Turkey: A Regional Water Superpower…Engaging In Water Politics

Via Stratfor (subscription required), interesting analysis of Turkey’s water dominance in a parched Middle East.  As the report notes:

“…During a recent visit to Baghdad to discuss joint efforts against Kurdish rebels, Turkish President Abdullah Gul reportedly promised to double the amount of water allocated to Iraq from the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. His pledge was relayed to the media by Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi.

Gul’s statement would appear to be welcome news for Iraq, where a drought is threatening this year’s grain harvests. But it also underscores the control that Turkey has established over the headwaters of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers — which are critical for fully half of Iraq’s annual grain production — through an expanding system of dams and reservoirs.

Over the long term, that system will add to the influence that Ankara exerts over Iraq’s domestic affairs, and augment Turkey’s growing reputation as a power in the Middle East.

At the moment, Iraq’s grain crops — consisting primarily of wheat and barley — are under dual threat. Those crops are grown almost exclusively in two regions: the northern provinces of Ninawa, Arbil, Salahuddin, Kirkuk and Sulaymaniyah, and in the Fertile Crescent region along the Tigris and Euphrates in central and southeastern Iraq. Production is almost evenly split between the two regions, but with very different cultivation methods.

Iraq Farming

In the northern zone, farmers rely on rainfall, which is normally sufficient during the September-April growing season. However, rainfall has been falling for the past two years, directly impacting crop yields. In 2007, the area received only about half of its average precipitation, and totals in 2008 were only 28 to 40 percent of norms. For the 2008-09 growing season, wheat yields are expected to be 45 percent lower than they were in 2005-06 — before the drought set in — and barley crops are projected to be down by 60 percent.

In the Fertile Crescent region, farmers typically receive very little rain — as little as 4 to 5 inches annually in some areas. Consequently, they rely heavily on irrigation, with waters siphoned from the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. Together, these rivers supply an average of 50 billion cubic meters of water per year at Iraq’s borders with Turkey and Syria.

Clearly, Iraq’s food-production outlook for 2008-09 has been dimmed. 
But a more lasting issue is emerging in the shape of Turkey, and the control it is gaining over the waters flowing through Iraq’s vital river system.

In the late 1980s, Turkey embarked on a development project for its southeastern region, known as the Grand Anatolian Project (GAP). The effort ultimately calls for some 22 large dams and reservoirs to be established along the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, which find their sources in Turkey’s Anatolian Plateau. The dams allow for hydroelectric power to be generated, and the reservoirs can be tapped for domestic uses (such as farming and drinking water). So far, more than half of the dam projects envisioned under GAP have been completed. The existing reservoirs have an estimated capacity of 100 billion cubic meters — a figure that is expected to grow as more dams are completed in coming years. The most significant of these is the Ilisu Dam on the Tigris, which will add another 10 billion cubic meters of reservoir capacity when it is completed in 2012 or 2013.

MAP: Rainfall and Grain Production in Iraq

Officials in Iraq have raised extensive complaints about the GAP, saying it is reducing water flow through their portions of the Tigris and Euphrates and that more dams upstream will only add to that problem in the future.

Although GAP officials have estimated the total combined flow of the Tigris and Euphrates at 88 billion cubic meters annually, the flow through Iraq currently is estimated at around 50 bcm per year – meaning that some 40 percent of the waters are being captured upstream (mainly by Turkey, although Syria also diverts a small percentage of the Euphrates’ waters). Significantly, Turkey’s reservoir capacities under GAP already exceed 88 bcm, and Iraqi officials claim their country’s share of the waters could dwindle to only 43 bcm per year by 2015.

Iraq Dams

Given the situation, figures provided by Iraq are almost certainly subject to political influence and must be viewed with some skepticism. Turkey’s dam construction certainly affects the volumes of water flowing through the Tigris and Euphrates, but the fact that the dams are part of a hydroelectric power project also means the water must be released at some point, and will then flow downstream through Iraq. The water release issue likely will be felt most severely during the near term, as Turkey’s new reservoirs are filled. Over the long term, the diversion of water for Turkish irrigation projects also will impact the amounts flowing through Iraq. Therefore, the construction of dams alone does not necessarily mean Turkey will turn off the taps for Iraq — but it does give Ankara a significant lever of influence over its southern neighbor.

And Baghdad has little ability to level the playing field. Iraq’s single export commodity — and the most likely way in which it could exert leverage against Turkey — is oil, but the relationship remains unbalanced. In 2007, Iraq supplied Turkey with only 9 percent of its crude imports, the rest coming from Russia, Saudi Arabia and Iran. Recent security concerns over the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan line — which delivers between 850,000 and 1 million barrels per day (bpd) have not been sufficient to increase Turkey’s reliance on Iraq, which funnels only 500,000 bpd through the Kirkuk-Ceyhan pipeline.

Moreover, the fact that oil from Iraq’s Kurdish region is carried to the world through a Turkish port again demonstrates Turkey’s leverage over Iraq, rather than the reverse. This economic influence means Ankara can keep the Kurds of northern Iraq politically and economically dependent on Turkey. With riparian issues leaving Baghdad itself dependent to a degree as well, Turkey will be able to maintain a stronger position in Iraq and the greater Arab world as it continues its geopolitical rise.”

This entry was posted on Tuesday, March 31st, 2009 at 7:27 pm and is filed under Iraq, Tigris-Euphrates System, Turkey.  You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.  Both comments and pings are currently closed. 

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