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«Managing Blue Gold New Perspectives on Water Security in the Levantine Middle East Mari Luomi (editor) Managing Blue Gold New Perspectives on Water ...»

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Further, in the current international political system, it is also more difficult to obtain rent from Gulf countries and elsewhere. Earlier, Syria repeatedly received money from rich Arab countries for diverse (foreign) political reasons, such as being a vanguard state against Israel or participating in the first Gulf war against Iraq. Syria’s best asset, its foreign policy, does not fare that well anymore. This, coupled with the forced retreat from Lebanon in spring 2005, has limited the regime’s possibilities to gain resources for distribution to the loyal. With regard to the regime’s allocatable resources, also of great significance is the fact that oil production has already peaked and is now dwindling. In 2001, the value of fuel exports as a percentage of all merchandise exports was 77.4%, while since 2006 it has slumped to approximately 40%. 47 Lastly, one should remember that the agricultural success story has been of great symbolic value for the regime. It is no coincidence that ripe grain fields and massive dams 45 For the statistics, see Climate Change, Water and Policy-Making process, pp. 1–2.

46 Carsten Wieland, Syria: Ballots or Bullets: Democracy, Islamism, and Secularism in the Levant (Seattle: Cune Press, 2006), p. 63.

47 See: World Bank, World Development Indicators (April 2010).

32 FIIA REPORT 25/2010 are well represented in the ‘political iconography’ of the regime.

Thus, economic failure is also a failure in the symbolic sense.

Drought-induced social and political unrest and the ensuing looting could easily destabilize the country. Sectarian divisions could readily escalate, given that Alawis, a Shia Islam sect constituting only about 10% of the population, are clearly over-represented in the higher echelons of the regime. One should also bear in mind that a great number of those who have migrated from the northeast to urban centres are Kurds. Since the 2004 violence in al-Qamishli, close to the Turkish border, and the resulting repression, the Kurdish question has become one of major national significance.48 So far, the relationship between the majority Arab population and the minority Kurds has been much better than in Turkey or Saddam’s Iraq, but any additional impoverishment of Syrian Kurds due to drought and displacement essentially increases the risk of ethnic tensions.

The potential influence of climate change as a ‘challenge accelerator’ regarding the challenges and risks confronting the Syrian regime is evident. As is commonly assumed, climate change in the Middle East is likely to increase the frequency of extreme weather conditions, such as droughts, and decrease rainfall. As a consequence, water scarcity in Syria would increase further, and without a proper response, the consequences for water and food security might be dramatic. The biggest risks are the effects of recurrent and probably longer-lasting droughts on agriculture, which, in turn, could result in even larger waves of immigration to the major cities, as described above. Hence, the current drought and its ramifications may be seen as a foretaste of what is to come with greater frequency in the future. At the same time, climate change may provide an opportunity to make radical changes in terms of water governance (the overall water policy) and water management, which would otherwise be hard to implement in the Syrian political and economic setting.

Of course, this kind of positive outcome would require the Syrian population to come to terms with the real consequences of climate change much better than at present. The political elite also needs to fully understand that the future of Syria lies in non-agricultural 48 For the Kurdish question in Bashar al-Assad’s Syria, see Julie Gauthier, ‘The 2004 Events in al-Qamishli: Has the Kurdish Question erupted in Syria?’, in Fred H. Lawson (ed.), Demystifying Syria (London: Saqi), pp. 105-119.

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Too big challenges?

When it comes to drought and climate change, the Syrian government’s policy has been largely reactionary to date. In order to tackle the consequences of recurrent droughts in the future, more proactive measures should be taken. Firstly, it is of paramount importance to modernize agriculture in terms of water management.

The traditional modes of irrigation that consume excessive amounts of water should be substituted by water-saving modes. Agricultural policies based on the promotion of water-intensive agriculture should also be reconsidered. This is additionally necessitated due to the significant impacts on agriculture that may ensue from Syria’s future accession to the World Trade Organization and an association agreement with the European Union, both of which are under discussion. It seems that the need for reform in irrigation practices is fully understood by the elite and, consequently, changes in that respect are likely to happen. A more profound change in the agriculture policies is much more problematic to achieve, given the vested interests of the regime’s key support groups, such as the powerful agricultural sector.

Secondly, economic diversification should be sought, not only in the drought-affected areas but also in general. The flow of foreign capital necessary for economic diversification, as well as the major investments required for water management, inevitably call for further liberalization of the economy. At the same time, it is essential to ensure that the negative effects of liberalization do not only burden the poorest section of the population. This will entail economic support for the long-neglected northeastern provinces. In the absence of a booming private sector, it will be difficult to provide jobs for the people who are forced to abandon agriculture.





34 FIIA REPORT 25/2010 The recurring droughts in Syria highlight the importance of a permanent agreement being brokered between Syria, Turkey and Iraq on the sharing of the waters of the Euphrates-Tigris basin. The remarkable thaw in relations between Turkey and Syria creates a good basis for such an agreement. Similarly, a peace agreement with Israel, including a water agreement on Golan-related waters, should be a national priority for Syria.

Finally, the authoritarian political structure of Syria inevitably prevents the state from finding durable solutions to the challenges posed by climate change. Therefore, the very existence of the Ba’th regime is contradictory to its attempts to tackle the challenges. At the end of the day, only democratization and the birth of a critical and active civil society will create a proper basis for sustainable development.

Taken together, the reforms needed are numerous and substantial.

Under the current circumstances, it is unlikely that the regime will be capable of making all the necessary reforms and, consequently, there will be significant problems in tackling the anticipated challenges brought about by climate change. For the government authority, addressing the question of food prices will be essential. If future droughts result in a major food crisis, Syria is likely to witness serious political instability.

FIIA REPORT 25/2010 35Zeki Kütük

2 The marginalization of water in Turkish-Syrian relations The transformation of Turkish-Syrian relations in the 2000s provides a case example of how transboundary water resources can be contingent on the general state of relations between neighbouring states. Despite the old predictions of imminent water conflicts in the area, control over the Euphrates and the Orontes rivers did not lead the two sides into conflict during the turbulent years in the two countries’ relations. Neither did water issues lead to the improvement of bilateral relations in the 2000s. On the contrary, it has been due to positive developments in the area of security and territorial issues that Turkey and Syria have come closer to reaching an understanding on water. Regardless of Turkey’s unwavering position vis-à-vis the Euphrates and the Tigris, which it considers as transboundary rivers rather than international watercourses, it has been advocating benefit-sharing on a bilateral basis with Syria. As this chapter illustrates, water has never been a determinant of Turkish-Syrian relations in the modern era. This suggests that in the future, in the case of the two states, neither conflict nor cooperation is likely to depend on the availability of water alone. The case study also suggests that the emerging new regionalism in the Middle East is an important factor in lowering the risk of interstate conflict, including disputes over water-sharing issues.

Since the establishment of the Syrian Arab Republic in 1961, Turkish-Syrian relations have gone through very troubled times due to the burden of their common history. For a long time, the modern Turkish state ignored its Ottoman past and the Middle East. On the one hand, according to Turkish thinking, the Arab world had been considered as problematic and negative because of the Arab alliance with the British forces against the Ottomans during World War I.

On the other hand, the shift from a multinational ‘Ottomanism’ to ‘Turkism’ alienated the Islamic world from the Republic of Turkey.

Furthermore, both the Turks and the Arabs accused each other of 36 FIIA REPORT 25/2010 backwardness. 49 Needless to say, the Arab nationalist narrative portrays the Ottomans as colonizers, and Syria was no exception in this respect until the recent rapprochement that started in 1998.

In the 2000s, particularly under the Justice and Development Party’s (AK Party) rule, Turkey has followed a new and active foreign policy vis-à-vis the Middle East, under the heading of ‘the zero problem policy’. This has led to enhanced regional cooperation in its near proximity, in which cooperation with Syria plays a very important role in developing Turkey’s relations with the other Middle Eastern countries. In Turkey’s and Syria’s present multi-faceted and multidimensional cooperation, water is still an important area. After the new opening of Turkey to the Middle East, water has a great potential to become a new dimension in the cooperation between Turkey and its neighbours, especially in the case of Syria. On the whole, adequate water management and cooperation in water issues would be an important factor in contributing to stability and peace in the relations between the two states, and more widely in the Middle East.

Disputed waters

The water disputes between Turkey and Syria erupted in the 1970s with Turkey’s projects for irrigation and hydraulic energy on the Euphrates and the Tigris, known as the Southeastern Anatolia Project (GAP). The filling of the Atatürk Dam began in 1990, and its completion in 1992 left Syria and Iraq without water for a period of one month. At the time, Syria’s water demand was increasing due to the two agriculture-based export development programmes implemented in 1987 and 1992. At the same time, Turkey continued attempts to hold water for the dams and the GAP irrigation schemes.

Disagreements have revolved around two river basins: the Orontes and the Euphrates-Tigris. The less contentious of the two has been that of the Orontes River, which rises in Lebanon, passes through Syria, and flows into the Mediterranean Sea in Hatay. Until the mids, use of the Orontes River sparked tensions between Turkey and Syria. For a long time, Syria contested the cession of Hatay 49 See e.g. Bülent Aras and Hasan Köni, ‘Turkish-Syrian Relations Revisited’, Arab Studies Quarterly, 24:4 (Fall 2002), pp. 50-51.

FIIA REPORT 25/2010 37 Province to Turkey, thereby questioning Turkey’s riparian rights to the river, which flows through the province. Turkey, in turn, linked negotiations over the Euphrates to those over the Orontes, demanding similar downstream riparian rights as those of Syria to the Euphrates River.50 Since the mid-2000s, however, as a consequence of the recent rapprochement, the two sides have made significant progress in the issue and agreed in 2010 to construct a friendship dam on the river. Both parties have also assessed cooperation opportunities in irrigation projects, agriculture and meteorology. 51

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The boundaries and names shown and the designations used in this map do not imply official endorsement or acceptance by the Finnish Institute of International Affairs or the authors, and are for illustrative purposes only.

Map 3. The Tigris-Euphrates basin 50 ESCWA, BGR and GTZ, Enhancing Negotiation Skills on International Water Issues in the ESCWA Region, (Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia, Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources, and German Technical Cooperation Agency, Beirut, 2004).

51 Today’s Zaman, ‘Turkey, Syria, Iraq not to Allow Interference in Water Issue’, (21 June 2010), http://www.todayszaman.com/tz-web/detaylar.do?load=detay&link=213737. Accessed on 5 July 2010.

38 FIIA REPORT 25/2010 The other disputed river is the Euphrates, which rises in Turkey and flows through Syria and Iraq, joining the River Tigris to form the Shatt Al Arab River, which descends into the Persian Gulf. Neither the upper riparian Turkey nor the lower riparian countries of the Euphrates basin are water-rich countries: Syria has 1 200 m³, Turkey 1 430 m³ and Iraq 3 020 m³ of water per capita per year, while the average global consumption is 7 600 m³.52 The biggest bone of contention has been Turkey’s Southeastern Anatolia Project (GAP), which includes the construction of dams on the Euphrates and the diversion of its waters to an irrigation system.

The filling of the Atatürk Dam in 1990 reduced the Euphrates’ flow rate, causing water shortages and hydropower loss in Syria and a reduction in irrigation water availability in Syria and Iraq. Until 1987, the upstream riparian Turkey utilized all the basin’s waters. The same year, the country signed an agreement with Syria, committing itself to releasing 500 cubic metres per second from the Euphrates to Syria, but further water cooperation was not possible between the two states at the time. In 1993, the construction of the Birecik Dam sparked yet another moment of tension.



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