The Syrian Water Conflict in Al-Yermouk and Oronte Basins


Syria is sharing with its neighbours in several water basins, most importantly are: Tigris, Euphrates, Al-Yermouk, Oronte, the Great Northern and several other important supply tributaries as those of Euphrates, River Jordan and Oronte. Also Syria has different geographical positions, it is in-between, in case of Euphrates, Tigris, and Oronte, and as the origin in case Al-Yermouk and the Great Northern. The situation is different in case of the supply tributaries, it is the mouth of Al-Sajour, tributaries of Euphrates and the origin in case of tributaries of River Jordan (Panias) and middle in case of Oronte tributary (Afrin)

This interlocked maps  reflects its geopolitical weakness as in case of both Euphrates and Tigris, where Turkey is controlling the origin through its CAP project, while in the latter, it gave Syria a position of strength as it is the origin of Al-Yarmouk, the Great Northern and to some extent Oronte.

However, this interlocked map of the basins in its general form, particularly the Euphrates basin which form about 87 percent of Syrian water supply, beside geographical position (the dry region and desert like), has put Syria between the two traps vis: the Turkish dams and the Israeli control of The Golan Heights.

This water trap, dose not only decide the agricultural growth of Syria alone, but, also used as a political pressure on Syria, particularly the water basins are interlocked making Syria in a weak position to cover her water needs or achieving a state of balance to weaken this regional water trap.

Therefore, Syria has relied on reducing the regional water pressure by getting support from other countries sharing with her other river basins like Al-Yermouk and Oronte that is she used the same tactic used by Turkey by controlling Euphrates and Tigris through CAP project.

The latest two decades of the past Century, have witnessed high activities of building dams and reservoirs in Al-Yermouk and Oronte basins in Syria to achieve balance with the regional states and to undermine the regional water tarp.

In all cases, the efforts paid by Syria in this context, could reduce the regional water pressure on her, particularly in Oronte basin, which probably dose not parallel the Turkish pressure in the Euphrates basin, but it remains as a tool for negotiation on water.

While we see the matter is different, some how, in case of Al-Yermouk basin since Syria has the advantage of being the origin of the river. Therefore, she is able to use pressure and rely on strong negotiating card in case of peace negotiation in relation to the Israeli withdrawal from Golan Heights.


The Study is formed of two chapters with several parts each and supplements.


Chapter One:

Is formed of four parts, the first discusses the hydrological aspects of River Yermouk from its origins in Syria up to its mouths in Israel, shedding lights on its origins, branches and the water resources from them.

And the surface areas of the basins, beside the significance of Yermouk to River Jordan and Tabariyeh lake and the measures taken to improve these resources and investing in them in the best possible ways through building Dams and reservoirs in Syria that the number of these dams has reached 39 which have been alluded to, through the tables showing their capacities and geographical locations.


The second part, discusses the water resources and the requirements in the Yermouk basin in Syria, and how to grow the surface resources by tables and curves which depict the available capacity of these resources and the returns from the agricultural and the industrials to the rivers, the current and in the future between 2003-2015. Also, it has been alluded to how to increase the underground water resources in Syria by shedding light on geological field of the underground reservoirs and their storage capacities and the efforts made for the best possible investment in these resources.

Following that is discussion about improving the water growth requirements in the main sectors in Al-Yermouk river in Syria for the period between 2003-2015 and the expected needs for domestic and the industrial sector, depicted with tables and curves for the same period.


The third Clause: shows the water projects proposed since early fifties of the last Century to be built on the River Yermouk including: Bonjer project, the Arab project to divert main stream of the rivers Paniace and Al-Yermouk in 1964 and the Israeli attempts to put obstacle against them. Also, new proposed projects have been discussed like the Jordanian-Syrian one to build the Unity dam and the two Israeli projects to transfer Al-Yermouk water to Tabariyeh Lake and making artificial rains in the Al-Yermouk Lake.


And finally the fourth Clause which sheds light on the main differences and the treaties between the states of Al-Yermouk basin. The Jordanian-Syrian, the Syrian-Israeli, and the Jordanian-Israeli differences in relation to sharing the Al-Yermouk waters. Following that, is the Syrian-Jordanian agreement about distributing their water shares. And the Jordanian-Israeli peace treaty in 1994.


Chapter Two:

 Is formed of 4 parts, the first discusses the hydrological situation of the River Oronte from the state of origin (Lebanon) to the middle state of the river running (Syria) and the state of the mouth (Turkey) where more light has been shed on the main origins of the river Oronte and its branches and the size of water shared in this area.

In addition to concentrating on the main water projects built in the River Oronte basin in Syria and the storage capacity by table and curves and the quality of the dams (the middle and the surfaces) and their purposes and their shares in increasing land irrigation in the midlands of Syria.

The second part discusses the water resources in the River Oronte in Syria, the main sectors (domestic and agricultural and industrial), plus the causes of contamination in the areas of the main course of the river in Syria and its mouth in Turkey.

While the third part has discussed the main aspects of the differences and agreement between the states of Oronte basin about their water shares, the Syrian-Lebanese problem and the latest agreement between the two. Then a discussion of the Syrian-Turkey differences related to their water shares of Oronte and the political framework since Syria refuses to discuss this matter with Turkey.


Syria believes the that Turkey demand for an agreement about Oronte water is politically motivated rather than water, because Turkey wants to get Syrian recognition of her control on the Syrian region of Eskandrona which Turkey annexed in 1939.


The fourth part showing the aspects of similarities between the basins of Al-Yermouk and Oronte in Syria, in respect of water resources, the surface and the underground. Also about the uses of irrigation in the region and the expected gap between the supply and demand. Then a discussion of the future demands for water on the long term in these two basins and the ways and means of solving the imbalance between supply and demand for water. Then, a extract of the study.

And finally, In this section there are graphs, tables and a bibliography of Arabic and foreign references, books and journals. This study is a complement to thirteen previous studies published by author about Middle Eastern water. The aim is to shed more light on the biggest problem in the 21st Century in the Arab Homeland.