New Delhi Times Bureau on October 23, 2019, produced this article on a more and more obvious fact, that of Egypt’s options dwindle as Nile talks break down. The Nile basin is the greatest in geographical extent of the transboundary water resource and makes it vital that the neighbours to carry on talking regardless. They should sit and agree with some understanding. But we have this situation instead, all as described below.
The latest breakdown in talks with Ethiopia over its construction of a massive upstream Nile dam has left Egypt with dwindling options as it seeks to protect the main source of fresh water for its large and growing population.
Talks collapsed earlier this month over the construction of the $5 billion Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, which is around 70% complete and promises to provide much-needed electricity to Ethiopia’s 100 million people.
But Egypt, with a population of around the same size, fears that the process of filling the reservoir behind the dam could slice into its share of the river, with catastrophic consequences. Pro-government media have cast it as a national security threat that could warrant military action.
Speaking at the U.N. last month, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi said he would “never” allow Ethiopia to impose a “de facto situation” by filling the dam without an agreement.
“While we acknowledge Ethiopia’s right to development, the water of the Nile is a question of life, a matter of existence to Egypt,” he said.
Ethiopian President Sahle-Work Zewude, also speaking at the U.N. General Assembly, said her country believes “the use of the river should be (decided) according to international law and fair and equitable use of natural resources.”
Egypt has been holding talks for years with Ethiopia and Sudan, upstream countries that have long complained about Cairo’s overwhelming share of the river, which is enshrined in treaties dating back to the British colonial era. Those talks came to an acrimonious halt earlier this month, the third time they have broken down since 2014.
“We are fed up with Ethiopian procrastination. We will not spend our lifetime in useless talks,” an Egyptian official told The Associated Press. “All options are on the table, but we prefer dialogue and political means.”
Egypt has reached out to the United States, Russia, China and Europe, apparently hoping to reach a better deal through international mediation. The White House said earlier this month it supports talks to reach a sustainable agreement while “respecting each other’s Nile water equities.”
Egypt said it has accepted an invitation from the U.S. to meet in Washington with the foreign ministers of Ethiopia and Sudan to break the deadlock.
Mohamed el-Molla, an Egyptian Foreign Ministry official, said Cairo would take the dispute to the U.N. Security Council if the Ethiopians refuse international mediation.
That has angered Ethiopia, which wants to resolve the dispute through the tripartite talks.
An Ethiopian official said the packages offered by Cairo so far “were deliberately prepared to be unacceptable for Ethiopia.”
“Now they are saying Ethiopia has rejected the offer, and calling for a third-party intervention,” the official added. Both the Ethiopian and the Egyptian official spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the talks with the media.
The main dispute is centered on the filling of the dam’s 74-billion-cubic-meter reservoir. Ethiopia wants to fill it as soon as possible so it can generate over 6,400 Megawatts, a massive boost to the current production of 4,000 Megawatts.
That has the potential to sharply reduce the flow of the Blue Nile, the main tributary to the river, which is fed by annual rainfall in the Ethiopian highlands. If the filling takes place during one of the region’s periodic droughts, its downstream impact could be even more severe.
Egypt has proposed no less than seven years for filling the reservoir, and for Ethiopia to adjust the pace according to rainfall, said an Egyptian Irrigation Ministry official who is a member of its negotiation team. The official also was not authorized to discuss the talks publicly and so spoke on condition of anonymity.
The Nile supplies more than 90% of Egypt’s freshwater. Egyptians already have one of the lowest per capita shares of water in the world, at around 570 cubic meters per year, compared to a global average of 1,000. Ethiopians, however, have an average of 125 cubic meters per year.
Egypt wants to guarantee a minimum annual release of 40 billion cubic meters of water from the Blue Nile. The irrigation official said anything less could affect Egypt’s own massive Aswan High Dam, with dire economic consequences.
“It could put millions of farmers out of work. We might lose more than one million jobs and $1.8 billion annually, as well as $300 million worth of electricity,” he said.
