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Upstream-Downstream: Dams, marshes and politics on the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers


Upstream-Downstream: Dams, marshes and politics on the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers Table 1.1- Expected Reduction of Waters in the Tigris and Euphrates System Annual ... – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Upstream-Downstream: Dams, marshes and politics on the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers

Upstream-Downstream Dams, marshes and politics
on the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers
  • No substitutes
  • Imposition of borders
  • Watersheds are a threat to national sovereignty
  • Unlike other resources, it flows
  • Upstream-Downstream
  • Power difference
  • Temporal difference
  • Pollution/evaporation exacerbated by extraction
  • Infrastructure development for self-sufficiency
    exacerbates tension
  • Dams as weapons

Transboundary Rivers
  • Regulation and management are difficult, and in
    many systems there is no substantive agreement
    over water rights or use.
  • The natural geographical and management unit of
    water, the watershed, strains both institutional
    and legal capabilities often past capacity.

Transboundary River Management
  • Interstate watershed management is in itself
    largely theoretical.
  • Also inherently problematic.
  • Equitable use is the concern of upstream
    states it permits consumption and production
    throughout the system, not acknowledging the
    downstream effects of upstream use.
  • Obligation not to cause appreciable harm is the
    concern of downstream states it implies that
    they should receive water of the same quality
    that upstream states do, which would in all
    likelihood place substantial constraints on
    upstream states abilities to pursue their

Interstate Water War Hot Spots in the Middle East
  • Nile- Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia, Sudan, Egypt
  • Tigris/Euphrates- Turkey, Syria, Iraq
  • Jordan/Litani- Lebanon, Syria, Israel, Jordan

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  • At the dawn of the new millennium, the tragic
    loss of the Mesopotamian marshlands stands out as
    one of the worlds greatest environmental
    disasters. Dams and drainage schemes have
    transformed one of the finest wetlands, the
    fabled Eden of the Fertile Crescent that has
    inspired humanity for millennia, into
    salt-encrusted desert. The ecological
    life-support system of a distinct indigenous
    people dwelling in a rare water-world of dense
    reed beds and teeming wildlife has collapsed.
    Humanitys impact on the planets fragile
    ecosystems could not be more dramatically
    illustrated. This Mesopotamian story is yet
    another wake-up call alerting us to the fraying
    fabric of spaceship earth. We are again reminded
    that we need to act now to restore ecosystems on
    a global scale.
  • -UNEP, 2001 viii (italics added)

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Marsh Literature
  • Thesiger, Wilfred. 1964. The Marsh Arabs.
    London Longmans, Green and Co. Ltd.
  • Salim, Shakir Mustafa. 1964. Marsh Dwellers of
    the Euphrates Delta. London The Athlone Press
    at the University of London.
  • Young, Gavin. 1977. Return to the Marshes Life
    with the Marsh Arabs of Iraq. London Collins.
  • Nicholson, Emma and Peter Clark, Eds. 2002. The
    Iraqi Marshlands. London Politicos Publishing.
  • France, Robert. 2007. The Iraqi Marshlands
    Restoration and Management. Sussex Academic

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  • -The Marshes circa 1973-1976. UNEP, 2001.

  • NASA satellite imagery of the Marshes circa 1973
    (left) and 2000 (right). Deep purple signifies
    permanent marsh. Red signifies irrigated
    agriculture. Dark blue signifies permanent
    lakes. Light blue signifies seasonal lakes.
    Gray signifies barren or dry land.

