Iran holds Turkey partly accountable for dust storms; Turkey denies

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Publish Date : 07/11/2017 13:11
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Sand and dust storms (SDS) usually occur when strong winds lift large amounts of sand and dust from bare, dry soil into the atmosphere.

SDS do not respect borders. They keep haunting many countries such as Australia, China, U.S, Iran and many other Middle Eastern countries.

According to the United Nations an estimated 2,000 million tons of dust is emitted into the atmosphere every year with significant consequences for social, economic and environmental well-being.

SDS have become of increasing concern among governments and the international community because of their damaging effects on human health, agricultural land, infrastructure and transport.

On the grounds of such concerns and differences the government of Iran has taken the initiative by co-hosting the International Conference on Combatting Sand and Dust Storm (July 3-5) with the UN and brought together leaders and experts from over 30 countries to discuss ways to combat dust storms and form partnerships for action.

Multinational problems need multilateral solutions. In order to combat SDS it is needed to expand cooperation and to continue sharing best practices, experiences and technical expertise from around the globe and it is fitting that ministers, officials and experts from every region are attending the international conference on combatting SDS.

Adoption of the Tehran Declaration on SDS by the end of the three-day conference is expected to pave the way for further progress of the measures at the UN General Assembly in September and UN Environment Assembly in December.

What causes SDS?

In addition to natural causes which are intensifying gradually due to climate change and global warming, governments’ inaction and conflicts in the Middle East and Central Asia have also aggravated the current situation.

Iran is being hit hard by sand and dust storms.
Satellite images show that 20 percent of sand and dust storms hitting the country originate from inside Iran and the remaining 80 percent originate from neighboring countries such as Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, and Syria.

The transboundary waters are also another controversial issue as by monopolizing the rivers by building dams and overlooking the water right of the downstream the wetlands and rivers both in eastern and western Iran have dried up and turned into great hotspots for SDS.

Accordingly, some are protesting Turkey’s huge damming projects, called GAP, by trapping waters of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.

War-torn Iraq and Syria are adversely affected by Turkey’s damming projects. The dams put wildlife and culture at risk in Iraq and Syria and affect the level of water significantly with the marshes drying, the agriculture sector dying, and desertification increasing by a large margin.

Iraq and Syria rely mostly on the waters of the Euphrates and Tigris for their agriculture. Unsurprisingly, the development of engineering projects on the two rivers, notably large dams and irrigation works, has been a source of growing tension between Iraq and Turkey on one hand and Syria and Turkey on the other. Although outright violence has been avoided, hostilities have mounted each time that a new dam has been built or proposed. Such hostilities have brought the various parties to the brink of war, with troops being mobilized and threats made to bomb existing dams.

The start of construction on the Keban Dam prompted protests from Syria to Turkey, while the completion of the Tabqua Dam led Iraq to threaten military action in 1974 and again in 1975, with both Syria and Iraq mobilizing their troops and moving them to the border.

With desertification intensifying in Iraq and Syria, Iran is a victim of sand and dust storms which originate from these two countries.

However, Turkish officials argue that Iran have no firm scientific reasons that damming projects are causing any serious problems in the region.

“The dams and the related projects that are under construction in Turkey or already being built has been targeted by some environmental groups, as one of the main reasons for the problem [of sand and dust storms] but we have different views,” Turkish ambassador to Tehran Reza Hakan Tekin told the Tehran Times on the sideline of the conference on Monday.

“We want to approach all these problems in a scientific way and our data shows that the dams built in Turkey on Tigris and Euphrates has no negative effect on environment in the downstream countries in Iraq and Syria,” Tekin added.

He said, “These dams have helped regulating water; in the arid periods when there was no rain and no water coming to these countries or suffering from droughts…, the dams helped to save water even in dry seasons, so now we can give enough water to the downstream countries; and also from another perspective, when there was extreme rainy periods, there were floods which could also negatively affect the environment, so with the dams we can control the floods.”

The Turkish ambassador further specified that the dust storms mainly originate from already desert areas, not areas which have suffered desertification in recent years, “so when we look at last 15, 20 years of scientific data in the areas which has gone through desertification in Tigris and Euphrates, in our opinion Turkey is being unfairly criticized for its dams and there has been a really minimal effects on the environment, so the desert areas have not increased in the last 15, 20 years due to the dams in Turkey.”

Tekin also highlighted that during Saddam Hussein’s ruling in Iraq, the marshes in southern parts of the country were dried up and this resulted in a big environmental catastrophe, and are now one of the primary hotspots of the dust storms striking Iran.

Iran’s dam construction causing wetlands to dry

“Only 40% of the Tigris [originates] from Turkey; 50% [originates from] Iraq and 10% from Iran; Iran has heavily constructed dams on Tigris water, you may know I mean in Iran-Iraq border, so in the last 30 years, 600 dams were built by Iran and this is cutting the water from going to the wetlands of Iran,” he said. “It is easy to criticize one country, but you should look at your own policies too; we are open to discuss this but we do not want any country to be targeted, especially not without scientific grounds, so we are open to dialogue with Iran.”

Turkey won’t give up their sovereign rights

About the possibility of making compromises through intervention by international organizations, the Turkish ambassador insisted that they won’t waive their right.

“You cannot give up your own sovereign rights,” he argued. “This is not a commodity that we have to share with international organizations; even when we are facing water shortage, we never cut water to neither in Tigris nor in Euphrates.”

Approach problems with common interest

Unfortunately Iraq and Syria have been going through a very difficult period over the last decade, Tekin said, adding, “They are [facing] with conflicts and instability, so we cannot get involved in joint projects with them.”

He further suggested that “we should approach problems with common interest, which is a win-win approach and is fine but also not overlooking our own mistakes and continue them in using our water; Iran has diverted a lot of water from Ahvaz to Isfahan for industrial purposes and that has dried up Ahvaz and this is the fact and if you ignore that you end up saying that the problems are only from outside.”



By: Maryam Qarehgozlou


The views expressed in this article are the author's opinion and do not necessarily reflect the views of the ODVV.

“ Iran holds Turkey partly accountable for dust storms; Turkey denies ”