The official said Ethiopia has agreed to guarantee just 31 billion cubic meters.
El-Sissi is set to meet with Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, winner of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize, on Wednesday in the Russian city of Sochi, on the sidelines of a Russia-Africa summit. They may be able to revive talks, but the stakes get higher as the dam nears completion.
Ahmed told Ethiopian lawmakers Tuesday that negotiations are the best chance for resolving the Nile deadlock and that going to war is “not in the best interest of all of us.”
“Some say things about use of force,” he said, referring to Egypt. “It should be underlined that no force could stop Ethiopia from building a dam. If there is a need to go to war, we could get millions readied. If some could fire a missile, others could use bombs.”
Late on Tuesday, Egypt said in a statement it was “shocked” and “surprised” by Ahmed’s remarks, which came just days after he was awarded the peace prize.
The statement said it was inappropriate to talk about military options in dealing with the dispute and that it thought the peace prize would have prompted Ethiopia to demonstrate political will, flexibility and “goodwill toward a binding and comprehensive legal agreement that takes into account the interests of the three countries.”
Ethiopia hopes to finish the much-delayed project by 2023. The dam’s manager, Kifle Horro, said the project is now 68.5% complete and preparations are underway to finalize power generation from two turbines by next year.
The International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based think tank, warned earlier this year that the “risk of future clashes could be severe if the parties do not also reach agreement on a longer-term basin-wide river management framework.”
In recent weeks there have been calls by some commentators in Egypt’s pro-government media to resort to force.
Abdallah el-Senawy, a prominent columnist for the daily newspaper el-Shorouk, said the only alternatives were internationalizing the dispute or taking military action.
“Egypt is not a small county,” he wrote in a Sunday column. “If all diplomatic and legal options fail, a military intervention might be obligatory.”
Anwar el-Hawary, the former editor of the Al-Masry Al-Youm newspaper, compared the dispute to the 1973 war with Israel, in which Egypt launched a surprise attack into the Sinai Peninsula.
“If we fought to liberate Sinai, it is logical to fight to liberate the water,” he wrote on Facebook. “The danger is the same in the two cases. War is the last response.”
EGYPT PULSE of Al-Monitor of September 24, 2019, reports that Ethiopia again rejects Egypt’s vision for Renaissance Dam. It is written by Ayah Aman. In the article summary, the author explains how “After more than a year of stalled negotiations between Egypt and Ethiopia on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, Egypt’s diplomatic moves at the regional and international levels seem to have led nowhere.”
CAIRO — Egypt has initiated several international diplomatic moves expressing its deep concern about what it says is Ethiopia’s stalling and failure to reach a comprehensive agreement on filling and operating the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), which it sees as a threat to its water supply.
This comes after a year and four months’ lull in negotiations, since Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed visited Cairo in June 2018 and repeated after President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi the famous oath, “I swear to God, we will not cause any harm to Egypt’s Nile water.”
Technical, political and security negotiation rounds have been taking place for more than four years now, since the presidents of Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia signed the Declaration of Principles in March 2015. At the time, the declaration was seen as a breakthrough in the crisis, which continues to go unresolved. Since then, Sisi has made many statements seeking to allay the Egyptian public’s fears about the dam. In January 2018, he announced the crisis with Ethiopia was over and said there were several paths to a solution.
Yet just this month, on Sept. 14, his statements at the annual National Youth Conference were alarming. Speaking of the dam construction that started in 2011, Sisi said Egypt has been “paying since 2011 for one mistake … a price we’ve paid and will continue to pay.” He asserted, “Dams would not have been built on the River Nile … was it not for 2011,” in reference to the January 2011 Revolution.
Responding to a question concerning the dam at the “Ask the President” session held on the sidelines of the Youth Conference, Sisi recalled the Iraqi water shortage after the fall of the Iraqi state. He said, “Iraq in 1990 received 100 billion cubic meters (bcm) of water, but now it only receives 30 bcm.”
In early September, Egypt had launched official diplomatic efforts with other countries.
Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry briefed foreign ministers attending a Sept. 10 Arab League meeting in Cairo on the difficulties marring the dam negotiations. He said Ethiopia has been inflexible recently and has even attempted to manipulate the situation. Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit said at a press conference that day that the Arab ministers had expressed solidarity in protecting Egypt’s water supply, which they agree is an integral part of overall Arab security.
As well, during a Sept. 12 meeting with ambassadors of European countries to Cairo, Egyptian Deputy Foreign Minister for African Affairs Ambassador Hamdi Loza briefed them on the latest developments regarding the dam and stressed Egypt’s uneasiness over the extended length of negotiations. A statement by the ministry after the meeting said Ethiopia has demonstrated “an insistence to impose a unilateral vision while disregarding the interests of others’ interests and without giving due diligence to avoiding damages to two estuary countries, especially Egypt, which depends on the Nile as the lifeblood of the Egyptian people.”
After a round of technical negotiations, Sept. 15-16 with Sudan in Cairo, Ethiopia and Egypt remain at odds.
Despite Egypt’s diplomatic mobilization ahead of the meeting, Ethiopia did not respond to any diplomatic pressure to approve or even discuss the Egyptian vision. Egypt had proposed filling the dam’s reservoir within seven years and releasing 40 bcm of Nile water annually to downstream countries.
Ethiopian Minister of Water and Energy Seleshi Bekele voiced his country’s rejection of Egypt’s requests. Ethiopian news website Addis Standard cited a classified document outlining Ethiopia’s rebuke of Egypt’s proposals. The Egyptian vision would “prolong the filling of GERD indefinitely” and “compensate for the Egyptian water deficit by serving as a second backup reservoir to High Aswan Dam,” according to the document. Egypt’s plan would mean the dam wouldn’t “deliver its economic return to Ethiopia … [and would] infringe on Ethiopia’s sovereignty.”
The document added, “Ethiopia [would] forfeit its rights to equitable and reasonable utilization of the Blue Nile water resources.”
Shoukry summarized Egypt’s position in dealing with the dam crisis by not yielding to the de facto policy that Ethiopia has been imposing since 2011. In remarks at a press conference Sept. 15, he said, “The will of one party will not be imposed by creating a concrete situation that is not being dealt with within the framework of consultation and understanding.”
Days later, Shoukry spoke about the dam in an exclusive, wide-ranging interview Sept. 21 with Al-Monitor at the United Nations in New York, where he emphasized the “life and death” nature of the negotiations. “I don’t think anybody would agree that the Ethiopian development should come at the expense of the lives of Egyptians,” he said.
A diplomatic official familiar with the Renaissance Dam negotiations told Al-Monitor in a telephone interview, “The continued stumbling of the negotiations and the failure of commitment or implementation of any of the items of the agreements reached in the previous meetings at the political, technical and security levels have become a source of grave concern. It’s not easy, but the Egyptian negotiators have offered many solutions and middle ground visions to achieve the best interest of all parties by filling the dam reservoir in a way that doesn’t harm Egypt and benefits Ethiopia.”
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity given the sensitivity of this topic, added, “Egypt [gave up] many of its demands so as not to disrupt the course of negotiations, such as the World Bank intervention, which Ethiopia had rejected. Cairo has been dealing in good faith with all proposed visions and solutions, but the continued Ethiopian refusal, without offering any realistic alternative that reduces the risk of damages caused by the dam filling and operation, makes it difficult for negotiators to work [and] is a mere waste of time.”
The source went on, “Egypt will knock on all doors and use all international and regional diplomatic methods to guide the Ethiopian side to find a serious and comprehensive agreement on the filling, operation and management of the dam to safeguard the interests of the three parties (Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia) and make the dam damage tolerable.”
Regarding the preliminary results of Egypt’s international efforts, the source sees a strong understanding and support at the Arab and European levels for Egypt’s concerns. “Egypt will take other measures in other international forums, including the United Nations General Assembly meetings,” said the source.
