mercredi 8 juillet 2009

Ankara deflects criticism from Iraq over water usage

07 July 2009, Tuesday.

Against the backdrop of increasingly vocal complaints by Iraq against Turkey regarding the flow of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, Turkish officials have said they are doing the best they can for their neighbor but that Iraq has to use water efficiently, adding that the same goes for Syria as well.

Turkish experts also claim that due to upcoming elections, Iraqi officials are trying to use the country's water shortage as a political tool.

Iraq's parliament voted in this May to compel the government to demand a greater share of water resources from neighbors upstream of its vital rivers, such as Turkey, Iran and Syria, in any bilateral deals with them. Iraq, whose agricultural harvest this year is under threat due to a chronic shortage of water for irrigation, last week appealed to the German, Swiss and Austrian backers of Turkey's Ilısu Hydroelectric Dam project on the Tigris River to withdraw their support for the project.

Turkey announced last week that it would resume work on the 1.2 billion euro dam even if the European underwriters withdraw their support for the project, which is currently suspended since it fails to meet the environmental, cultural and social criteria set by the backers.
"I want to underline that we are not insensitive toward the concerns of our neighbors. We are doing the best we can," Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesperson Burak Özügergin told to Today's Zaman.

Turkey increases water flow

Erşad Hürmüzlü, President Abdullah Gül's adviser on Middle Eastern issues, said both the president and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had ordered Turkish officials to try to respond to the water needs of Iraq and Syria despite the fact that Turkey is not a water rich country either, adding, on the other hand, that Iraq is not able to use its water efficiently.
"Recently, Turkey increased the water flow to Iraq, and this move pleased Iraq," he said.
Ankara had already increased water flow to Iraq from 360 cubic meters per second to 515 cubic meters per second and will ramp that figure up to 715 during July, August and September in response to the request of Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi. Hürmüzlü underlined that the Tigris River, flowing directly to Iraq from Turkey, is actually fed by rivers from Iran that are dry this year, too. "Turkey does not have any major dam on the Tigris, plus its pollution is not because of Turkey," he said.

The problem is not only shortage of water
An official in Ankara who spoke on condition of anonymity said water shortage is also a problem for Turkey, but its neighbors are not able to use water efficiently. "The infrastructure of Iraq was devastated. They are not using modern agricultural methods. The problem is more than allocating the water; it's the efficient usage of it. After the situation in Iraq improves, we have to talk about all these problems," he said.
The same source added that in order to refrain from the giving the impression that Turkey is dragging its feet over the water dispute, Ankara did not bring up the technical shortcomings of Iraq and decided to answer its needs. "Such complaints are not fair. They know very well that even at the most tense times, Turkey did not use the water issue as political leverage," said the same source while recalling the situation in the 1990s.

When Turkey started to its Southeastern Anatolia Project (GAP) on the Euphrates and Tigris rivers, Syria and Iraq claimed that the project was a vital threat to their interests. In those years, Turkey accused Syria and Iraq of harboring outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) terrorists. The three countries discussed water and security problems many times in those years but were not able to reach an agreement.

Temel İskit, a retired ambassador who was active in those years, recalled that Turkey thought the demands of Syria and Iraq were too much and they refrained from discussing Turkey's three-stage plan for the efficient allocation of water, which envisaged a comprehensive technical study about the needs of the three countries and efficient usage of water.

"But for the time being, it seems that Turkey feels more comfortable on the grounds that there is a warm atmosphere between Ankara and Damascus. Also Iraq has to deal with many problems, so those countries will not bring the water issue on the agenda as they used to," İskit said. İskit added that Turkey was reluctant to participate in international platforms if trans-boundary waters were involved.

Turkey refused to sign international agreements such as the 1997 UN Convention on the Law on Non-Navigational Uses of International Watercourses.

The same anonymous source recalled that many other countries did not ratify the convention either. "It means that those kinds of issues cannot be solved by forcing it. The efficient usage of water and fair allocation of it stands there as a concept that has to be discussed," the source said.
But İskit warned that despite the impression that Turkey is planning to postpone finding a permanent solution to the water problem and will simply manage it for the time being, international law regarding the subject is improving in favor of lower basin countries. "The pressure on Turkey can be increased. It is possible that Turkey might find itself in the position of being unfair since the claims against it can be based on international law even if the motive of these pressures is political. So it will be better for Turkey to finish its projects on the Tigris and Euphrates as soon possible, but meanwhile, it should benefit from its good relations with Syria and Iraq to sign an agreement with them," İskit suggested.

Aucun commentaire: