This book is the result of the “Euphrates Tigris Water Issues Workshop” hosted at the Ohio State University April 21-22, 2016 in Columbus, Ohio. It has been edited to present the content of the workshop in an accessible way, while remaining relevant for readers with expertise in water resource management and policy.  A brief report on the workshop is also available here. The following chapters are based on the following presentations by the workshop participants, in addition to a presentation for local teachers:

Transboundary Water politics in the Euphrates-Tigris Region
– Aysegül Kibaroglu, Professor of Political Science and International Relations at MEF University Istanbul, Turkey, Founding Member Euphrates-Tigris Initiative for Cooperation (ETIC) 2005, Visiting Professor LBJ School of Public Affairs, The University of Texas at Austin 2015-16

Origin, Mission, and Activities of Euphrates-Tigris Initiative for Cooperation (ETIC)
– Faisal Rifai, Executive Director of the Euphrates-Tigris Initiative for Cooperation (ETIC), retired Professor of Water Resource Management from Aleppo University
– Eblal Zakzok, Assistant Professor of Water Resource Management, The Ohio State University  

Comparative Transboundary Issues: Rio Grande and Euphrates River
Jürgen Schmandt, Professor Emeritus, Lyndon B. Johnson (LBJ) School of Public Affairs, University of Texas (UT) Austin

Geographical Information Systems (GIS) Use During Times of War
– Eblal Zakzok, Assistant Professor of Water Resource Management, The Ohio State University  

Capacity building in transboundary water management: regional and local perspectives
– Faisal Rifai, Executive Director of the Euphrates-Tigris Initiative for Cooperation (ETIC), retired Professor of Water Resource Management from Aleppo University

Urgent water issues in the ET basin: Case of Mosul Dam
– Haytham Oueidat, LBJ School, UT, Austin

Concluding Remarks
Alam Payind, Director of the Middle East Studies Center

Workshop Moderation
Maria Fanis, Associate Professor of Political Science, Ohio University and Research Fellow at the Mershon Center for International Security Studies, Ohio State University

Background Information

The Ohio State University reconvened the meeting of the Euphrates-Tigris Initiative for Cooperation (ETIC)  Thursday, April 21 to Friday, April 22nd, 2016 as part of its Hydropolitics seminar series on water scarcity and water security.  The meeting presented unique opportunities to interact with experts from Syria, Turkey and Iraq who have worked locally on water resource management issues in the Euphrates-Tigris region for many years. Participants joined us from Earth Sciences, International Politics, Microbiology, International Studies, Agricultural Engineering, and others.  The program began with a public address and keynote lecture by Aysegül Kibaroglu, world expert on Turkish water policy issues, and the history of cooperation across political boundaries in the Euphrates-Tigris region. The program continued the next day with a workshop for faculty and graduate students working on international public policy, water resource management and local cultures of the region.

The modern Euphrates Tigris region is defined by the rivers’ basin, or basins 1, of the two great rivers, and the nation-states that comprise its riparian countries, Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran. The rivers originate in their mountainous areas, being fed from rain and snow, flow through arid climactic terrains, and converge again in the shared delta region of the Shatt al-Arab. Academics and professional from Iraq, Syria, Turkey and the United States have been working to exchange knowledge and information on the shared water resources of the region since 2003, to work out a new approach for sustainable cooperation on regional development. These activities resulted in founding ETIC.

ETIC is a group of academics and professionals who have worked on knowledge-sharing activities, and aspects of transnational cooperation between Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran in regard to water resource management.  ETIC knowledge sharing activities have entailed collecting publicly available data, training government officials in each of the riparian nations, and bringing together experts from different professions to harmonize their knowledge and analyze data for the benefit of people in the Euphrates-Tigris region. The last meeting was held in 2012 in Istanbul. 

One of ETIC’s goals is to uncover the intersections between technical and traditional knowledge bases, and address the misunderstanding that arises due to conflicting epistemic perspectives. Dr. Kibaroglu has written an article on the value of engaging with and forming diverse epistemic communities around practical issues and problem solving (2008). The majority of the participants have been academics from faculties of engineering and social sciences, but this year we welcome scholars in the humanities and social sciences who are familiar with the cultural contexts of the region. Academics were not the only participants in the ETIC activities, which included government professionals in ministries of water and energy, agriculture, etc. ETIC scholars trained government officials, and they cooperated on various knowledge sharing projects.  

