Water wars endanger Middle East environment

Article Summary
Future generations will have to pay the price of the environmental damage of airstrikes in the Middle East.

The idea of a so-called "water war" in the Arab world is linked to fears that there could be an armed conflict over control of water resources, with water on major rivers being used by countries upstream for political purposes.

Future generations will probably have to pay the price for environmental damage wrought upon the region, from Iraq to Gaza, by devastating aerial bombardments. The destruction in Syria over the last four years is unprecedented; its material losses exceed those in all of the Arab-Israeli wars. Besides, the number of victims from Syria’s war cannot be compared to those who died in wars with Israel.

But there is another catastrophic dimension to such warfare. Airstrikes — whether they are carried out by Americans, Syrians or by other nations — may cause seismic zones in Iraq and Syria to be activated. These zones affect water underground, causing cracks in water sources to deepen. Aerial bombardment near dams, such as the Mosul and Haditha dams, may also affect their foundations.

In the medium term, the airstrikes in Syria’s Qalamoun region may reduce the water level in the Ain al-Fijah basin, especially given the lack of rainfall and global warming.

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Currently, there are a number of military zones located in fractious areas between the Nile and the Euphrates basin. It is possible, for example, that a conflict could break out over Kurdish separatist issues. Iraq and Syria are most affected by the Turkish Agricultural Project (CAP), which is designed to improve the lives of the Kurdish majority in underdeveloped parts of Turkey. There is also a growing push for separatism from the Kurds in north Syria, suggesting that secession may not be so far in the future.

Meanwhile, the Ataturk Dam, which consists of 22 dams (and their channels to the Euphrates in Turkey), may be subject to sabotage by separatist groups or the Islamic State (IS).

It is possible that a scenario envisaged by American novelist Tom Clancy will occur. It imagines that Syrian Kurds hijack a Turkish military helicopter and bomb the Ataturk Dam, causing flooding to overwhelm Mesopotamia (Euphrates basin) and igniting a fierce war in the Middle East.

The problem of the Ataturk Dam

It is important to remember that the Ataturk Dam is built in a seismic zone, which means that if it collapses or cracks, land from its source in Turkey all the way to its mouth in Iraq’s Basra will be inundated with water. Let’s imagine the horror of such a disaster; it would involve a sudden influx of nearly 38 billion cubic meters of water.

It should be noted that dams as big as the Ataturk Dam need time to settle after their construction. They decrease by half a centimeter in the first year, and then they stabilize. In fact, the Ataturk Dam decreased by two centimeters in its first year, and then by one centimeter in the following year, and a few millimeters after that. This indicates that the dam is built on aggregated land, which explains why the Turkish authorities are working on reducing its storage capacity.

Perhaps it is not an exaggeration to say that Ataturk Dam is huge and completely full. Therefore, bombing it would require a large amount of traditional explosives planted in particular locations. It appears that the Turkish government is sure that its water facilities, especially the Ataturk Dam, can tolerate explosions.

However, Turkey also realizes the security risks to those facilities. Therefore, it has deployed over 10,000 soldiers, supported by helicopters, to carry out reconnaissance operations round the clock. Military experts in the United States and Russia assert that there are many difficulties in attempting to destroy the Ataturk Dam, but that such an operation might be easier when it comes to other linked dams.

Recently, IS took over three dams and water reservoirs in Syria and participated in battles near Mosul Dam in Iraq. In 2007, USAID discovered cracks in Mosul Dam and tried to cover them with concrete. What if the water from all four dams, exceeding 25-billion cubic meters, flowed to the Euphrates, due either to direct damage or to the effects of shelling adjacent regions?

From Tora Bora to Iran

The seismic effect of a concussion bomb can cause greater damage than a similarly powerful bomb. Extremely powerful bombs cause horizontal earthquakes that trigger other earthquakes nearby and far away, as the earth's surface absorbs the explosion and then disposes of it in the form of the earthquakes. The location and timing of the earthquakes, however, cannot be predicted, especially if triggered by external shelling. But they are bound to happen.

Although earthquakes are natural disasters, it is clear that there was a direct relationship between the intensive air bombardments in Afghanistan in 2001 and the increase in earthquakes in central Asia during that year compared to the 20th century.

The intensive and persistent US shelling of Afghanistan created holes in the earth that are over 10 meters deep.

The shelling also triggered horizontal tremors that gave way to earthquakes, both nearby and further afield, in the Asian seismic regions. A 5.8-magnitude earthquake hit Iran in the region close to its border with Iraq, two years after the shelling of Tora Bora.

There is much evidence to indicate that there is a relationship between US shelling with powerful bombs and that earthquake. Although Afghanistan is a favorable land for natural earthquakes, statistics show that the number of high magnitude earthquakes has increased by 24 times compared to the period before the US shelling.

A paper submitted to the Global Water Forum in Kyoto, Japan in 2003 warned that the US airstrikes on Afghanistan and Iraq will lead to an increase in geological tremors in central Asia, which is what happened in Iran.

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Found in: water, syria, middle east, iraq, environment, dam
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