Edition 2019

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The 1st Mesopotamian Water Forum was held on April 6-8, 2019 in Sulaimani (Sulaymaniyah) in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. More than 180 water activists from the Mesopotamia region and other countries gathered for the 3-day forum at Sulaimani University.

Several civil society organizations from all over Mesopotamia – in particular members of the Save the Tigris Campaign – organized this water forum, which consisted of several plenary sessions and nine workshops. It was an open space to give voice to civil society of the region, too often excluded from decisions on water. The forum was accompanied by a photo exhibition on the upper Tigris River.

The activists denounced the grave impacts of dams and other water infrastructures on social structures, river ecosystems, cultural heritage, and local economies. The lack of democratic, decision-making mechanisms was highlighted. Another important aspect that was critiqued is the use of dams as weapons of hegemony by upstream states and powers against downstream communities. Strong alternative approaches were proposed to counter these developments.

After a vibrant discussion of the final declaration, it was decided to organize the 2nd Mesopotamian Water Forum in Diyarbakir (Amed).

Download the program here.

Read the final report here.


Find here the photo album of the 1st Mesopotamian Water Forum.

Read a media report here.

“Water is Under Assault in Mesopotamia” – Final Declaration 1st Mesopotamia Water Forum

Declaration 1st Mesopotamian Water Forum (MWF).
University of Sulaimani, Sulaymaniyah, Kurdistan Region of Iraq. 6-8 April 2019

Over-extraction; the draining of marshes and wetlands; deforestation; too many irrigation projects, poorly-drained land; pesticides and fertiliser run-off; contamination by poorly or often un-treated discharges from industry as well as households; the widespread building of large and cascade small dams; the increasing exploitation of groundwater aquifers; stream channelization; inter catchment water transfer schemes; and the ravages of fossil-fuel-induced climatic change have variously disrupted hydrological cycles and created conditions of severe local and regional scarcity. For human and non-human beings, such physical scarcities have been exacerbated by policies aimed at commodifying and/or politicising water, denying access to the common good of water.

Taken separately, each of those assaults would be cause for grave concern. Taken together, they pose a threat to the collective survival of humans and non-humans alike. Defending water and the right of all forms of life to access to water, in Mesopotamia, is now a critical civic duty: without water, there can be no life.

Water is a crucial element of our culture and spirituality. Many legends, myths, songs, poems, prayers, and dances are centered on water. This has been the case since humans settled in Mesopotamia up to 13.000 years ago.

Within Turkey, Iraq, Syria and Iran – the four states through which the rivers of the Mesopotamian Basin flow – the multiple crises affecting water are no accident. For the past century or more, governments, business interests and the military have recklessly pursued policies that have polluted and degraded the region’s rivers and ecosystems.

Hundred of thousands have been forcibly displaced from their homes to make way for dams and water transfer projects. The riverine environment has been severely degraded, threatening the survival of many species of flora and fauna; the health of citizens has been put at risk; and economic and social inequalities have increased.

None of this has gone unchallenged. Throughout the Mesopotamian region, vibrant movements for environmental and social justice have long sought to exercise their constitutional rights to campaign for access to clean and safe water. In many instances, they have been met by arrest, imprisonment or worse.

Committed to working for peaceful, sustainable and equitable solutions to these multiple injustices, over 150 water activists from the region, together with like-minded colleagues from Africa, Asia, the Americas and Europe, gathered at the University of Sulaimani in the Kurdistan region of Iraq from 6-8 April 2019 to participate in the first ever Mesopotamian Water Forum.

We met in the spirit of solidarity and mutual learning. We interrogated the many causes of water scarcity, exploring the complex ways in which demand for water is mediated through economic and social systems. We learned how the intensive construction of dams and other water infrastructure schemes have created water scarcity.

We explored alternative ways of managing water in the interests of the many, not the few. We heard of new initiatives, notably in the Rojava/Northeastern region of war-torn Syria, to evolve new participatory approaches to water governance, involving all citizens – regardless of ethnicity, gender or religion – in bottom-up, consensual approaches to decision-making.

We people of Mesopotamia – and the allies present at the Mesopotamian Water Forum – affirmed that, despite our diverse cultural, social, political and environmental realities, our struggles are one, and we expressed our solidarity with all those who struggle for water justice in the region and internationally.

