The Euphrates-Tigris River Basin, also known as the Fertile Crescent, is a vast transboundary river system located in southwestern Asia. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the Euphrates occupies a total area of 879,790 km2 between Iraq (46%), Turkey (22%), the Islamic Republic of Iran (19%), the Syrian Arab Republic (11%), Saudi Arabia (1.9%), and Jordan (0.03%).
The Euphrates and Tigris rivers begin in the same place (Turkey), where they receive upland snow, and rainwater from the Zagros and the Taurus mountains. The rivers then split as they flow somewhat parallel in a southeast direction through Syria and Iraq, and converge again into the Persian Gulf. The Tigris-Euphrates River valley is believed to be the origin of the ancient Sumerian, Assyrian, Akkadian, and Babylonian civilizations.
Climate Change Influence
A paper titled, “The Impact of Climate Change on the Euphrates-Tigris Basin and Political Dynamics in the Region“, maintains that different parts of the basin will be uniquely affected by climate change. According to the paper’s author, Gokce Sencan, a research associate at the Public Policy Institute of California’s Water Policy Center, “climate change will “impact the Euphrates-Tigris Basin in multiple ways and the impact is likely to show variations depending on the microclimate of the basin’s different geographic segments”.
Even “moderate” can lessen the accumulation of snow-water equivalent could be as high as 30% to 50% in some parts of Turkey’s area of high or mountainous areas (Southern Turkey, Syria, Israel, Lebanon, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and the Caucasus Mountains). Loss of ground snow in the Turkey region will give way to darker surfaces underneath, such as that ocean water, rock, or vegetation. This will effectively increase temperatures because surfaces that appear white and lightly colored reflect sunlight much more than those that are darkly colored. This phenomenon is known as albedo.
Heightened temperatures within the basin could also increase evaporation and result in drier soils. Although enhanced evaporation may result in more precipitation, evaporation could also offset or surpass any rainfall increase. This means that higher temperatures have the potential to intensify the expected reduction in winter precipitation and water shortages.
The Euphrates and Tigris supply water to roughly 30 million people and 60 million people respectively for hydropower and agriculture. Therefore, water resources in the river systems are invaluable. Loss of ground snow, coupled with the loss of precipitation, could in theory limit the total amount of water resources, thereby reducing streamflow rates in the Euphrates-Tigris River Basin. Water resources in the basin may already have been decreasing in recent years. This consequently means serious food and water security concerns for people that depend on the basin.
As stated in, “The Impact of Climate Change on the Euphrates-Tigris Basin and Political Dynamics in the Region”, the most significant consequences of climate change will likely be higher temperatures, lessened ground snow, and reduced winter precipitation. Reductions in stream water will decrease the amount of water available for irrigation, hydropower energy production, and agriculture productivity. Shortages in usable water could also bring about water-related economic and political challenges.