  • Global actors frame local issues.
  • Activist groups, NGOs, engineers, economists,
    social scientists
  • If the problem is X, then the solution is NOT X,
    provided through some function of expertise.
  • No water? Engineer builds a dam.
  • No water? Economist assigns water rights.
  • No water? Human rights group blames rights
  • Who and where you are influences whether you see
    X or Y.
  • Multiple partial truths emerge
  • No guarantee that local voice is truth either

The Marshes Place, Origin, and Change
  • 15,000-20,000km2 (extent fluctuated greatly)
  • Garden of Eden, flood of Gilgamesh and Genesis,
    the birthplace of Abraham (links with "origins of
    civilization" are interwoven into almost every
    account of degradation and restoration)
  • Geologically recent system
  • Basra narrowing alluvial fans descend from
    mountains and plateau, width of the plain is 45km
  • Seawater trapped following most recent glacial
    recession (consistent with early written sources
    that Ur and Eridu were in intimate proximity to
    the shoreline)
  • Sediment deposits pushed the coastal shore
    southeastward, contributing to a slow and
    progressive filling up of lakes and Marshes and
    ultimately to their long-term disappearance
    (Sanlaville, 2002 145)
  • Marshes have grown and retracted according to
    the amount of control exercised over the flood
    water and the amount of water used for irrigation
    in the north (Encyclopedia of Islam, al-Batïha)

  • The future survival of the marshes must,
    therefore, be in question merely as a result of
    the changes which have occurred, or are likely to
    occur, in the upper parts of the basin in Turkey,
    Syria and Iraq Given the political standing of
    Saddam Hussein in the West it is not surprising
    that many Western commentators have placed all
    the blame on Iraq for the potential disruption of
    the ecology of the marshes of the Shatt al-Arab.
    This is, however, a rather extreme view of the
    situation as the future of the marshes has
    already been threatened by the major new
    irrigation works in the upper part of the basin.
    In reality, the Iraqi actions have merely
    exacerbated what was already a critical
  • -Beaumont, 1998 182

Four Dangers
  • Simultaneous Globalization and Localization of
    the Marshes
  • The Exaggerated Agency of Saddam Hussein
  • Homogenization and Victimization of the Marsh
  • Arbitrary Time and Nature

Simultaneous Globalization and Localization of
the Marshes
  • Mesopotamian Marshlands binds a regional
    concern with a distant audience by creating a
    global or civilizational ownership.
  • Mesopotamia, the cradle of civilization, is no
    longer a real place, but an imagined ancestral
    home for most cultures of the Middle East and
  • Implications of Eden

Simultaneous Globalization and Localization of
the Marshes
  • All told... recreating Iraq's marshes will be an
    even bigger challenge than restoring Florida's
    Everglades.. The key difference... is that the
    Everglades already has both a robust inflow of
    water and an agreed-upon plan to fix the mess.
    For now, Iraq has neither.
  • -Jacobson, The Washington Post, 04/28/03
  • Before Hussein's drainage project, Iraq's marshes
    were the Middle East's largest wetland, covering
    about 7,500 square miles. By the late 1990s,
    satellite images indicated that less than 10
    percent of Iraq's marshland had any water.
  • -Chandrasekaran, The Washington Post, 10/11/03
  • Few places on Earth have a stronger hold on the
    imagination than do the Iraq marshes... Those
    marshes exist mostly in... memory, however in an
    unprecedented ecological and human disaster, some
    90 of the famed Iraqi wetlands were destroyed by
  • --Lawler, Science, 02/05

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The Exaggerated Agency of Saddam Hussein
  • In one of the greatest ecological crimes of the
    20th century, Saddam Hussein managed to drain,
    poison, and desiccate the lush wetlands that were
    home to 250,000 Maadanis, as well as a crucial
    stopover for birds Saddam launched a punitive
    assault in 1991 that brought desertification to
    one of the worlds most valuable delta regions.
  • Pat McDonnell Twair, Washington Report on Middle
    Eastern Affairs, 9/03
  • Saddam Hussein launched an attack on the wetlands
    and their inhabitantsthe Iraqi leaders method
    of revenge not only forced the mass migration of
    the marsh dwellers into the cities, but triggered
    an environmental catastrophe.
  • Daniel Del Castillo, Chronicle of Higher
    Education, 10/03
  • The sheer scale of the destruction is of biblical
    proportionsThree wars and one insurrection
    played a big role, as did a concerted effort in
    the 1990s by Saddam Hussein to drain the marshes.
  • Andrew Lawler, Science, 02/05
  • For almost 5000 years, people in southern Iraq
    have been living in marshes, their livelihood
    depending on the waters, the buffalo and fishing.
    Saddam destroyed their way of life in a campaign
    between 1992 and 1993.
  • Iraqi Prospect Organisation,

