mathias depardon

The village of Hasankeyf located in the province of Batman in Southeast Turkey is the only place in the world that gathers nine of the ten criteria to be considered worldwide heritage by the UNESCO. However the Turkish government has accomplished no efforts these last years to offer its inclusion to the organization or to promote tourism in the region. The key reason in this lack of initiative is that the efforts hired by the state would harm his dam project who is supposed to entirely flood Hasankeyf along with 52 other villages and 15 small towns by 2016.

Planned for 2015-2016 the dam of Ilisu on the edges of the Tigris, will become the second biggest reservoir of water and the fourth hydro electrical power station of Turkey, with an annual production of 3,8 billions of kW / h.

The local population, the NGO’s and The Kurdish National Movement continue on questioning the government’s project which will destroy a unique historical site, where a mix of Assyrians, Roman and Ottoman monuments belong. The Turkish government maintains contrariwise that it will bring means in this poor region to develop its economy, notably by allowing the creation of 10 000 jobs, the development of an activity of peach and the irrigation of the agrarian lands.

If the building of the hydroelectric dam of Ilisu continues its construction, 80% of the ancient monuments of Hasankeyf will be flooded in the following year and the local environment of the city will be irremediably change. The dam will destroy 400 kilometers of the Tigris’s ecosystem and force the relocation of about 60,000 persons. Planed in the 1950’s, the construction of the dam started in the spring of 2008 but was interrupted one year later when the European investors decided to withdraw from the project for environmental issues as well as for violation of human rights. In spite of the foreign investors pullout, the Turkish government followed their initial plans with the help of its own banks.

This hydroelectric dam is part of the GAP (Güneydogu Anadolu Projesi – The Anatolia Project of southeast Turkey), which is presently the most important territory planning project in Turkey: it concerns eight provinces and will irrigate 1,7 million dry hectares of earth from 22 dams fed by waters of the Tigris and the Euphrates.

To these environmental and social risks, political risks have also been added. The dam was severely criticized in effect by the neighboring countries of Iraq and Syria who accuse Turkey of appropriating waters of two rivers running to the south of their territories, hit by dryness. In the absence of definite agreement with Iraq and Syria, the building of this dam constitutes a violation of international law.

There’s one-thing Islamic State militants and the Iraqi government they’re besieging agree on: Turkey is using more than its fair share of water.

Water levels on the Euphrates River that flows 2,700 kilometers (1,700 miles) from eastern Turkey through Syria and Iraq past ancient Mesopotamian lands have fallen more than half this year, withering farmers’ crops and raising the risk of a wider regional conflict, Iraqi officials say.

Turkey, for its part, says it has to look after its own and is investing $35.5 billion in dam and irrigation works to ensure reliable water supplies.

Construction is underway on the last six dams of a 22-dam project in southeastern Turkey, mostly on the Euphrates and Tigris, which flows south from Turkey, making part of its border with Syria before crossing the length of Iraq. Dam and irrigation projects on the Tigris -- the first to tap the waterway -- are due for completion next year despite Iraqi protests.

Turkey signed an accord with Syria in 1987 to keep about a third of the Euphrates historic average flow, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization. It has no such treaty with Iraq.

No international agreement for the Tigris exists at all.

“Turkey’s desire to withdraw yet more water runs the risk of plunging the region into greater turmoil,” said Adel Darwish, co-author of Water Wars: Coming Conflicts in the Middle East. “Turkey believes it can act with impunity while other countries are busy fighting Islamic State.”

They’re not the only ones facing international water issues. About 261 transboundary basins support 40 percent of the world’s population. The United Nations says the number affected by water scarcity due to climate change may more than double to 1.8 billion by 2025.

The Euphrates and Tigris, meanwhile, have the second-fastest rate of groundwater storage loss after India, according to Chatham House. Satellite data show many of the biggest aquifers being depleted at unsustainable rates.

A NASA study of the Tigris-Euphrates river basins showed stored freshwater reserves about equal to that in the Dead Sea was lost over seven years through 2009.

“Water levels are at a record low” because Turkey is taking more than a fair share, Shorooq al-Abayachi, deputy head of the Iraqi parliament’s agriculture and water committee, said.

Islamic State agrees. Water shortages are the “biggest challenge” it faces, it said in a May video. The group accused Turkey last August of reducing supplies to exert control, a charge Turkish authorities deny.

The militant group has itself targeted water facilities in Ramadi and at the Haditha dam in Iraq, part of a “disturbing new trend,” the ICRC said.

“There’s enough water to go around but the conflict with Islamic State has weakened” Iraq and Syria’s ability to negotiate resource-sharing agreements with Turkey, said Azzam Awash, who runs an NGO helping preserve Iraq’s wetlands.

The result may be a vicious circle where water shortages exacerbate the conflict, in turn blunting resource management.

Conflicts over water have long haunted the Middle East. Yet in the current fighting in Iraq and Syria, the major dams on the Tigris and Euphrates rivers are seen not just as strategic targets but also as powerful weapons of war.

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