Syria water forum discusses Turkish damming of rivers

Syria water forum held to discuss Turkish damming of rivers
3 min read
28 September, 2021
The International Water Forum for North and East Syria convened to discuss water issues facing the area.
The AANES has long complained of Turkey's choking of the Euphrates river, which the former relies on for agriculture. [Getty]

The Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria held a water conference on Monday and Tuesday, primarily aimed at discussing Turkey's cuts to water flow into the territory.

The International Water Forum for North and East Syria convened experts to discuss water problems in the Kurdish-controlled part of Syria over the two-day conference.

Northeast Syria has suffered consistent cut-offs in both the drinking water supplies and a reduction in river flow since at least 2015. The suspected culprit for the latter is Syria’s northern neighbour, Turkey, which is the one of most active dam-building countries in the world with 635 dams within its borders.

"The water level is dropping, and the cause for these dropping water levels is the construction of dams," a representative of the Civil Diplomasi Center said at the conference on Tuesday.

Two of the most important rivers in the region - the Tigris and Euphrates - flow through Turkey, which can regulate the amount of water that its two downstream neighbours, Iraq and Syria, receive via its dams.

A number of other smaller rivers that branch off from the Euphrates into northeast Syria, like the Khabour River, have also been affected by the building of dams.

The Kurdish-led authorities of northeast Syria have long accused Turkey of weaponising water supplies to punish them. Ankara views the Syrian autonomous authority as an extension of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), a movement seeking greater Kurdish autonomy and classified as a terrorist group by Europe, Turkey and the US.

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The result has been less water available for the area’s agriculture and for daily needs, such as hygiene.

Many residents of Syria's northeast do not have access to sewage systems or running water in their homes, making access to natural sources of water even more important.

The lack of availability of surface water also leads residents - especially farmers - to rely more heavily on wells connected to the area's aquifers. According to a study by the Kurdish-led authority's ministry of water in 2019, in the previous 20 years the number of private wells grew almost twenty-fold since 2001.

In time, this will exhaust the aquifer's supplies and increase the concentration of contaminants in the water. The ministry has already warned that the area's water table is dropping.

The Euphrates also feeds into the Tabqa Dam, where much of the region's electricity is produced via hydroelectric generators. According to the Qamishli-based Rojava Media Center, "80 percent of northeast Syria’s electricity is hydroelectrically generated".

Reportedly a number of hydroelectric turbines have been out of commission due to insufficient water levels in the Tabqa Dam.

Syria and Turkey signed a treaty in 1987 obligating Turkey to keep the average flow of the Euphrates River at 500 cubic meters per second. The level of the Euphrates in northern Syria was measured to be at less than 200 cubic meters per second in July 2020.

One of Turkey's chief domestic concerns is its consistent energy deficit, which its vast network of dams is meant to address.

The Southeastern Anatolia Project (GAP), under which many of these dams have been constructed, provides much-needed economic stimulus to the country's Kurdish-majority provinces, some of which are the country's poorest and have seen decades of deadly fighting between the Turkish military and the PKK.