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Droughts in Euphrates and Tigris Basin

Euphrates-Tigris Case Study

July 2021 
Olcay Ünver, Dursun Yıldız, Ayşegül Kibaroğlu, Hamza Özgüler

Key messages
• Droughts are a regular and not an exceptional feature in the region. They have significant adverse social, environmental, health, and economic impacts, mainly where rainfed farming is practiced and places where there are existing pressures on water resources.
• These impacts have played a significant role in population movements, including migration, and will continue to do so, possibly with increasing speed, in the future.
• Droughts can play an exacerbating, catalytic, or triggering role in social unrest and political instability when they precede or occur at the same time with social and humanitarian crises such as mass migration, widespread malnutrition, and rural poverty, as in Syria, following the 2006-2010 drought.
• Social unrest and political instability make proper drought management very difficult to implement.
• It is imperative to address the mutually exacerbating relationship between droughts and social and humanitarian issues with a broad approach to food security and water availability, including measures to increase resilience, manage risk, and establish/expand safety nets.
• Tackling droughts at a basin-scale can help facilitate cooperation among the riparians. Evidence from the past involves attempts for cross-border cooperation over coping with droughts and drought management. However, drought resilience dwindles in the region due to prolonged conflicts and economic decline.
• Innovative drought strategies can significantly support resilience building and adaptive capacity development at a regional scale at national and sub-national levels.
• There is good room to align policies for disaster risk reduction, climate change mitigation and adaptation, and sustainable development.

Bio-physical and socioeconomic characteristics of the basin area
The Euphrates–Tigris River Basin (ETB), shown in Fig. 1, is a transboundary basin with a total surface area of 879790 km2 and covers Iraq, Turkey, the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Syrian Arab Republic, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan (Lehner et al., 2008). Iran is riparian only to the Tigris, and Jordan and Saudi Arabia are riparian only to the Euphrates. Both rivers originate in eastern Turkey. The basin is characterized by high mountains to the north and west and extensive lowlands to the south and east. 

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