Water: A Source of Life and Conflict in the Land of Two Rivers


Mesopotamia is now home to as many conflicts as there are ethnic groups, religious factions and nation states. Rebels fighting states, Sunnis battling Shias, Turks clashing with Kurds, jihadists and national governments and states competing with one another for the region’s natural resources.

While oil is considered to be one of the main causes for the region’s instability water as source of conflict is often overlooked. Water is becoming more scarce, and the struggles to safeguard a fair share are growing fiercer by the day.

On several occasions development projects on the Euphrates and Tigris rivers have brought Turkey, Syria and Iraq to the brink of war. When in 1990 Turkey blocked the flow of the Euphrates for nine days to fill the reservoir of the Atatürk dam, Iraq threatened to bomb the dam. Now, tensions are high as yet another Turkish mega-dam is about to be completed — the Ilisu dam on the Tigris river. The Ilisu dam is part of the giant Southeast Anatolia Regional Development Project (GAP acronym) which was launched in 1977 and aims to built a total of 22 dams and 19 hydroelectric power plants by 2015, covering nine provinces in southeastern Turkey.

The GAP project has already displaced hundreds of thousands of people – many of them Kurds – who have been silenced, pacified and left powerless, their demands for compensation ignored as they joined the desperate masses around the urban centers, competing for the chance to be exploited because an unfair wage is better than no wage at all when you have hungry family to feed.

The finished GAP project will reduce water flows to Syria by 40 percent, and to Iraq by a shocking 80 percent. This, in combination with droughts that have hit the region over the past few years, the ongoing conflict between the Iraqi state and it allies and the militants of the so-called Islamic State, and the millions of (internally) displaced people in the region, has the potential to unleash an environmental and humanitarian catastrophe, destabilizing the region for years to come.

The struggle for equal access to resources is connected across ethnic, religious and national boundaries.

The full article by Joris Leverink was originally written for TeleSUR English:
Water: A Source of Life and Conflict in the Land of Two Rivers