No relevant water or environmental organizations acted to prevent Turkey from resuming the dangerous project which may lead to humanitarian disasters that can be avoided in the time of the pandemic.