International Dimension of Transboundary Watercourses, speech made at the 5th World Water Forum, Istanbul, 13 October 2008

At the outset I would like to express my pleasure to address such a distinguished audience on the occasion of this meeting. It is a very appropriate initiative to have a debate in this meeting by the experts on the international dimension of Turkey’s water issues in the context of the preparations of the 5th World Water Forum. I therefore would like to congratulate the organizers of this meeting.

The global climate change affecting more or less all countries of the world and the drought caused in some regions by this climate change have increased the importance of the efficient and effective use of the world’s water resources. As a recent example, one reason of the rise of the food prices and the consequent food crises in some countries is the decrease in the production due to drought effect. This situation forced Turkey to give higher priority to the water issues that are already very important for it.

In the context of these developments, Turkey’s hosting the 5th World Water Forum and the support given to this meeting demonstrate the importance attached to this meeting on the one hand and to the international cooperation about water issues on the other. This Forum is very appropriate, because it will bring together not only the Governments but also all the concerned stakeholders in a timely manner.

The world’s water supply, which amounts 1.360.000.000 km3, consists of seas and oceans (97%) and of fresh water (3%); and only 8% of the fresh water sources is used as potable water. Every year almost 40.000 km3 of water is transferred from the sea to the land by water cycle and this amount constitutes the world’s renewable water resources. Almost the total of the water used in the world comes from the fresh water resources. 70% of the world’s water supply is used in agriculture, 22% in industry and the remaining 8% is used for drinking and domestic purposes. As we can see, because of the inadequate water resources, high population growth rate and irrational use of the water resources, water will be the most important issue in the future.

This issue constitutes a problem for Turkey because of the limited water resources. Furthermore, because of the existence of the transboundry watercourses, water issues attain an international dimension. When Turkey’s geographical location and its neighbours are taken into consideration, this dimension becomes all the more important.

Turkey is situated in a region that is poor in water resources. In countries such as Canada and Norway, which are considered as rich in water resources, the amount of water consumption per person per year for drinking and domestic purposes is 8 to 10 thousand m3. This amount is 1 570 m3 per person per year in Turkey and it may decrease in the future because Turkey is in the drought belt. This quantity is one fifth of the water potentials of the countries rich in water resources. However, when compared to Turkey’s neighbours, it is higher than that of Syria and lower than that of Iraq and Georgia. Briefly, Turkey is considered richer in water supplies than some countries in the region, and is poorer than others.

When the factors such as the percentage of the size of hydroelectric energy in total power generation, urbanization and increase in population’s needs and the growing demand for water in the agricultural sector of Turkey with a fast developing economy and industry are taken into consideration, the problem of the already limited resources becomes all the more important.

Turkey is the upstream country of the Euphrates and Tigris Rivers, which are the most important watercourses of the Middle East together with the Nile. But along with these two rivers that stand in the forefront because of their size, Turkey is also the upstream country for the Çoruh and Kura rivers which flow to Georgia, and the Arax river that forms a border between Turkey and Armenia and which flows to Azerbaijan and its tributary the Arpatchai river, the Sarısu river that flows to Iran, the Zap river, Hezil and Şemdinli streams that flow to Iraq. Turkey is a downstream country for the river Maritsa and Tundzha that comes from Bulgaria and for the river Arda that comes from Greece as well as the river Orontes that comes from Syria.

Another important point about Turkey’s water resources that has to be emphasized is the unbalanced distribution of the precipitations throughout the year and among the regions. The amount of yearly precipitation in the Eastern Black Sea region is estimated to be around 2500 mm/y. This amount decreases down to 230 mm in Central Anatolia. The flow of some rivers at dry periods moves very slowly, some rivers even dry out, some rivers in high precipitation periods tend to cause floods. Therefore, the flow of the watercourses is also very important for Turkey.

The picture that I have tried to depict shows how the issue and the water policies that will be followed and specially integrated water management policies are of multiple aspects from Turkey’s standpoint. Turkey is in both an upstream and downstream country. Depending on the country compared to, in terms of resources, it can be ranked as rich or poor at the same time. Water resources are regionally and periodically unevenly distributed.

Because of these features, Turkey is not in a position to try to protect the interests of upstream countries and to ignore the interests of the downstream countries. Since Turkey’s major problem is linked to the water of the Euphrates, it has significant stake in its capacity as an upstream country. Since, Turkey demands nothing more than what it is entitled to either as an upstream country or a downstream country, it has to pursue a policy that does not give up its legitimate interests in neither respects.

When we look at the international dimension of the matter, the outlook is as follows: the international arrangements that have been made so far pertain mainly to the purpose of the protection and management of the water resources. Besides it has to be admitted that each of these arrangements has to be taken into consideration in the context of the special conditions of the water resource, special condition of the countries that are parties to the arrangement and the regional and international environment prevailing at the time these arrangements were made. That is why an arrangement that is applicable to one watercourse should not be taken as a reference for another watercourse. There is an international convention that deals specifically with all aspects of the subject of the transboundry watercourses, namely the Convention on the Law of the Non-navigational Uses of International Watercourses. This Convention is not ratified by sufficient number of countries. But Turkey, should not ignore the principles enshrined in this Convention and should not underestimate these principles on the grounds that the Convention has not been ratified by sufficient number of countries and that it is not a party to this Convention. Because, even though Turkey is not party to this Convention, the international norms in the field of transboundry watercourses, will most probably develop in the general direction envisaged by this Convention. This is why Turkey, has to focus on how to interpret to its benefit the clauses of the Convention that are in favour of upstream countries.