The water ministers of the three countries will meet again Oct. 4-5 to again discuss terms of the agreement on filling and operating the dam.
In AFRICATECH of August 22, 2019; More deals, less conflict? Wondered Laurie Goering, Thomson Reuters Foundation whilst Cross-border water planning key, report warns.
LONDON, Aug 22 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Efforts to share rivers, lakes, and aquifers that cross national boundaries are falling short, raising a growing risk of conflict as global water supplies run low, researchers warned on Thursday.
Fewer than one in three of the world’s transboundary rivers and lake basins and just nine of the 350 aquifers that straddle more than one country have cross-border management systems in place, according to a new index by the Economist Intelligence Unit.
With more than half the world’s population likely to live in water-scarce areas by 2050 and 40 percent dependent on transboundary water, that is a growing threat, said Matus Samel, a public policy consultant with the Economist Intelligence Unit.
“Most transboundary basins are peaceful, but the trend is that we are seeing more and more tensions and conflict arising,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
When work began on the index, which looks at five key river basins around the world from the Mekong to the Amazon, researchers thought they would see hints of future problems rather than current ones, Samel said.
Instead, they found water scarcity was becoming a “very urgent” issue, he said. “It surprised me personally the urgency of some of the situation some of these basins are facing.”
Population growth, climate change, economic and agricultural expansion and deforestation are all placing greater pressures on the world’s limited supplies of water, scientists say.
As competition grows, some regions have put in place relatively effective bodies to try to share water fairly, the Economist Intelligence Unit report said.
Despite worsening drought, the Senegal River basin, shared by West African nations including Senegal, Mali, and Mauritania, has held together a regional water-governance body that has attracted investment and support, Samel said.
Efforts to jointly govern the Sava River basin, which crosses many of the once warring nations of the former Yugoslavia in southeast Europe, have also been largely successful, he said.
But replicating that is likely to be “a huge challenge” in conflict-hit basins, such as along the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in Iraq and Syria, Samel said.
Still, even in tough political situations, “there are ways … countries and local governments and others can work together to make sure conflicts do not emerge and do not escalate,” he said.
“The benefits of cooperation go way beyond direct access to drinking water,” he said. “It’s about creating trust and channels for communication that might not otherwise exist.”
‘NO EASY SOLUTIONS’
The report suggests national leaders make water security a priority now, link water policy to other national policies, from agriculture to trade, and put in place water-sharing institutions early.
“There are no easy solutions or universal solutions,” Samel warned. “But there are lessons regions and basins can learn and share.”
The index has yet to examine many hotspots, from the Nile River and Lake Chad in Africa to the Indus river system in India and Pakistan, but Samel said it would be expanded in coming years.
Working toward better shared water management is particularly crucial as climate change brings more drought, floods, and other water extremes, said Alan Nicol, who is based in Ethiopia for the International Water Management Institute.
“Knowing how a system works effectively helps you know what to do in the face of a massive drought or flood event – and we should expect more extreme weather,” he said.
While efforts to coordinate water policy with other national and regional policies and priorities are crucial, the key missing element in shoring up water security is political will, he said.
“We’ve been talking about this kind of integrated water management for 30 years,” he said. “The problem is practicing it. And that’s essentially a political problem.”
Reporting by Laurie Goering @lauriegoering; Editing by Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, climate change, resilience, women’s rights, trafficking, and property rights. Visit news.trust.org/climate
It is by Jessica Corbett, staff writer who adds that “A new generation of solutions is emerging, but nowhere near fast enough.” Much has been written about water scarcity in certain countries of the MENA region and this article would certainly not be the last.
An analysis released Tuesday warns that 17 countries which are collectively home to a quarter of the global population face “extremely high water stress” that is on track to get worse—particularly because of the human-caused climate emergency.
The data is part of the World Resources Institute’s (WRI) Aqueduct Water Risk Atlas, a publicly available database and interactive tool designed to enhance global understanding of water scarcity, which WRI calls “one of the defining issues of the 21st century.”
