The academic who briefed us this session was Ibrahim M. The Tigris and the Euphrates are the major rivers in Turkey which meet at the Quorna and become the Shatt al Arab. This is a particularly important issue in the region due to the fact that the rivers merge on the Syrian and Iraqi borders. The river consists of 28% of Turkey’s surface water. The Tigris carries about 59 billion cubic metres of water per year and the Euphrates about 36 billion cubic metres of water per year. I’m not entirely sure if this includes saltwater lakes or not as we did pass Tus Gölü or Salt Lake (which was huge) at some point. Anyway, there is a project happening in Turkey at the moment called the GAP project and it is a major hydraulic project in Turkey.

So when working in water security, certain factors must be taken into account. Climate change is an obvious one. Climate change can wreak absolute havoc on international treaties for areas that have been in constant drought. Quality of water is another factor. I could go on and on for days about easements and covenants in personal legal matters regarding water, but suffice it to say that a country doesn’t want contaminated water flowing in. A prime example is Zimbabwe and surrounding countries. You may remember a few years back that there was a massive cholera outbreak in Zimbabwe due to poor sanitation and infrastructure and it affected the most displeased surrounding countries. It stands to reason that with a contaminated water supply people also would use the river and contaminate the water in the rivers as well. This has an affect downstream and the countries surrounding Zimbabwe were deeply concerned about the possibility of cholera outbreaks in their countries. The same can be said for Syria and Iraq. In a country like Iraq, where the birth rate is 6 children per woman but the survival rate for children is less than half that, the last thing they need is deadly diseases creeping into the country with the poor medical care they now receive.

One of my questions for Ibrahim was “Is the Turkish government developing environmental programs or policies to combat damage to the Tigris & Euphrates and how would such policies affect relations with Syria and Iraq?” I was especially curious about this in light of the pollution and dirtiness of the Aswan dam and in light of the fact that Turks really don’t care about the effect littering has on the environment. Apparently the perceived issue by the government isn’t water quality (and I don’t blame them as the river is sort of in the middle of nowhere, Turkey) but water scarcity. Ibrahim tried explaining to us that the issue is relative water scarcity and not perceived water scarcity, and that the government is focused on sustainable development of the river, but I didn’t really understand what he was getting at so I’m not going to go into it. Had I more time to speak with him I may have been able to understand it better. It doesn’t help that he had an insanely thick accent and I couldn’t understand half of what he said in my hungover and exhausted state.

Anyway, we also discussed the usage of water in agriculture and the resilience (or lack thereof) of countries to water scarcity. They say an army marches on its stomach. Well, a country’s most important commodity is water. This can be seen in the instance of the Ataturk dam, which is the 7th largest dam in the world. At one point water flow was cut off for 3 months and this caused severe social and political problems both in and with Syria and Iraq. As the rivers lead into Kurdish Iraq, issues with the Kurdish People’s Party in Turkey led to numerous water treaties between Turkey and Iraq & Syria. As a minority in all 3 countries that hasn’t been allowed self-determination it would seem that they tend to look out for each other. I digress.

Sustainable water utilisation in agriculture is a technical issue as opposed to a political issue in Turkey. The fact that Turkey does not have numerous states like the US or Australia means that they don’t have to concern themselves with political altercations along the Tigris and Euphrates. The important issue is the demographics of a region in determining water allowance and usage. Usage especially is a major issue. For instance, with the river Jordan in Israel they have instituted drip irrigation, which saves a significant amount of water. We’ll overlook their blatant treaty violations regarding water usage with the Palestinian Territories and other surrounding countries at the moment and focus on their efforts to save water though. The rest of Arabia tend to use salvage irrigation, which is not terribly sustainable in both use and environment. They divert water and use canals and salvaged water to irrigate crops which means runoff from chemicals get into the groundwater and the rivers, making it unsustainable both environmentally and economically in all aspects of water usage.

Stakeholders and pricing of water are also a major issue. While Turkey has a very strong, growing economy, there is no middle class. This holds especially true in the rural areas of Turkey. People in rural Turkey are making at the very most a couple of thousand dollars a year, and that’s if they are doing really, really, really well. Most people make less than $1,000 per year. I’m not sure if that is in dollars or in Lira, but it’s still not much.

It’s a very interesting issue that I didn’t realise had such an impact in Turkey. I know about issues with it in other areas of the world fairly well, but I’m definitely excited to learn more on this issue and fully intend on pursuing research further on it.

Unfortunately we didn’t have much time after this to discuss energy security, which I was looking forward to after recently reading about the BTK railroad being built from Ajerbaijan to Turkey and was wondering how that would affect policies in the region considering that Armenia was purposefully passed over in this endeavour. Basically the only thing we really were able to touch on was the fact that Turkey is trying for renewable energy, along with sustainable development in water security. I was also looking forward to hearing about this because I noticed on our travels that EVERYONE seemed to have solar panels. It fascinates me that it can be so costly and there are so many barriers to getting solar panels in Australia when nearly everyone in a developing country with no middle class manages to have them.

Ambassador Biggs

After our water security briefing with Ibrahim we had the opportunity to meet with Ambassador Biggs, the Australian ambassador to Turkey, Georgia and Ajerbaijan. How a man with an initial career in archaeology became a leader in Australian politics in nuclear proliferation and disarmament and an ambassador to Turkey is beyond me. But it makes me think that as an American citizen I can one day get a job with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade as an Australian citizen. It’s a bloody long haul, but it’s 100% worth the effort and time I’m spending.

Ambassador Biggs gave the usual spiel about what he does, how he got there and the responsibilities of being an ambassador. Anneke, our trip supervisor asked a very interesting question I had never thought to ask and never really considered before. She asked his opinion of wikileaks and how it affected foreign relations. It opened up a whole new train of thought for me and made me rethink my position on wikileaks. He stated (as any government worker would) that he is completely against wikileaks for the reason that it breaks trust and goodwill relations between foreign countries. When speaking to a foreign diplomat about confidential matters, if they ask “This is off the record?” to ensure privacy and confidentiality of state matter, they need to trust the person they are talking to that their confidentiality will be ensured. Wikileaks puts a shadow of a doubt in the minds of diplomats and makes them more reluctant to discuss confidential state matters. Frankly speaking, in such a volatile and globalised world, trust is of the utmost importance in relations between states. I thought that this was one of the things that gave me the most to think about for the rest of the trip. That and our briefing at the United Nations High Commission for Refugees. Coincidentally, that’s what I’ll be writing about next.