We, civil society organizations and social movements from Mesopotamia have come together because our rivers and lakes remain to be in significant danger of being dried up completely to the point of desertification if Turkey and Iran complete the construction of hundreds of the dams, particularly the Ilisu Dam. This is a major component of one of the world’s most ambitious and controversial hydro-engineering projects. The dam is the latest addition to the $32 billion Southeastern Anatolian Project (Turkish acronym GAP). Along with at least 21 other dams, Illsu will lock up the entire Tigris and Euphrates watershed, creating 7.500 megawatts of hydroelectric capacity irrigating a parched farm region of 1.8 Mio. ha. land. Illsu’s reservoir will also flood the
ancient city of Hasankeyf, uproot as many as 70,000 members of Turkey’s struggling Kurdish people, and give Turkish engineers an alarming degree of control over the fate of their downstream neighbors in Iraq, which will incur a ripple effect on neighboring Syria and Iran. Many nations depend on rivers that flow across borders, but none so much as Iraq; which retrieves its resources from mainly two sources; the Tigris River and the Euphrates. When Turkey filled another GAP reservoir in 1992 it shut down the Euphrates for a month, Turkey and Iraq were on the verge of going to war. If Illsu’s construction proceeds, Turkey will shut down the Tigris too. GAP is perhaps one of the starkest demonstrations to date of how engineers can exacerbate longstanding water conflicts.
Global challenges, including climate change, increased population pressure; declining ecosystems and unplanned urbanization are drastically increasing the risks of water-related disasters. Green growth will not materialize without adequately addressing water related disasters. As highlighted during the current Rio+20 process, integrated approaches to water resource management are critical for building the social, economic, and environmental pillars of sustainable development. As water quality degrades or the quantity available has to meet rising demands over time, competition among water users intensifies. This is nowhere more destabilizing than in river basins that cross-political boundaries. But experience shows that in many situations, rather than causing open conflict, the need for water sharing can generate unexpected cooperation.
Despite the complexity of the problems, records show that water disputes can be handled diplomatically. The last 50 years have seen only 37 acute disputes involving violence, compared to 150 treaties that have been signed. Nations value these agreements because they make international relations over water more stable and predictable. In fact, the history of international water treaties dates as far back as 2500 BC, when the two Sumerian city-states of Lagash and Umma crafted an agreement ending a water dispute along the Tigris River – often said to be the first treaty of any kind. Since then, a large body of water treaties has emerged. According to the Food and Agricultural Organization, more than 3,600 treaties related to international water resources have been drawn up since 805 AD. The majority of these deal with navigation and boundary demarcation. The focus of negotiation and treaty making in the last century has shifted away from navigation towards the use, development, protection and conservation of water resources.
Issue to be addressed
Members of the Ekopotamya Network do not agree with decisions made on behalf of the Turkish, Iraqi, Syria and Iranian Governments which continue to exploit natural water resources for the purpose of creating hydro-electrical power and agricultural export throught irrigation and constructing new dams without conducting necessary dialogue with neighboring states, the individuals who will be directly affected by these choices or analyzing the impact on cross border communities.
The Ekopotamya Network aims to:
- Promote and establish a credible dialogue process to ensure equitable use of water resources for the people who reside in transboundary water resourced areas which will be based on social equity, environmental preservation, sustainable development and egalitarian participation principles;
- Call for new social-ecological friendly water and dam construction policies within the states of Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Syria through multilateral political engagement and diplomacy and treaty establishment; aiming for discussions to eventuate in further negotiation processes of energy/resource exchange and extensive transboundary regional development policies with the involvement of and consultation with local authorities and civil society organizations and affected people located in the whole river basin;
- Put a halt to proposed dam and water infrastructure projects including hydro-electric and large irrigation projects in Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran in the interim until the above can be properly established;
- Lastly, relevant considerations for establishing new extensive transboundary regional development policies need to include energy resource management and establishing sustainable agricultural policies with the involvement of the affected societies, local authorities, environmental and human rights organizations, experts, profession organizations etc.
In our mainly semi-arid geographical location, water – and particularly rivers play a pivotal role for the preservation of nature, and floodplains are often have the highest levels of biodiversity. Every part of land along the rivers covered and steeped by water gives life to nature. That’s why the step of transition from nomadic pastoralism to sedentary agriculture took place first here in Mesopotamia and Khuzestan. Thousands of archaeological sites bear testimony to the dozens of cultures, which gathered here at the center of Mesopotamia and basked in its former agricultural history. Mesopotamians and Khuzistanies were known to possess rich social and cultural values and relied on the river system as an everyday part of life as with the thriving ecological environment it once had. The destruction of the water passages that flow through Mesopotamia and Khuzistan have grave consequences on the social, cultural and ecological wellbeing of the region, which is irreparable if it disappears once and for all. For the communities that reside in this region, for them water is life, access to water should be more than a human right or any other form of legal terminology, more simply water is life for all entities, and we cannot live without it.