ETIC activities have embraced perspectives coming from in and outside of academia for solving political and practical water management issues.  Concerned citizens were also included in the ETIC activities. Many of the technical people recognized the value of diverse ways of understanding of the place of water in people’s daily lives. They observed that local, traditional knowledge of water usage and management conflicts with modern technical views in many cases. At the same time locals often desire modernization if it means the improvement of their daily life. These local “folk” knowledge bases, however, continue to remain relatively untapped.

The importance of transnational, multidisciplinary, epistemically diverse cooperation on water issues goes beyond the Euphrates Tigris region.  Water scarcity and the dangers to clean water haunt not just arid lands or downstream nations, but places such as drought-stricken California, algae-poisoned Toledo, Ohio and recently Flint Michigan. Indeed, “80% of the world’s population is exposed to high levels of threat to water security” (Vörösmarty et al, 2010). Armed conflicts and civil wars are more likely to occur in situations of ethnic dominance when countries also contest water issues (Turkey, Syria and Kurdistan are  examples; see Mitchell, 2015).

We believe these conversations are of universal import, as well as of urgent significance to the local region.  The Euphrates Tigris riparian nations are not alone in most of the issues they are facing. A global view on river basins water issues provided by Professor Schmandt revealed universal struggles for critical sources of fresh water around the world, usually supplying the largest population centers. Rivers are distant sources of water, originating from mountain snow, or tropical rainfall. Their journey downstream creates fertile soil but also entails loss of water to evaporation through what are often arid climates.  This is certainly true in the Euphrates Tigris region. Worldwide, dams, reservoirs, canals, distribution channels, modern forms of agriculture which require intensive irrigation, and growing basin populations, are putting immense pressure on these water resources.

Massive rivers, such as the Euphrates and the Rio Grande, actually dry to a trickle in some seasons due to the factors mentioned above. Clearly these factors make cross-border cooperation, not only more necessary, but more fraught with conflict based on competing interests.  This book serves as an introduction to these issues using the riparian nations of Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran as examples. For a deeper investigation into these issues, practical suggestions regarding sustainability, and a discussion of how stakeholders can prepare for the future, see: “Sustainability of Engineered Rivers in Arid lands: Euphrates-Tigris and Rio Grande/Bravo” by Schmandt and Kibaroglu, 2016.

Cited Sources:

Kibaroglu, A., & Scheumann, W. (2011). Euphrates-Tigris Rivers System: Political Rapprochement and Transboundary Water Cooperation. Turkey’s Water Policy, 277-299.

Kibaroglu, A (2008). The Role of Epistemic Communities in Offering New Cooperation Frameworks in the Euphrates-Tigris Rivers System. Journal of International Affairs, Spring/Summer 2008, vol. 61, no. 2.

Mitchell, Sara. (2015). “Cross Border Troubles? Interstate River Conflicts and Intrastate Violence.” Presented at the The Mershon Center for International Security Studies.

Schmandt, Jurgen and Aysegul Kibaroglu, Eds. (2016) Sustainability of Engineered Rivers in Arid lands: Euphrates-Tigris and Rio Grande/Bravo, University of Texas, Austin/LBJ School of Public Affairs Policy Research Project No. 190.

Vörösmarty, C. J., McIntyre, P. B., Gessner, M. O., Dudgeon, D., Prusevich, A., Green, P., … Davies, P. M. (2010). Global threats to human water security and river biodiversityNature,467(7315), 555–561.

[1] It is alternately referred to as Euphrates Tigris River Basin, or Basins, depending on what emphasis the speaker/writer places on their interconnectedness. In other words, there is  disagreement on the degree to which some parts of the rivers and their tributaries affect others.


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Euphrates-Tigris Water Issues: An Introduction Copyright © 2016 by Melinda McClimans is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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