Ebtekar calls for water diplomacy with Turkey

Financial Tribune – Massoumeh Ebtekar, the head of the Department of Environment, has called on the Foreign Ministry to help convince Turkey to abandon its obsession with dam construction.

Speaking to ILNA, Ebtekar said the department “has done all it can”, arguing that “the Foreign Ministry must hold negotiations” with Turkey to convince the Ankara government to uphold the water rights of Tigris and Euphrates.

Ebtekar, who doubles as vice president, is the latest senior government official to criticize Turkey for its reckless construction of gigantic dams that has led to the drying up of key rivers.

Last week, Energy Minister Hamid Chitchian said Turkey’s dam projects “are taking a high toll on Iran’s environment”, referring to the ripple effects of the desiccation of rivers that have turned once fertile Iraqi farms into major sources of dust and sand storms that have besieged 20 Iranian provinces for years. As part of its ambitious Southern Anatolia Project, Turkey has planned the construction of 22 dams.

Since 1975, Turkey’s extensive dam and hydropower construction projects have reportedly reduced water flows into Iraq and Syria by approximately 80% and 40% respectively, according to the independent Australian research institute, Future Directions International.

Ataturk Dam on the Euphrates, which was filled up in 1992, has a capacity of 48 billion cubic meters, while Ilisu Dam on Tigris’ tributaries, once complete, will hold 10.4 bcm of water.

Enric Terradellas, a meteorologist with the World Meteorology Organization’s Sand and Dust Storm Prediction Center for the Middle East, told BBC News last year that one of the main sources of sand and dust storms is Iraq “where the flow of rivers has decreased because of the race for dam constructions in upstream countries” without naming Turkey.

This has led to the disappearance of marshes and drying up of lakes both in Iraq and Iran, and the sediments left behind are very important sources of dust in the region.

Last month, Iran-based NGO Mianroudan (Persian: Mesopotamia), started an online petition imploring the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to pressure Turkey to abandon its “destructive” dam construction.

“The destructive consequences of Turkey’s damming, including the worsening of living conditions in Iraq and Syria, both of which are embroiled in wars … [Turkey’s damming] is a threat to human rights,” the NGO said in its petition.

The Foreign Ministry, despite its credible negotiation skills, has barely used its expertise for environmental purposes. Aside from the issue with Turkey, the ministry has been tasked with ensuring Afghanistan upholds the water rights of the transboundary Hamoun Wetlands, which has yet to happen.