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In 1977, Turkey announced plans for the region’s largest water development project ever, the Southeastern Anatolia Project (GAP), which included 22 dams and 19 hydropower projects to be built on the Euphrates–Tigris. This project is intended to provide irrigation, hydropower, and socio-economic development in Turkey. The Syrian Arab Republic and Iraq fear that the project will lead to reduced river flows and leave little water for use in their countries’ agricultural and energy projects (Akanda , 2007). The construction of the Ataturk Dam in Turkey, one of the GAP projects, was completed in 1992.

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As the population of the region progressively increases, the demand for agricultural products increases and hence also the number of water supply projects. In 1973, Turkey constructed the Keban Dam in the Euphrates River Basin. The Syrian Arab Republic soon followed suit with the Tabqa Dam, also completed in 1973 and filled in 1975. The filling of these dams caused a sharp decrease in downstream flow and the quantity of water entering Iraq fell by 25 percent, causing tension between the countries (El Fadel ., 2002). The tension eased when the Syrian Arab Republic released more water from the dam to Iraq. Although the terms of the agreement were never made public, Iraqi officials have privately stated that the Syrian Arab Republic agreed to take only 40 percent of the river’s water, leaving the remainder for Iraq (Kaya, 1998). In 1976, Turkey pledged to release 350 m3/s from the Euphrates downstream and later in the same year increased the minimum flow to 450 m3/s, also in an effort to reduce tensions.

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In 1984, Turkey proposed a “Three-staged plan for optimal, equitable and reasonable utilization of the transboundary watercourses of the Euphrates–Tigris Basin”. This plan, which conforms to the principle of equitable utilization, proposes that the riparian countries jointly conduct and complete inventory studies and evaluation of water and land resources. This plan would promote objective data-gathering in the basin. After evaluation of all the data the proposed projects could be compared, based on their economic and social merits, and those deemed more beneficial could be implemented. The plan considers the basin to be a whole system, underlining the interdependence of its elements, as required by the UN Watercourses Convention (Kaya, 1998). For its part, the Syrian Arab Republic has proposed the following formula for water allocation: each riparian country will notify the other riparian countries of its demands on each river separately; the capacities of both rivers in each riparian country shall be calculated and, if the total demand exceeds the total supply of a given river (as is sure to be the case), the exceeding amount will be deducted proportionally from the demand of each riparian country (El Fadel , 2002).

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Iraq was the first riparian country to develop engineering projects in the basin. The Al Hindiya and Ramadi-Habbaniya dams on the Euphrates were constructed in 1914 and in 1951 respectively, both for flood control and irrigation (Kaya, 1998). By the mid–1960s, the development of irrigated agriculture in Iraq far surpassed the development in the Syrian Arab Republic and Turkey. During this period, Iraq was irrigating over five times as much land in the river basin as the Syrian Arab Republic and nearly ten times as much as Turkey. To continue its efforts to use the water of these rivers efficiently and to provide irrigation water for the land between the Euphrates and the Tigris rivers, Iraq began constructing in the 1960s a 565 km long canal, the Third River (also called Saddam River), between the Euphrates and Tigris, which was completed in 1992. In the late 1970s, as part of the effort to prevent flood damage, Iraq built another canal to divert excess water from the Tigris into Lake Thartar. Since then, Iraq has built other similar canals linking Lake Thartar to the Euphrates and again connecting the lake with the Tigris. Iraq has also built dams on the Euphrates and Tigris to produce hydropower, such as the Haditha Dam completed in 1985 (Korkutan, 2001). In 1991 a large irrigation project, the North Al-Jazeera irrigation project, was launched in order to serve approximately 60 000 ha by using a linear-move sprinkler irrigation system with water stored by the Mosul Dam. Another irrigation project, the East Al-Jazeera irrigation project, involved the installation of irrigation networks on more than 70 000 ha of previously rainfed land near Mosul. These projects were part of a scheme to irrigate 250 000 ha in the Al-Jazeera plain.

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The deterioration of water quality and the heavy pollution from many sources are becoming serious threats to the Euphrates–Tigris River Basin. A problem is that there is no effective water monitoring network, making it difficult to address water quality and pollution, as the sources of pollution cannot be precisely identified. Hence, the rehabilitation and reconstruction of the water monitoring network is urgently needed for water security.