Mey Alsayegh -9 August 2016 -Uganda
Amid the recent developments in the Northern Syria, that may lead to potential changing of borders along the Turkish frontiers, interconnected with climate change challenges, there is no still time to waste in the Middle East, in terms of Trans boundary water resources cooperation, Dursun Yildiz, Director of Hydro Politics Academy stated.
” We are 30 years late, and the first lesson we learned from Nile Basin Initiative(NBI) learning trip is before sharing the water and managing it, to build trust between the riparian countries in the Middle East” , Yildiz confirmed in an interview with Aljoumhouria newspaper that met him in Entebbe on the side-lines of his participation in a learning trip to the headquarters of (NBI) in Entebbe between 8 and 10 August, organized by “Strategic Foresight Group” with cooperation of the Swedish International Agency for Development and Cooperation, believing that a “measurement network is necessary and neighbouring countries should be aware of climate change big threat, especially for those that have water shortage”.
He said:” Nile Basin countries already started cooperation for water measurements 50 years ago, while Turkey, Iraq and Syria have no multilateral agreement to their Transboundary water management even a protocol to technical cooperation to make hydro meteorological measurement. NBI countries built trust, launched projects and we did not start yet, building trust is very important and not easy but should be driven by economical integration of States and mutually beneficial agreement. So, trying to reach an agreement on the basis of mutually beneficial approach is a must. Because we see that there has been little advance in the development of applicable and effective frameworks for realistic international water cooperation in the past decades. The reality of global change in many respects calls for innovative hydro diplomacy”.
Yildiz warned:” we have to be aware that Middle East will be shaped not by political conditions only but by natural conditions. Water, food and environmental security, will play an important role than before. This forces us to be aware of all the threats, the first thing is to start as soon as possible, building confidence, sharing data and setting up a reliable measurement network not only by measuring water but snow thickens in the mountains”.
The director of Hydro politics Academy admitted that Middle East now is passing in its worst political conditions, “to collect all actors and countries to begin solving the problems and involve New Hydro political equation higher than before, but as the years go by, the solution is getting away from the countries because right now water management capacity is not operated for at least 5 years, since most pipelines and irrigation canals are destroyed due to deteriorating situation in Iraq and Syria”.
Institutional capacity has been depleted by conflict in Syria and Iraq and there remains no mechanism for information sharing or emergency response across the river basins mainly Tigris and Euphrates.
However, Yildiz pointed out that Turkey and Iraq are trying to build some kind of cooperation on Water Management, adding: “we trained around 200 Iraqi irrigation engineers and technicians in Turkey in last two years.”
What to do now?
As Hydropolitics Academy of Turkey, “we are not calling to create immediate solutions but to stop the worst and to collect all data, information and be ready together to work for the future of the Middle East, before a huge crisis knocks our doors”, Yildiz confirmed.
So, Middle East needs new and innovative Hydro diplomacy, especially after ISIS turned the Middle East Hydro politics upside down, Hydro politics Academy putting these conditions in front, suggesting that Turkey and Iraq could lead this kind of development, because we are in the same cap, and if each country has exerted some effort, unity can be achieved.
Can Russia be a mediator in facilitating this dialogue?
As we heard, Nile Basin Initiative is open to external help, but it can’t be same in the Middle East.
When the Middle East remapping again 100 years after Syces-Picot, obviously external forces will firstly think their own interest. Actually this region is not only the old Middle East but also new Eastern Mediterranean full of natural gas. Therefore Russia itself is able to do nothing to solve this complicated crisis; any solution in the Middle East cannot be reached without the consent of America.
So, interest of external global forces to the region is a fact. International facilitation is needed. But the solution methods should be from the region not imposed by external forces, and we are wise enough and capable to solve our problems together without any interference, to ensure peace and stability of the region, Transboundary River Basin Countries should be wise enough not to lock the situation that may invite external forces to the region” Yildiz added.
Where are we going now?
Changing borders does not create concern only for the region, but for the entire International community, and we have recognized how 5 million refugees disturbed the west.
Yildiz said: “No one can foresee how the borders will change in Northern Syria, but if this tendency goes on, it seems that Euphrates water and groundwater in the northern Syria may be managed, dams may be operated in different management policy than before. This means a different actor can be involved in the Middle East Water Equation, as a result Middle East needs more projection not only because of climate change but possible change of the borders”.
Yildiz added: “Each new actor as a part of new water equation in the Middle East and should be aware of sensitivity of the Middle East Water equation. Otherwise this may create disputes and a threat to Middle East peace and stability again”.
For this reason, food security of the region will be quite important when we will feel climate change effects more than today in the region, and the study made by Hydropolitics Academy that revealed Natural diminishing trend of the Upper Tigris and Euphrates stream flows , is a bright evidence in this regard.
Yildiz who has already published 14 books and the latest one, entitled” The Middle East, A New Hydro Diplomacy why? praised Turkey for using water efficiently as possible and its shift from classical to modern irrigation especially under GAP projects, adding that GAP is a golden key to solve a long term food security for the region and countries should be aware of its significance to share the benefits of this project.
He said:”In Middle East, we need not only water, but also food and this increases the importance of GAP Project in the future”.
After building large storage facilities on the Euphrates and Tigris River, Turkey already developed 400 000 ha to be irrigated in the GAP area. This requires certain amount of water to be used and somehow its decreases annual available water budget in the basin.
But at the same time, considering long term flow data measured at nearby Syrian border, we realized that Euphrates and Tigris have been lost annual natural stream flows since the early 1970,s. The first dam (Keban Dam ) on the Euphrates river was completed in 1972. We studied this declining tendency and reached the conclusion that “Natural annual stream flows of the Euphrates and Tigris have been declining”. Similar results you can find in UN Reports and scientific research articles. As Hydropolitics Academy ,we will discuss the obtained results at a scientific roundtable meeting with scientist and experts in Ankara, Yildiz said.
Naturally diminishing annual flows and politically changing borders in the region can make the Middle East Water equation very hard to solve.
But does Turkey need incentives to be motivated to cooperate?
Some experts in Turkey and Iraq have suggested before, if Iraq would provide oil to Turkey with reduced prices, it will more ready to cooperate in terms of transboundary water resources.
Yildiz explained that it is not a matter to give water and take oil, but to create mutually beneficial agreement and creating interdependence in using main resources.
It is time to paradigm shift from zero sum to win- win. He said: “we should be careful because water and oil are not comparable but the most important thing for Middle East is to work together to use their natural resources mutually beneficially”.
Yildiz who believes that “Water peace at home is water peace in the world”, calls for Technical joint study committees, hoping that Syria and Iran will be involved in the Hydro Diplomacy soon, concluded that the first small but necessary step in a 1000 mile trip is through Water measurement.