“The newly updated Aqueduct tools allow users to better see and understand water risks and make smart decisions to manage them,” WRI president and CEO Andrew Steer said in a statement. “A new generation of solutions is emerging, but nowhere near fast enough. Failure to act will be massively expensive in human lives and livelihoods.”
“Water stress is the biggest crisis no one is talking about,” said Steer. “Its consequences are in plain sight in the form of food insecurity, conflict and migration, and financial instability.”
The WRI statement noted that “the world has seen a string of water crises in recent years, as what’s now known as ‘Day Zero’—the day when the taps run dry—has threatened major cities from Cape Town to São Paolo to Chennai.”
Betsy Otto, who directs WRI’s global water program, toldThe New York Times that “we’re likely to see more of these Day Zeros in the future.”
Otto, speaking to The Guardian, added that “our populations and economies are growing and demanding more water. But our supply is threatened by climate change, water waste, and pollution.”
In a blog post announcing the new data, WRI outlined three ways that communities and countries around the world can reduce water stress, regardless of where they rank on the group’s list:
Increase agricultural efficiency by using seeds and irrigation techniques that require less water, investing in developing technology that improves farming, and cutting back on food loss and waste;
Invest in “grey”and “green” infrasturcture, improving everything from pipes and treatment plants to wetlands and watersheds.
Treat, reuse, and recycle “wastewater.”
The blog explained that countries rank at WRI’s highest level for water stress if their “irrigated agriculture, industries, and municipalities withdraw more than 80 percent of their available supply on average every year.”
A dozen of the top-ranked countries are located in the Middle East and North Africa. “The region is hot and dry, so water supply is low to begin with,” wrote WRI, “but growing demands have pushed countries further into extreme stress.”
India, which has a population exceeding 1.3 billion, also ranks among the most water-stressed nations.
Shashi Shekhar—former secretary of India’s Ministry of Water Resources and a senior fellow at WRI India—noted that “the recent water crisis in Chennai gained global attention, but various areas in India are experiencing chronic water stress as well.”
“India can manage its water risk with the help of reliable and robust data pertaining to rainfall, surface, and groundwater to develop strategies that strengthen resilience,” Shekhar said. “Aqueduct can help identify and prioritize water risks in India and around the world.”
Behind the 17 nations at WRI’s top level are 44 countries—collectively home to another third of the world’s population—that face “high” water stress, withdrawing on average more than 40 percent of their available supply annually.
However, as WRI’s blog post pointed out, “pockets of extreme water stress exist even in countries with low overall water stress.”
“For example, South Africa and the United States rank #48 and #71 on WRI’s list, respectively, yet the Western Cape (the state home to Cape Town) and New Mexico experience extremely high stress levels,” the group explained. “The populations in these two states rival those of entire nations on the list of most water-stressed countries.”
“The data is clear: There are undeniably worrying trends in water,” WRI concluded. “But by taking action now and investing in better management, we can solve water issues for the good of people, economies and the planet.”
See the group’s full ranking—which is based on United Nations member countries and does not include some small island nations due to model limitations—below:
The Rockfeller Foundation supported Cities‘ Ruth Michaelson wrote from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on Tue 6 Aug 2019 the following article that elaborates on water increasing scarcity in Saudi Arabia and how despite that, life carries on somehow unaffected.
As Riyadh continues to build skyscrapers at a dizzying rate, an invisible emergency threatens the desert kingdom’s existence
Bottles of water twirl on the conveyor belts of the Berain water factory in Riyadh, as a puddle of water collects on the concrete floor. In a second warehouse, tanks emit a low hum as water brought in from precious underground aquifers passes through a six-stage purification process before bottling.
“In Saudi Arabia, there are only two sources of water: the sea and deep wells,” says Ahmed Safar Al Asmari, who manages one of Berain’s two factories in Riyadh. “We’re in the central region, so there are only deep wells here.”
