Tigris–Euphrates river system

Tigris–Euphrates river system
Tigris-Euphrates river system

Marsh Arabs poling a mashoof in the marshes of southern Iraq
Ecozone Palearctic
Biome Flooded grasslands and savannas
Area 35,600 km2 (13,700 sq mi)
Country Iraq
Oceans or seas none
Rivers Tigris, Euphrates, Greater Zab, Lesser Zab.
Climate type subtropical, hot and arid
Conservation status critical/endangered

The Tigris–Euphrates river system is part of the palearctic Tigris-Euphrates alluvial salt marsh ecoregion, in the flooded grasslands and savannas biome, located in West Asia.



The ecoregion is characterized by two large rivers, the Tigris and Euphrates. The rivers have several small tributaries which feed into the system from shallow freshwater lakes, swamps, and marshes, all surrounded by desert. The hydrology of these vast marshes is extremely important to the ecology of the entire upper Persian Gulf. Historically, the area is known as Mesopotamia. As part of the larger Fertile Crescent, it saw the earliest emergence of literate urban civilization in the Uruk period, for which reason it is often dubbed the "Cradle of Civilization".

In the 1980s, this ecoregion was put in grave danger as the Iran–Iraq War raged within its boundaries. The wetlands of Iraq, which were inhabited by the Marsh Arabs, were completely dried out, and only recently have shown signs of recovery.

The Tigris-Euphrates Basin is primarily shared by Turkey, Syria and Iraq, with many Tigris tributaries originating in Iran. Since the 1960s and in 1970s, when Turkey began the GAP project in earnest, water disputes have regularly occurred in addition to the associated dam's effects on the environment. In addition, Syrian and Iranian dam construction has also contributed to political tension within the basin, particularly during drought.

General description

The general climate of the Salt Marsh is subtropical, hot and arid. At the northern end of the Persian Gulf is the vast floodplain of the Euphrates, Tigris, and Karun Rivers, featuring huge permanent lakes, marshes, and forest. The aquatic vegetation includes reeds, rushes, and papyrus, which support numerous species. Areas around the Tigris and the Euphrates are very fertile. Marshy land is home to water birds, some stopping here while migrating, and some spending the winter in these marshes living off the lizards, snakes, frogs, and fish. Other animals found in these marshes are water buffalo, two endemic rodent species, antelopes and gazelles and small animals such as the jerboa and several other mammals.

Ecological threats

Iraq suffers from desertification and soil salination due in large part to thousands of years of agricultural activity. Water and plant life are sparse. Saddam Hussein's government water-control projects drained the inhabited marsh areas east of An Nasiriyah by drying up or diverting streams and rivers. Population of Shi'a Muslims have been displaced. The destruction of the natural habitat poses serious threats to the area's wildlife populations. There are also inadequate supplies of potable water.

Marshlands were a fine and extensive natural wetlands ecosystem which developed over thousands of years in the Tigris-Euphrates basin and once covered 15–20,000 square kilometers. According to the United Nations Environmental Program and the AMAR Charitable Foundation, between 84% and 90% of the marshes have been destroyed since the 1970s. In 1994, 60 percent of the wetlands were destroyed by Saddam Hussein's regime – drained to permit military access and greater political control of the native Marsh Arabs. Canals, dykes and dams were built routing the water of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers around the marshes, instead of allowing water to move slowly through the marshland. After part of the Euphrates was dried up due to re-routing its water to the sea, a dam was built so water could not back up from the Tigris and sustain the former marshland. Some marshlands were burned and pipes buried underground helped to carry away water for quicker drying.

The drying of the marshes led to the disappearance of the salt-tolerant vegetation; the plankton rich waters that fertilized surrounding soils; 52 native fish species; the wild boar, red fox, buffalo and water birds of the marsh habitat.

Water dispute

The issue of water rights became a point of contention for Iraq, Turkey and Syria beginning in the 1960s when Turkey implemented public-works project (GAP project) aimed at harvesting the water from the Tigris and Euphrates rivers through the construction of 22 dams, for irrigation and hydroelectric energy purposes. Although the water dispute between Turkey and Syria was more problematic, the GAP project was also perceived as a threat by Iraq. The tension between Turkey and Iraq about the issue was increased by the effect of Syria and Turkey’s participation in UN embargo against Iraq following the Gulf War. However, the issue had never become as significant as the water dispute between Turkey and Syria.[1]

The 2008 drought in Iraq sparked new negotiations between Iraq and Turkey over trans-boundary river flows. Although the drought affected Turkey, Syria and Iran as well, Iraq complained regularly about reduced water flows. Iraq particularly complained about the Euphrates River because of the large amount of dams on the river. Turkey agreed to increase the flow several times, beyond its means in order to supply Iraq with extra water. Iraq has seen significant declines in water storage and crop yields because of the drought. To make matters worse, Iraq's water infrastructure has suffered from years of conflict and neglect.[2]

In 2008, Turkey, Iraq and Syria agreed to restart the Joint Trilateral Committee on water for the three nations for better water resources management. Turkey, Iraq and Syria signed a memorandum of understanding on September 3, 2009, in order to strengthen communication within the Tigris-Euphrates Basin and to develop joint water-flow-monitoring stations. On September 19, 2009, Turkey formally agreed to increase the flow of the Euphrates River to 450 to 500 cu. cms., but only until October 20, 2009. In exchange, Iraq agreed to trade petroleum with Turkey and help curb terrorist activity in their border region. One of Turkey's last large GAP dams on the Tigris – the Ilisu Dam – is strongly opposed by Iraq and is the source of political strife.[3]


  • Conservation status: critical/endangered
  • Protected area:
  • Endemic species: Basra Reed Warbler (Acrocephalus griseldis), Iraq Babbler (Turdoides altirostris)
  • Threatened species: Basra Reed Warbler (Acrocephalus griseldis) - ENDANGERED
  • Extinct species: subspecies of rat and another of otter

In media

See also


  2. ^ http://www.reuters.com/article/environmentNews/idUSTRE54M0XG20090523 Turkey lets more water out of dams to Iraq: MP
  3. ^ http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5giDgd3ukLR8UcfziUQcNToKyM_tw Turkey to up Euphrates flow to Iraq

External links

Palearctic Flooded grasslands and savannasv · Amur meadow steppe
China, Russia
Bohai Sea saline meadow China
Nenjiang River grassland China
Nile Delta flooded savanna Egypt
Saharan halophytics Algeria, Egypt, Mauritania, Tunisia, Western Sahara
Tigris-Euphrates alluvial salt marsh Iraq, Iran
Ussuri-Wusuli meadow and forest meadow China, Russia
Yellow Sea saline meadow China

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