We resolved to:

  1. Challenge destructive and exploitative water policies in the region, recognising the particular burden on women and other oppressed identities, and addressing their underlying causes.
  2. Mobilise support for negotiated agreements under legally binding international law that would ensure the equitable sharing of water of the Euphrates and Tigris for the benefit of all life, both human and non-human, in the region;
  3. Stand against the use of water as a weapon for hegemony and to work to ensure that water is a tool for cooperation and sustainable peace. Upstream states in Mesopotamia must ensure the rights of people downstream to water.
  4. Call for an end to the recent cutting of water flows by Turkey and Iran to Syria and Iraq.
  5. Call to prevent the flooding of the 12000-year-old city of Hasankeyf caused by the Ilisu Dam and to preserve the unique natural and cultural heritage of the Iraqi Mesopotamian Marshlands from degradation.
  6. Build alliances, nationally, regionally and internationally to evolve policies and practices that would democratise water management.
  7. Ensure that water is used in ways that prioritise the collective right of all, rather than the few, to survival;
  8. Considering that most diverted water goes to irrigation, the following points are crucial: For farmers in a subsistence economy, clean water is vital, which is why in areas close to water no chemicals should be used. As hybrid seeds and GMO seeds require too much water and harm the ecosystems, local seeds should be used. Animal shelter should not be built close to water so that no serious harm is caused to waters. The water used in agriculture should not be contaminated by industry. Irrigation close to the water course is feasible, but no water should be transferred to areas far away from the water course. Thus, instead of transfering water to plants, plants appropriate to the climate and precipitation regime should be cultivated.
  9. The pollution and destruction of the Tigris River starts in an intensive way far upstream. One reason for this is that the river has no river status in the upstream stretch until Bismil city. We call for an international campaign to declare the river status for the upper-most stretch of the Tigris River.
  10. To strengthen the Save the Tigris Campaign (STC) as a network through which water activists in Mesopotamia can exchange information and analysis, explore commonalities and differences, prepare common statements and reports and organize common activities/campaigns.
  11. Develop the Mesopotamian Water Forum as an open space for advocating for new decision-making processes at municipal, national and regional levels through which environmentally and socially just water policies can be inclusively formulated and promoted.
  12. Implement the specific recommendations made by workshops at the Forum.
  13. We have committed to organise the 2nd Mesopotamian Water Forum in Diyarbakir (Amed) / Turkey in the near future.

Signed by the main contributing organisations:

  • Save the Tigris Campaign (STC)
  • Humat Dijla (Tigris Keepers), Iraq
  • Mesopotamia Ecology Movement, North Kurdistan
  • Iraqi Civil Society Solidarity Initiative (ICSSI), Iraq
  • Initiative to Keep Hasankeyf Alive, Turkey
  • People’s Campaign to Save the Kind Zagros, Iran
  • Waterkeepers Iraq, Kurdistan Region of Iraq
  • Make Rojava Green Again Campaign, Rojava/Northeast Syria
  • Ecology Union, Turkey
  • Mountain Watch, Iran
  • DOZ international, Northeast Syria
  • KAREZE Environmental Organization, Iran
  • Mlakawa Organisation, Kurdistan Region of Iraq
  • Nature Kurdistan, Kurdistan Region of Iraq
  • Ecopeace, Middle East
  • Lebanon Eco Movement, Lebanon
  • Rivers Without Boundaries, East and North Asia
  • Movement of Defense of Water, Land and Environment (MODATIMA), Chile
  • Un Ponte Per, Italy
  • Corner House, UK
  • International Rivers, USA
  • First Ecosocialist International, North America
  • Water Grabbing Observatory, Italy
  • Italian Forum of Water Movement, Italy

Download the declaration here.

How can we address the water challenges of the region?

3 papers were discussed during the Forum

We identified 3 main water challenges in the region. To kickstart the discussions during the plenary sessions of the Forum, we published 3 papers on these topics in advance of the event. They include views from different geographical locations and expertise.

On Challenge A:

Public Participation: Water and democracy: Can local communities influence water management in the Tigris-Euphrates River Basins?

John Crofoot, Hasankeyf Matters

This paper outlines some of the mechanisms by which relevant actors (including activists, civil society organizations, social movements, local communities, academics/researchers, municipalities, and regional administrations) can cooperate with governments, large corporations and small/medium-size enterprises (SMEs) to achieve sustainable approaches to water sharing. Some of these methods are cooperative, others oppositional.

Paper Challenge A: Public Participation in Water Management (English)

Notes on the Author: John Crofoot is an independent researcher and writer focusing on business strategy, heritage conservation and uses of public space for recreation. He is the co-founder of Hasankeyf Matters and has lived in Hasankeyf, Turkey, for 4 years.