Most water withdrawn comes from fossil deep aquifers and predictions suggest these may not last more than 25 years: UN
Perhaps not surprising for someone who makes a living selling water, Asmari professes to be untroubled about the future of Saudi Arabia’s water supply. “Studies show water in some reserves can stand consumption for another 150 years,” he says. “In Saudi Arabia, we have many reserves – we have no problems in this area.”
His confident predictions are out of sync with the facts. One Saudi groundwater expert at King Faisal University predicted in 2016 that the kingdom only had another 13 years’ worth of groundwater reserves left.
“Groundwater resources of Saudi Arabia are being depleted at a very fast rate,” declared the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation as far back as 2008. “Most water withdrawn comes from fossil deep aquifers, and some predictions suggest that these resources may not last more than about 25 years.”
In a country that rarely sees rain, the habit of draining groundwater, like the Berain factory does, could prove perilous: groundwater makes up an estimated 98% of naturally occurring fresh water in Saudi Arabia.
Indeed, oil may have built the modern Saudi state, but a lack of water could destroy it if drastic solutions aren’t found soon.
The emergency seems invisible in Riyadh, which is undergoing a construction boom as more buildings creep upwards to join a collection of towering skyscrapers.
It’s the desert. Obviously, water is a natural constraint by Dr Rebecca Keller
Although everyone knows this city in the desert owes its existence to the discovery of oil in 1938, fewer realise water was just as important. Decades of efforts to make the desert bloom to feed the city’s population have resulted in agricultural projects to grow water-intensive crops such as wheat, on farmland meted out to figures favoured by the royal family.
While many questions the accuracy of the kingdom’s optimistic estimates of its own oil reserves, the looming threat of a lack of water could prove to be an even bigger problem. Saudi Arabia consumes double the world average of water per person, 263 litres per capita each day and rising, amid a changing climate that will strain water reserves.
In March, the Kingdom launched the Qatrah programme to demand citizens drastically cut their water use. Its aim is to ration water to 200 litres per person per day by 2020 and 150 litres by 2030.
It has also tried to reform the water-hungry agriculture industry, reducing government incentives for cereal production. The overall amount of irrigated farmland still hasn’t declined, though, as producers switch to more profitable crops that still require large amounts of water. Almarai, a major food producer, has begun buying up deserted land in the US, on plots near Los Angeles and in Arizona, and in Argentina, in order to grow water-rich alfalfa to feed its dairy cows.
The Saudi Arabian National Transformation Plan, also known as Vision 2020 – a subset of the Vision 2030 initiative intended to diversify the Kingdom’s economy away from oil – aims to reduce the amount of water pulled from underground aquifers for use in agriculture. It seeks to employ 191% of these water resources for farming, down from the current estimates of 416% of water available.
“This means that Saudi Arabia is using more than four times the water that renews on average – and that’s in Vision 2020,” says Dr Rebecca Keller from Stratfor – a private intelligence and geopolitical analysis firm – who says she was shocked after learning about the country’s water use. “Technically they’re using fossil water, which renews at a really, really slow rate. The sheer volume of overuse stood out to me.”
Desalinating sea water has long been seen as a silver bullet against the growing threat of water shortages across the Middle East. Saudi Arabia leads the world in the volume of desalinated water it produces and now operates 31 desalination plants. Desalinated water, as distinct from naturally occurring fresh water, makes up 50% of water consumed in Saudi Arabia. The remaining 50% is pulled from groundwater.
It comes as at a high-energy cost, however. According to the International Energy Agency, in 2016 desalination accounted for 3% of the Middle East’s water supply but 5% of its overall energy cost. Researchers at King Abdelaziz University in Jeddah estimate that the demand for desalinated water increases by roughly 14% each year, but add that “desalination is a very costly process and is not sustainable”. Desalination plants also harm the surrounding environment, pumping pollutants into the air and endangering marine ecosystems with their run-off.
A recent push towards using solar power rather than fossil fuels to desalinate means that the first commercial plant is expected to be up and running at 2021 at the earliest, although it reportedly remains behind schedule.
