Euphrates River Term Paper

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Economy of the Euphrates River From 1805 to Present

The Euphrates River is considered one of the most important water resources both economically and therefore politically for many Middle Eastern countries, particularly Turkey, Syria and Iraq. Since the dawn of time the Euphrates along with the Tigris River have provided a substantial portion of the water that was used to support development of both ancient and modern cultures (Holt, et. al, 2000).

The Euphrates River is currently the primary source of hydroelectric power for the countries bordering it, and is also used for irrigation and promotion of agriculture, critical to the economy of the countries surrounding it. Much tension has been created as each country over the years has vied for access and control of the waters passing through the Euphrates and Tigris River basin (Holt, et. al, 2000). From the early 1800s Turkey, Syria and Iraq have been vying for continual access and control over the amount of water supply they are afforded from the Euphrates. Below an in depth look at the economy of the countries surrounding the Euphrates and the impact the Euphrates has on the economy is provided.

Analysis of Economic Impact of Euphrates

Water resources in many Middle Eastern countries including those bordering the Euphrates River are considered scarce at best; thus when examining the economy of the Euphrates River one must consider the scarcity of water with regard to the surrounding Middle Eastern countries (Postel, 1993). Though the supply of water provided to each of the countries bordering the Euphrates was considered adequate from the 1800s, it has steadily declined over time (Postel, 1993). Drought conditions in areas like Turkey have only contributed to the perceived water shortage.

Water is in fact considered a scarce commodity within Turkey, Syria and Iraq, the three countries that stand to bear the most economically from the Euphrates River. The Euphrates River basin is substantially fuller that other resources in the surrounding area in modern times, thus considered an invaluable resource. Because water is such an important and vital resource, it is critical to the livelihood of the nations surrounding it, and provides for a stable and flourishing economy. This is due in part to the large agricultural base that makes up each of the countries surrounding the Euphrates. Agriculturally-based societies have for centuries relied on an adequate water supply in order to flourish.

The Tigris-Euphrates river is the only Middle East river "with the luxury of having a fair amount of water left after the regions current needs are met" (Postel, 1993). The Euphrates River flows through Syria and Iraq. The countries surrounding the river including Turkey have undertaken water development schemes to help boost the economy; Turkey in particular looking to increase the countries hydropower capacity throughout the region (Postel, 1993). In particular Turkey has been concerned with what has been referred to as the Southeastern Anatolia Development Project or GAP for short, which plans to utilize water from the Euphrates to help construct the dams necessary to facilitate hydroelectric power (Kor, 1997). Both electricity and agricultural needs could be addressed in Turkey if the project is completed successfully.

However because of the scarcity of the resource, surrounding countries including Syria and Iraq have been concerned that they might fall short of water given such massive planning. Implementation of hydropower plans by Turkey could in theory reduce the flow of water into Syria by as much as 35% for example, even more during dry seasons (Postel, 1993). Because of this potential decline in supply to surrounding nations, Turkey's vie for control of a majority of the flow from the Euphrates has resulted in much political tension, a factor which might impact the economy of any one nation in a negative manner just as much as a reduced water supply might.

Historically the Euphrates River has connected these three countries since the beginning of time. From 1805 on the movement of goods and people along the River helped bring traffic to the Euphrates river valley, and helped stimulate agriculture and trade (Hillman, Legge & Moore, 2000). Trade passed along the Euphrates Valley during the Early Islamic period and through the thirteenth century AD, but only became vigorous when modern agricultural techniques entered the Middle Eastern Region after the First World War, when trade along the Euphrates River began attracting the interest of European authorities (Hillman, Legge & Moore, 2000). In fact during the time period between 1835 and 1837 the Euphrates was used as an alternative route to India by Britain; however as the river proved difficult to navigate, this practice was later abandoned (Hillman, Legge & Moore, 2000).

Today both Syria and Iraq depend on the Euphrates for many tings including drinking water, irrigation and hydroelectric power (Blanche, 2001). Many are concerned that Turkey's excess interest in the waterway will cut the flow to these countries substantially. Turkey actually has abundant water resources in 26 other major river basins (Blanche, 2001).

Negotiations regarding economic and political concerns surrounding the use of the Euphrates have been ongoing for several years; in 1983 for example, Turkey agreed to provide 500 cubic metres per second in Euphrates flow to Syria once it started its hydropower project, referred to as the GAP (Blanche, 2001).

Turkey could become an economic powerhouse in the region if it maintains control of the river (Blanche, 2001). The per capita availability of water is steadily declining however in the middle Eastern region, falling from 3,000 cubic metres in 1960 to less than 1300 during the mid 1990s (Blanche, 2001). This dramatic decline in supply is expected to continue for several years, and by 2025 the gravest predictions suggest that the water availability may be less than 600 cubic metres (Blanche, 2001). Such a drastic decline could severely impact agriculture, causing fluctuations and increases in pricing, availability and supply.

Water shortages may also affect the economy by aggravating political parties and facilitating distrust among varying party leaders, who are each aspiring to provide the best possible water resources for their country.

Syria has increasingly relied on the waters of the Euphrates from the 1800s to modern times, for irrigation and hydro-development programs (Kor, 1997). Iraq has also used the Euphrates River increasingly from the time of 1800 on. In 1911, a British hydrological engineer suggested that irrigation activities along the river should be more stringently monitored and regulated, and programs have been continually developed to cover land and river use, though use of the river was disrupted when Hussein came to power in the region (Kor, 1997).

Clearly countries other than Turkey, Syria and Iraq have also recognized the importance and contribution the Euphrates has made on the economies of each of the nations surrounding it. Despite British interest in the Euphrates as a route to India in the 1800s, most outside countries have come to realize that control of the Euphrates is best left to the countries immediately surrounding it, particularly given the fact that the water supply is perceived to be diminishing, and will likely continue to do so over time.


The economy of any land is affected by a number of factors. Water supply and the scarcity of water can impact a nation in several different ways, particularly if that nation or nations are agriculturally based, as is the case for many countries bordering the Euphrates River.

The Euphrates has a potential to be a major source of economic wealth and well being for the countries that rely on its water supply, particularly Turkey, Iraq and Syria. From the time of 1805 on the water supply provided by the Euphrates has been vital to the economic development of the surrounding countries mentioned above. Currently each of these countries is looking to regulate the river in some manner and divert water to their…[continue]

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