Questions to be addressed during the forum could include:

– What tools and methods can water rights activists use to hold decision-makers to account for projects that have negative impacts on water resources?

– How have local communities adapted traditional practices to manage shared resources today? Can these practices be adapted to broaden and strengthen stakeholder participation in the design, development, and implementation of water management projects?

– How can stakeholders from different locales across the Tigris-Euphrates basin work together to increase their impact on water management policies? (For example, how can water rights activists develop new fora as a way of addressing imbalances in decision-making processes?)

Abstract Challenge A: Public Participation (English)

Abstract Challenge A: Public Participation (Turkish)

Abstract Challenge A: Public Participation (Arabic)

Abstract Challenge A: Public Participation (Farsi)

On Challenge B:

Dams: Policy and Impacts of Dams in the Tigris and Euphrates Basin

Ercan Ayboga, Mesopotamian Ecology Movement

This paper gives a framework for the analysis of the ecological, social and cultural impacts of dams and other water infrastructure and its political implications for the Mesopotamia Region. it discusses alternatives based on acknowledging rights of people living int he whole basin, as well as the impact on wildlife.

Paper Challenge B: Dams (English)

Notes on the Author: Ercan Ayboga has worked in the provincial administration of Diyarbakir (Amed), Turkey where has coordinating the Tigris River Project in the World Heritage Site Management of the urban area.He is the international coordinator of the Mesopotamian Ecology Movement and is an leading activist of Initiative to Keep Hasankeyf Alive.

Questions to be addressed during the forum could include:

– What are the drivers behind “water nationalism”? Where can water rights activists look for new allies in challenging the use of water to exert political control over others?

– What are the limitations of the UN Convention on Transboundary Watercourses and other agreements governing shared rivers? Can they be made more effective as tools for challenging hydrohegemony?

– What insights can be drawn from historical and current efforts by riverine communities to evolve basinwide collaborative decision-making processes? Where have succeeded and where have they failed; and why? Are regional water parliaments a way forward?

Abstract Challenge B: Dams (English)

Abstract Challenge B: Dams (Turkish)

Abstract Challenge B: Dams (Arabic)

Abstract Challenge B: Dams (Farsi)

On Challenge C:

Ecosystem: The Tigris-Euphrates River System. A Status Report

Anna Bachmann, Waterkeepers Iraq

This paper provides a brief overview of the status and some of the key issues impacting the Tigris-Euphrates ecosystem today from the perspectives of each of the riparian states, the shared cross-border issues that impact this ecosystem, as well as how its overall health influences conditions in the Gulf. Actions necessary to protect the integrity and healthy functions of this ecosystem are discussed with an emphasis on solutions that can be taken
at the local, community level.

Paper Challenge C: Ecosystem (English)

Notes on the Author: Anna Bachmann is the founder and advisor of Waterkeepers Iraq. She spent years in Iraq working on environmental and water issues with Nature Iraq. Today she works as an environmental health specialist in the United States.

Questions to be addressed during the forum could include:

– What are the varied threats to water quality and river health in the Tigris-Euphrates Basins? What is the current status of the key species and important taxa that are unique to these basins and what threats do they face? What issues are specific to the upper vs the lower basin and the Gulf?

– How is climate change impacting the basin today and what will be the long-term trends in the region if action isn’t taken to address global climate change and other basin-wide threats to the ecosystem? What will be the impact on biodiversity? Agriculture? Human health? Riparian functions?

– How is the current management of the Tigris-Euphrates Basins impacting its health and ecosystem functions? What changes in water management at the local, national and regional levels are needed to restore and protect the Basins?

– How can local communities expose the many and varied threats to water quality in the Tigris-Euphrates basin? What tools do they need? What allies can they reach out to?

Abstract Challenge C: Ecosystem (English)

Abstract Challenge C: Ecosystem (Turkish)

Abstract Challenge C: Ecosystem (Arabic)

Abstract Challenge C: Ecosystem (Farsi)

Supporters of the Mesopotamian Water Forum

  • Save the Tigris Campaign, Iraq
  • Mesopotamian Ecology Movement, Turkey
  • Iraqi Civil Society Solidarity Initiative (ICSSI), Iraq
  • Humat Dijla (Tigris Keepers), Iraq
  • Initiative to Keep Hasankeyf Alive, Turkey
  • Mountainwatch, Iran
  • DOZ international, Syria
  • Un Ponte Per, Italy
  • Corner House, UK
  • Waterkeepers Iraq, Kurdistan Region of Iraq

Host of the Forum:

Logo University Of Sulaimani

Download the announcement of the Mesopotamian Water Forum in different languages: