Kalabagh dam: International dispute resolution

The Treaty of Peace 1994 Israel, Jordan and Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) – Cooperation between enemies

This treaty is a very revealing example that water issues can be sorted out between countries that are enemy states. The Jordan River flows among five riparians who have gone into wars. This area is located in arid geographical terrain; its water shortage poses an additional threat to long-term peace and security. The crucial issue was an equitable allocation of the annual flow of the Jordan watershed among its main riparian states – Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria. To bridge the credibility gap between parties, mediation by an outside personality was required. This was provided by US Special Envoy. Also, as water was (and is) deeply related to other contentious issues of land, refugees and political sovereignty, the Johnston negotiations, named after U.S. Special Envoy Eric Johnston, attempted to mediate the dispute over water rights among all the riparians.

To reconcile Arab and Israeli proposals in a Unified Plan amenable to all states, US offered to fund two-thirds of the development costs. The Arabs objected, but finally agreed, to international supervision. Allocations under the Unified Plan, later known as the Johnston Plan, included 0.324 MAF to Israel, 0.584 MAF to Jordan, 0.107 MAF to Syria and 0.028 MAF to Lebanon. Although the agreement was never ratified, both sides have generally adhered to the technical details and allocations.

During the Israel-Arab war of 1967, Israel annexed the Golan Heights, which is a major source of water for Middle East including that of the Jordan River. One of the main factors leading to Israel’s aggression in Lebanon in 1978 and the annexation of Palestinian land was water. However, after intense diplomatic efforts and intervention by international community, Israel and Jordan concluded a treaty regarding the sharing and division of River Jordan water.

This Treaty of 1994 is part of an integrated Peace Treaty to resolve the outstanding problems between Arab states and Israel. Article 6 and Annex 2 deal with the sharing and allocation of waters and the rights and duties of both states in relation to the surface and groundwater resources on the common terminus. It provides for the allocation of waters in each of the seasons, methods to increase the volume of water and clearly prohibits the detrimental use of such shared resources. The plan called for water allocations to be determined according to the area of irrigable land each state had within the basin. It allowed each country to do what it wished with its water, including out-of-basin transfers.

Later, Israel, Jordan and the PLO concluded an agreement, under the auspices of Norwegian Peace initiatives, on allocation of waters from their shared resources, which provides co-operative, sustainable and equitable use of surface as well as groundwater. As part of the 1994 Treaty of Peace, Jordan stores water in an Israeli lake while Israel leases Jordanian land and wells.

Tigris and Euphrates – The use of sovereign right – Intermix of water and political issues

These rivers which originate in Turkey and flow through Syria into Iraq show that an upper riparian country will invoke its sovereign right over water in its territory if it has political disputes with lower riparians.

The Euphrates River originates in Turkey, flows through Syria and joins the Tigris in Iraq to form the Shatt al Arab, which discharges into the Persian Gulf. The Euphrates River is the longest river in Western Asia. The river has three riparian countries, Iraq, Syria and Turkey and its basin is distributed among five countries (Iraq 47%, Turkey 28%, Syria 22%, Saudi Arabia 2.97%, Jordan 0.03%) with a total estimated population of 23 million.

Turkey provides about 89% of the total Euphrates flow generated from 28% of the basin area. By contrast, Syria contributes only 11% of total river flow generated from 22% of the drainage area due to comparatively less rainfall. Contributions by the remaining riparians are very small.

The Euphrates river flow regime before 1973 can be considered near natural as there was limited water regulation in Turkey. The construction and operation of the Keban Dam in Turkey in 1974 and the Tabqa Dam in Syria in 1975 led to a shift in the Euphrates flow regime. The river was further regulated with the operation of the Atatürk Dam in Turkey in 1992 and the development of related irrigation projects.

Water use in the Euphrates Basin in Iraq, Syria and Turkey focuses on irrigation, hydropower and drinking water supply, with agriculture consuming the largest share of water (more than 70%). The Southeastern Anatolia Project (GAP) in the upper Euphrates Basin in Turkey has drastically impacted the natural flow regime of the river in recent decades. The maximum storage capacity of the major dams and reservoirs (>116 MAF) on the Euphrates exceeds the natural annual flow volume of the river (24 MAF) by four to five times.

Before Turkey and Syria developed an interest in the storage of Euphrates water, Iraq was the main user of river. It was the first riparian to develop engineering projects along the river, irrigating more than five times as much land as Syria and nearly 10 times as much as Turkey in the Euphrates Basin. However, by the late 1960s Syrian and Turkish irrigation projects had outgrown Iraqi projects.

In 1920, the first treaty entirely focused on the Euphrates and Tigris Rivers was put in place between France, as the mandatory power for Syria, and Great Britain, the mandatory power for Iraq. Two bilateral agreements concluded since 1980s play a vital role in the allocation of water quantities in the Euphrates Basin. In 1987, Syria and Turkey signed the Protocol on Economic Cooperation, in which Turkey agreed to release a minimum average flow of 500m³/s across the Syrian border. In the second agreement in 1990, Syria and Iraq agreed to allocate 42% of the Euphrates water measured at the Syrian Turkish border to Syria and the remaining 58% to Iraq.

In mid-1974, Syria agreed to an Iraqi request that it would allow an additional flow of 0.162 MAF from Tabqa. The following year, however, the Iraqis claimed that the flow had been dropped from the normal 920 cubic meter/sec to an “intolerable” 197 cubic meter/sec and asked the Arab League to intervene. In May 1975, Syria closed its airspace to Iraqi flights and both Syria and Iraq reportedly transferred troops to their mutual border. Only mediation on the part of Saudi Arabia was able to break the increasing tension and on June 3, 1975, the parties arrived at an agreement that averted the impending violence. Additional tensions between Turkey and Syria involving Syrian support for Kurdish separatists exacerbated the water dispute. Military tensions flared between Turkey and Iraq in 1997, as Turkey invaded northern Iraq to attack Kurdish rebels in the area. In August of 1998, Turkey threatened military action against Syria if it continued to support the PKK. However, an important development took place in 2001 whereby through Adana Agreement Syria agreed to ban PKK (Kurd) rebels from country and accordingly withdrew its support to the Kurds fighting inside Turkey in lieu of uninterrupted flow of the waters of common rivers.

In this conflict where politics and water issues intermingle, the position of Iraq (lowest riparian) is particularly vulnerable, as her historic uninterrupted flow of Tigris and Euphrates water resources has been reduced by water projects of the upstream states and 30% of arable land has been abandoned because of salt contamination resulting from bad irrigation practices and least cooperation from upstream states. Turkey, however, considers that approximately 90% of the water in the Euphrates River and 50% of the water in the Tigris originates in Turkey and therefore, its resource. Former Turkish Prime Minister Suleyman Demirel summed up Turkey’s position in a statement in 1992:

“We do not say we share their oil resources. They cannot say they share our water resources. This is a right of sovereignty. We have the right to do anything we like.”

The continuous lack of cooperation on political issue has hardened the Turkish position regarding its sovereign rights on water and the tripartite negotiations on water issue remain inconclusive.

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