Keller says Saudi Arabia’s evolving use of desalination technology could also alter their relationship with other countries in the region, in particular, Israel. “They’re producing the most cutting-edge technology for desalination, especially at scale,” she said. “As we see [both countries] having more geopolitical things in common in terms of their attitude to Iran, there’s more room for this relationship to grow, and the Saudi water sector is something that could benefit from this cooperation.”
The toughest challenge of all remains switching consumption habits to avoid an impending water emergency. The kingdom is pressing ahead with its Red Sea Project, a tourism haven the size of Belgium that aims to attract a million visitors annually to its unspoiled beaches and 50 new hotels. Such mammoth construction means growing water use, with current estimates that the string of resorts will use 56,000 cubic metres of water per day.
“It’s the desert,” said Keller. “Obviously water is a natural constraint.”
ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkey has started filling a huge hydroelectric dam on the Tigris river, a lawmaker and activists said, despite protests that it will displace thousands of people and risks creating water shortages downstream in Iraq.
Citing satellite images, they said that water was starting to build up behind the Ilisu dam, a project that has been decades in the making and which aims to generate 1,200 megawatts of electricity for southeast Turkey.
Turkish officials have not commented on work at the dam. Turkey’s State Hydraulic Works (DSI), which oversees dam projects, referred questions to the Presidency, and the Agriculture and Forestry Ministry was not available to comment.
However, President Tayyip Erdogan said earlier this year that Turkey would start filling the Ilisu dam in June, a year after it briefly held backwater before backing down following complaints from Iraq about reduced water flows in mid-summer.
The dam, which first gained Turkish government approval in 1997, is a key part of Turkey’s Southeastern Anatolia Project, designed to improve its poorest and least developed region.
Iraq says the dam will create water shortages by reducing flows in one of two rivers which the country depends on for much of its supplies. Around 70% of Iraq’s water supplies flow from neighboring countries, especially via the Tigris and Euphrates rivers which run through Turkey.
Satellite images from the past two weeks show the dam has started holding water, said Necdet Ipekyuz, a lawmaker from Turkey’s pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP). He said a road in the area has already been submerged.
“They are taking steps slowly to decrease the reactions to water being held. That is why they are not informing the public,” he said, adding that several HDP lawmakers tried to visit the dam in July but were prevented by police.
Environmental campaigners have unsuccessfully challenged the dam project at the European Court of Human Rights on the grounds it would damage the country’s cultural heritage.
The rising waters of the dam are also expected to eventually submerge the 12,000-year-old town of Hasankeyf. Residents are being moved from the ancient town to a “New Hasankeyf” nearby, while historic artefacts have also been transported out of the area.
A group of NGOs, lawmakers and labor unions shared satellite images of the dam showing the increase in water levels between July 19-29.
“The current situation is strengthening the idea that the valves have been closed permanently,” the group, known as Hasankeyf Coordination, said in a statement.
“Because the dam lake is growing every day, the people who live in these areas are worried. They cannot know when the water will reach their residential or agricultural areas.”
The Iraqi government said in a statement that Turkish and Iraqi officials had discussed the water resources of the two rivers in Baghdad on Wednesday to see how they could “serve the interests of both countries”.
Turkey proposed setting up a joint research center in Baghdad for water management and to work together on some agriculture plantations in Iraq, as well as projects for development of drinking water infrastructure. FILE PHOTO: The Tigris river flows through the ancient town of Hasankeyf, which will be significantly submerged by the Ilisu dam being constructed, in southeastern Turkey, August 26, 2018. REUTERS/Sertac Kayar
The European Court of Human Rights in February dismissed the case brought by environmental campaigners to block the dam project, saying heritage protection is the responsibility of Turkish authorities and it had no jurisdiction.
The government needs to make an announcement, even if the dam were being filled for a trial run, said HDP’s Ipekyuz. “They are trying to tie a belt around the Tigris river’s neck and suffocate it,” he said.
Additional reporting by John Davison and Ahmed Aboulenein in Baghdad; Editing by Dominic Evans and Susan Fenton