In light of the conditions that Syria is currently facing, water has been cut off from North-east Syria and Iraq, and a policy is being pursued to starve and dehydrate millions of innocent civilians. This is not only happening on top of the current political conflicts in the region and its associated inhospitable living conditions but amidst the corona pandemic – all of which is taking place in front of the international community.
While this is happening, the international community has not lifted a finger, but rather continues to remain silent.
What is the purpose of humanitarian organizations when they do nothing? and what do human rights mean in this context? What is the benefit of their presence while they watch thousands of innocent children being deprived of their most basic rights? Is it not enough that they have suffered from poverty, disease, and displacement, and the negative impact of the war? Is it not enough that all of this has left a detrimental impact on their psyche and deprived them of living in peace?
Who is responsible for this?
The problem began with Turkey in the twenties of the last century, and discussions are still continuing between Iraq and Syria on the one hand, and Iraq and Turkey on the other, in order to find agreement on how to use the river waters without harming the interests of other countries.
A tripartite committee was set up in order to find a basis for establishing a fair sharing treaty. However, Turkey refuses to make any agreement for sharing water, ignoring international law, which stipulates that the river is considered international if its basin passes through the territories of different countries. In this case, each country practices its sovereignty in their own territories over which the river passes, taking into account the interests of other countries.
It is not permissible for any country to undertake any project on the river basin that would harm or infringe upon the rights of other States, which is one of the principles adopted by the International Court of Justice in Lahay in 1974 to resolve international disputes over water.
In this legal text it is emphasized that, “Any actions that lead to environmental damage in the riparian countries” are “prohibited”, yet Turkey invokes a justification for not having an agreement to share the water, instead of providing special explanations to the international law on sharing river water with the riparian countries.
Turkey refuses to include the Tigris and Euphrates basins within the concept of international rivers but considers them ‘cross-border’ rivers, which, as a concept, does not exist in name under international law. According to this concept, Turkey considers the Tigris and Euphrates rivers as water owned by the Turkish State and therefore has every right to act over them however they wish, denying the historical rights acquired thousands of years ago for both Iraq and Syria. Therefore, Turkey has begun planning and implementing many water projects on these rivers, ignoring the rights of neighboring countries.
Among these projects is the huge GAP project (the project of reviving the southeastern Anatolia region), which led to a decrease in the flow of the Euphrates water to Iraq by about 75%. The project faced rejections from both the Iraqi and Syrian sides, and the European Union stopped its funding because it will cause the destruction of archaeological areas within Turkey itself, as is what happened in the case of the city of Hasankeyf in Diyarbakir region near the border with Iraq. This project is considered an endeavour to build the Turkish economy – a mainstay to strengthen its geopolitical weight and power in the region and thus will impact various aspects of life in Iraq and Syria.
The impact of the Turkish water policy on Syria
For several years, Turkey has been cutting off water to the Syrian regions and depriving it of its share of the agreed water, with the aim of starving the Syrian people, destroying agricultural wealth and striking the Syrian economy. Turkey is still continuing its inhumane practices in the region through supporting its affiliated armed factions in Serekani (Ras al-Ain), while cutting off water on the city of Hassaka and its western countryside.
Turkey targets and forbids workers from operating “Alouk” water pumping station in the countryside of Serekani, which is the main source of feeding the city of Hassaka and its countryside, the towns of Abu Rassen, Tal Tamr, Shaddadi, and Al-Hol camp. This camp houses 62,000 displaced people, in addition to the Washokani camp, which houses about 12,000 displaced people and Areesheh camp which is inhabited by about 13,000 displaced people.
It is worth noting that it’s not the first time that Alouk station has been stopped. It has already been stopped for several reasons, including the shelling of Turkish artillery, the power being cut off, or the station workers being prevented from entering it. However, an agreement was reached on restarting the station to return to work on 17th December, 2020, several months before before the crisis.
Turkey continues its inhumane violations, as it’s currently working to confine the river’s water for more than five meters from its level, as four meters reach the Tishreen Dam lake, and in the Euphrates Dam lake, the decline is more than three meters. The quantity is less than what was agreed between Syria and Turkey in 1987, which is 500 cubic meters per second to the Syrian territories, while Iraq gets about 60% of this amount.
Consequently, the decline of water in the Euphrates River caused the suspension of 7 drinking water stations in the western and eastern countryside of Deir Ezzor, as the stations of Al-Sa`wa, Al-Buseyrah, Al-Riz, Sweidan, Hajin and Al-Susah stopped working.
Water confinement threatens thousands of hectares of agricultural land planted with summer vegetables, while the region witnesses a heatwave that leads to damaging crops due to prioritizing thirst, in line with the difficult living conditions in those areas.
The low level of water in the riverbed, especially in the summer months, leads to the death of fish and other organisms such as shellfish, and the dead bodies also cause organic pollution as well as economic losses.
In Raqqa governorate, there are several drinking water stations that depend directly on the Euphrates River to supply water to the population. They are the Al-Raqqa station near the city, Al-Jazra station in its western countryside, and a third station in the Karama area, east of Raqqa.
Day after day, the risk of environmental pollution increases in areas where water drop is causing diseases, especially for children, such as typhoid fever, enteritis, and diarrhoea, and some cases may have developed into cholera.
The impact of Turkish water policy on Iraq
The confinement of the water of the Euphrates and Tigris rivers did not affecte Syria only, but also Iraq, so the Iraqi Ministry of Water Resources announced that the Turkish side had reduced the levels of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers to half, which led to decline of the level of two rivers inside Iraq, in conjunction with Iran cutting a number of important river tributaries by diverting their natural course.
The goal behind Turkish control of water resources
Turkey and Iran are using water as a weapon against humanity, using it to bargain over the lives of millions of civilians, putting extra pressure on the region, and putting it under their control. Turkey’s water policy is linked to the political decision of the State and found in the water paper a means to achieve its political and economic ambition to become a major regional power in the Middle East region.
Its construction of dams has a severe impact on the region and the environment and will cause a lot of defects on both Syria and Iraq as well as Iran, as the project will lead to the destruction of agricultural lands, drought, and power outages as a result of the inability to generate electricity from Iraqi and Syrian dams, and death of fish and livestock, desertification, as well as dust and air pollution.
Therefore, the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross must fulfill their tasks which allows it to be present in the field of work and act without delay, to rectify the difficulties because the nature of these conflicts urges them to increase their initiatives and find appropriate solutions, fast.
On this basis, the International Committee work is indispensable for helping the population impacted by the armed violence, as well as for the departments concerned with repairing damaged water installations and providing technical expertise when necessary because the survival of these residents and operating their production system depends on water.
It’s the responsibility of the United Nations, international committees, and humanitarian and human rights organizations to put an end to the practices of the Turkish State in Syria and Iraq, and to intervene urgently to find a solution to this unfortunate humanitarian catastrophe.
Member of the Diplomatic Relations Committee, Kongra Star