Water Resource Policy
The three major influences on water resources and policies that remain to be problematic are generation of electrical power, agricultural irrigation and regional development policies that do not cater to the needs or rights of transboundary neighbours. Despite several public outcries from constituents for reevaluation of current water policies that have been adopted at governmental levels, there has not yet been one element of traction made by Turkey, Iran, Syria and Iraq to prevent these destructive water projects from being implemented, or considerations made for the purpose of searching for alternative solutions through multilateral dialogue. Rather, Turkey and Iran have even accelerated the construction of dams and other hydraulic projects, they are even catching up to China, Brazil and India the countries with the leading amount of dam constructions throughout the world. Turkey alone has more than 1400 dams, and the number of dams in Iran is nearing 600. If these two countries proposed water infrastructure plans do come to fruition, then almost all rivers in the region will cease to flow freely.
Despite large-scale dams already having reservoirs a new emerging trend is beginning to be seen in Turkey, the construction of small and middle sized dams for the purpose of constructing underground diversion tunnels to produce electricity. Both Turkish and Iranian Governments continue to build dams for the purpose of large-scale irrigation projects and in 2012 alone Turkey and Iran have designated more than a dozen thousand hectares to irrigation production, which have had a significant affect on the former residents, regional social aesthetics and the environment.
Public protests in Turkey continue to rise throughout the country particularly within the regions that are immediately affected by newly proposed water infrastructure projects. Iraq has also seen protests within the Euphrates-Tigris Basin are occurring more frequently, particularly in less centralised rural farming and agricultural areas.
Water Sources currently of concern
Urmiye Lake, Iran
In 2012 in Iran a societal uprising occurred protesting Iranian dams, which have been built on all 14 of the basins, which flow in to Urmiye Lake. Urmiye Lake is not only the biggest Lake in Iran but it is also a primary water source for tens of thousands of people and irrigates rich sources of flora and fauna.
The Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, trans-boundary water resource
A majority of the rivers within Iraq stem from Turkey or Iran, the Euphrates and Tigris Basin are the two major water resources in Iraq and travel in a downstream motion. Declining water levels in Iraq and Syria are direct impacts of increased dam construction and policy decisions made by the neighbouring states of Turkey and Iran. In the last decade Iraq has taken a positive initiative to halt dam construction in the Kurdistan Region to prevent further decline in already low water resources under pressure of Turkish and Iranian dams, from being completely bled dry. An area that remains to be of controversial debate is the impact of dams that are constructed in the upstream river path and its affect on downstream neighbours. In a legal capacity this can be deemed as a violation of human rights. Millions of people are already affected by the continued construction of dams in Turkey and Iran, and many, many more will be affected in future years to come if projects such as the GAP/Illsu dam go ahead, water is life, and especially in water barren countries such as Iraq and Syria this is on-going reality since the 90s.
Our criteria for dam building
1) If there is at least one alternative to the proposed dam project in order to achieve the purpose, then the dam should not be built.
2) Every dam project should be considered within a holistic basin framework, particularly projects, which impact downstream regions. The ‘holistic basin framework’ should be applied in accordance with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Non-navigational Uses of International Watercourses (1997).
3) Populations must be consulted if they are to be directly affected by the installation of new dam projects, and their approval must be sought. In order to achieve this real, early and comprehensive dialogue must be established, and a participation process must be implemented before any action in moving towards construction is undertaken. If proposed dam projects are expected to bring in significant financial benefits then societies that are affected by the installations should reap adequate financial remuneration for their loss.
4) Upon reaching a final decision to go ahead with a dam project the resettlement process must be undertaken in such a way that the human rights of affected persons are respected; expropriation rates should be suitably endorsed to maintain necessary living standards of affected persons.
5) Instead of building new dams, opportunities to raise the performance of existing dam structures should be considered as the first option.
6) There should be no reason to construct a dam in a region with significant historical, cultural and ecological importance. Rather, heritage must be the center of development policy.
7) The climate change and regional climate analysis data should be included within all calculations, considerations and decisions. Our region is suffering from a decrease in precipitation since the end of the 90s. This decrease will most likely continue to decrease by another 20 to 25 per cent in forthcoming years; this increases the likelihood of drought and desertification within the region, which can have disastrous consequences both on the environment and on the communities.
About the network members
The members of the Ekopotamya network are independent and each one has its own program. However, all the members may have relations and they sometimes may act together. They may organize conferences, seminars, panels, meetings and some other activities in coordination.