The Exaggerated Agency of Saddam Hussein
  • Saddam Hussein was destined to forget the history
    of this cradle of civilization and did everything
    in his power to neglect the agricultural industry
    of his country. Iraqi agriculture research,
    improvements to infrastructure and advancements
    in technology were essentially nonexistent during
    Saddams tenureSaddam also destroyed one of the
    worlds largest wetland ecosystems when he
    drained the marshlands of southern Iraq,
    displacing thousands of Iraqi farmers.
  • -U.S. Representative Bob Goodlatte, Review Iraq
    Agriculture, 06/04
  • What is important to understand about this
    situation is that this disaster was manmade. It
    was the product of the corrupt, terror-ridden
    government of Saddam Hussein. This region, known
    as the Eden of Iraq, was destroyedSaddam did
    more than evict thousands of people from their
    homes. He brought ecological devastation to this
    ancient area Now that Saddam Hussein and his
    criminal regime are par of an unhappy history,
    attention must turn to restoring the marshlands.
  • -U.S. Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, United
    States and the Iraqi Marshlands An Environmental
    Response, 02/04

The Exaggerated Agency of Saddam Hussein
  • In little more than a decade, the regime of
    Saddam Hussein nearly destroyed one of the
    largest and most important wetlands in the world
    (USAIDs Iraqi Marshlands Restoration Program,
    2004 13).

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Homogenization and Victimization of the Marsh
  • new opportunities and aspirations make
    subsistence existence completely unattractive to
    those with better prospects. Technology has
    moved on, making the old-fashioned waypainfully
    burdensome and unrewarding.
  • Ochsenschlager, 2004
  • the people of al-Naser are now fed up. They
    would rather, they say, stay put and carry on
    farming- provided local services are improved-
    then return to a rehabilitated marsh
  • Economist, 2003

Arbitrary Time and Nature
  • 1973 pre-Husseinian Nature
  • You need to try to allow nature to reclaim the
    areaIf youve ever been in the Marsh the way it
    was, youd know that its a temple to God, its a
    temple to nature.
  • Azzam Alwash, quoted in Foreign Correspondent,
  • The presumption that follows is that the Marshes
    existed in a climax form until the influence of
    the unnatural disturbance of Saddam Hussein.

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Table 1.1- Expected Reduction of Waters in the
Tigris and Euphrates System
Annual Flow in the Shatt Al-Arab, Mm3/yr Tigris River Annual Flow to the Shatt Al-Arab, Mm3/yr Euphrates
Natural 49,200 Natural (at Hit) 32,720
Pre-Project (circa 1970) 24,300 Pre-Keban Dam (circa 1974) 16,800
2000 9,700 2000 -6,441
- Reproduced from Kolars, 1992
  • Irrigation has been practiced in Mesopotamia for
    6,000 years and already an ancient text of 2,000
    B.C. mentions that the earth turned white
    (Rzoska, 1980 6).
  • This highly dynamic ecosystem is therefore
    dependent on spring floods for its replenishment
    and very existence (UNEP, 2001 12).

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  • Bush replaced Hussein
  • Dykes were broken down and dried marsh flooded.
  • 70 of original footprint?
  • Water quality concerns.

  • Drought, climate change and Turkey
  • Growing realization that solutions to the marshes
    will not be found in the marshes alone.
  • Growing realization that marsh management will
    require technological solutions dozens of water
    control structures to regulate water levels.

Whats to learn from all this?
  • Rivers flow downstream. That means problems and
    solutions flow downstream as well.
  • Loud is not the same as right.
  • Nature and permanence are dangerous concepts.