The water level at the Tabqa Dam on the Euphrates River in Syria has plummeted to historic lows over the past three weeks, causing multiple crises in the region. The Alouk water station, the primary water source for the northeast Syrian agricultural zone, has been non-functional since June 23, impacting close to one million residents. Dwindling water resources threatens to worsen food insecurity in Syria, creating pressure that could contribute to new waves of refugees leaving the country.
Turkey is reportedly releasing sewage into the river. Coupled with lowered water levels leading to the formation of stagnant pools where algae thrive, this has caused a spike in waterborne diseases in the region.
At 1,700 miles, the Euphrates is the longest and one of the most historically important rivers in Western Asia. The Tabqa Dam, located 25 miles upstream from Raqqa, is the largest dam in Syria. Its construction led to the creation of Lake Assad, Syria’s largest water reservoir. Research indicates that the salinity of the Euphrates water in Iraq has increased considerably since the construction of the dam.
Turkey provides over 98% of the Euphrates’ discharge and about 50% of the Tigris River’s discharge. The remaining flow of the Tigris comes from Iraq (about 40%) and Iran (about 10%). Together, the Tigris, Euphrates, and their tributaries serve as water sources for about 90 million people.
Iraq’s Ministry of Water Resources has predicted that unless urgent action is taken, the country’s two main rivers will be dry by 2040.
When the flow of the Euphrates was reduced in 1974 to fill the lake behind the dam, a dispute broke out between Syria and Iraq (which is downstream) that was settled by intervention from Saudi Arabia and the Soviet Union.
In 1987, Turkey signed an agreement with Syria that mandates releasing 500 cubic meters of water per second, which Syria subsequently divides with Iraq. Since 2011, Syria has been engaged in a civil war, and in recent years, Turkey has taken advantage of this to unilaterally renege on these obligations, pulling more water from the Euphrates than agreed upon.
Iraq and Turkey have agreed to establish a permanent joint committee to resolve the water-related dispute between the two countries, Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan said on 22 August.
In addition, the region has been plagued by conflicts with the Islamic State (ISIS).
Together, the Tigris and Euphrates make up the ancient Mesopotamian Fertile Crescent. It is first mentioned in the Bible as one of four rivers that issues forth from the garden of Eden. (Genesis 2:14)
It was also cited as the eastern border of the land given to Abraham in the covenant:
On that day Hashem made a covenant with Avram, saying, “To your offspring I assign this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates: Genesis 15:18
Jacob crossed over the Euphrates when he fled Esauk, crossing the river again when he returned with his family (Gen 31:21).
In the Bible, the Euphrates is sometimes referred to simply as “the River” (e.g., Josh 24:3, Ezra 4:10).
The river also plays a major role in Biblical prophecy. Isaiah promised that God will bring back the Jews “from the Euphrates to the Wadi of Egypt” (Isaiah 27:12).
The prophet Jeremiah described how the waters of Babylon, the region currently including Syria and Iraq, would dry up as a punishment for their idolatrous practices, the devastation being so complete as to render the region, once part of the so-called ‘fertile crescent’, uninhabitable.
“A drought against its waters, that they be dried up! For it is a land of idols; They are besotted by their dread images. Assuredly, Wildcats and hyenas shall dwell [there], And ostriches shall dwell there; It shall never be settled again, Nor inhabited throughout the ages.” Jeremiah 50:38-39
The Euphrates’ role in the end of times is cited in Islam and Christianity. The Koran states that the Mahdi (Messiah) will not come “before the River EUPHRATES DRIES UP to unveil a mountain of gold, for which people will fight. Ninety-nine out of one hundred will die (in the fighting), and every man amongst them will say: ‘Perhaps I may be the only one to remain alive (and thus possess the gold).’”
In the Christian Book of Revelation, it is prophesied that in the ” near future, the Potamos Euphrates or “breaking forth like water” of the Middle East will dry up in preparation for the Battle of Armageddon. In Apocalypse described by John, four angels are bound in the Euphrates, and when the end is near, they will be released (Rev 9:14). In Rev 16:12 another angel will dry up the river so “the way of the kings of the east might be prepared” (Rev 16:12). The New Testament also describes that the lost tribes of Israel who are hidden beyond the Euphrates will return to the land of Israel while in another place, it is stated that the lost tribes live across the Euphrates until the end times.