There are disputes on transboundry water issues in different parts of the world, such as the disputes that have arisen regarding the Rio Grande and Colorado rivers between USA and Mexico; St. Mary, Milk rivers and Michigan Lake between USA and Canada; Inn, Saalach and Salzach rivers between Austria and Bavaria.

The most important problem for Turkey is the dispute that it has with Iraq and Syria about the use of the waters of the Euphrates and Tigris rivers. This dispute started when the Southeast Anatolia Project (GAP), which is Turkey’s most important project, was initiated in the early 1970’s. This project covers an area of 70 thousand km2 and includes the provinces of Gaziantep, Şırnak, Adıyaman, Batman, Şanlıurfa, Diyarbakır, Mardin, Siirt. The tension increased when the first of the dams that were going to supply water to this project, namely the Keban Dam, started to hold water and when at the same time Syria started to hold water for the Tabqa dam. Syria and Iraq without gathering sufficient information about the program of filling up the reservoir of the Keban dam, were worried that they would suffer damage and would not be able to get enough water after the construction of this dam is completed. They tried to block this project by taking initiatives targeting the enterprises that would finance this project and claiming that their consent had to be sought for financing this project.

Syria and Iraq were worried when Turkey, which had its own technology and financial means, started to build first the Keban dam and than the Atatürk dam. Some disturbances were observed as a result of these developments.

According to the relevant provisions of the Protocol signed between Turkey and Syria at the end of the Joint Economic Committee meeting in 1987, Turkey has committed itself to give to Syria 500 m3/s water on a monthly basis from the main body of the Euphrates river, until the Atatürk dam’s reservoir is filled and until a final agreement is reached. In case this amount of water could not be provided in a given month the shortfall was going to be provided in the following month. Turkey is still fulfilling this commitment. The average amount of water given to Syria has been 789 m3/s in 2006 and 793 m3/s in 2007. At present there is a more positive atmosphere between Turkey and Syria.

Within the framework of the new political climate that settled in the region after the war in Iraq, the US interest in the water resources and transboundary watercourses has increased.

In this context, we can make the following observations about the position of Turkey which is emphasizing on every occasion that it is ready to cooperate on matters of water resources and transboundary watercourses:

–         It’s widely recognized that Euphrates and Tigris, which flow to the sea as a single river, form one single basin. In fact, Iraq, by linking these two rivers with two canals in its territories, has demonstrated that it considers these two rivers as parts of one single basin. “Two rivers one basin” is an indispensable principle for Turkey. In this context Turkey believes that the total water potential of the two rivers is enough to meet the needs of the three riparian countries.

–         Turkey supports the idea that the water should be used in an equitable, rational and “optimal” manner and that no “significant damage” should be caused to the downstream countries. By the terms “optimal use” Turkey understands the use of water in a manner to produce the highest benefit.

–         By taking into consideration these criteria, Turkey developed a concept called the “Three Stage Plan”. According to this plan, which has entered the international literature, the first stage would be to determine the total water potential of the basin of Euphrates and Tigris. The second stage is to determine the irrigation water needed in Turkey, Iraq and Syria. And the third stage is to allocate equitably the calculated amount of water according to the determined needs.

–         Turkey is ready to discuss the question of the Euphrates and Tigris’s waters with an integral approach and in all its dimensions. In this context, as an act of good will, Turkey has forwarded to the other riparian countries the data and information that they requested and emphasized that the exchange information should be on the basis of reciprocity and should cover the entire basin of the rivers.

The subject of the transboundary watercourses is not confined to the use of water. This matter has an important environmental dimension as well that gained importance nowadays.

The sustainable use of natural resources in long term, prevention of pollution, protection of the environment and the natural areas are elements that have to be taken into consideration in the politics pursued. At the present day environment problems are affecting every country in the region and are rendering the cooperation necessary between these countries for solutions. Due to its location, as a Mediterranean and Black Sea country, Turkey is affected by the pollution of the rivers that are flowing into these two seas. This aspect should be borne in mind in all fields from tourism to fishing, from biodiversity to human health and in many other fields.

Agreements on transboundary watercourses cannot be reached without the good intentioned regional and international cooperation of the concerned countries. International agreements that will be adopted can be implemented only through this cooperation.

When Turkey joins the European Union as a full member, it is likely that Turkey will be asked to assume the role of “EU partner” in the region. In this case, Turkey’s water resources will have to be included in the EU inventory.

Water is an economic commodity as much as it is a basic human need and is directly affecting the social and economic life of men. It is on the international agenda as much as it is on the national agenda.

It is alleged from time to time that conflicts stemming from water issues will lead to military confrontations in the Middle East. This view can be interpreted as follows: if a country wants to attack another county, water can be used as a perfect excuse for war. However, if a country wants to cooperate with another country in the basin of the same transboundary watercourse, it may also offer a perfect opportunity for cooperation.

In this context, the subject of transboundary watercourses has to be taken up as a separate subject apart from the subject of water issues in general and should be debated by all the interested parts including the managers, experts and academicians etc.

The organisation of this meeting especially before the World Water Forum is an appropriate initiative. After having seen the importance attached to this subject, I am now more confident that the decisions and policies that will be drawn up in the future will achieve their goals.

Before I conclude my words I would like to thank you once more for your attention.

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