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Rivers of Babylon

Iraq's Water Crisis—And What Turkey Should Do

A view of a water canal running from the Euphrates river into the semi-desert region of eastern Syria November 11, 2010.  Khaled al-Hariri / Reuters

In the early 1900s, the American journalist Alfred Henry Lewis famously wrote that there are only nine meals between men and revolution. As the water resources available for agricultural production decline precipitously across the Middle East, we ignore Lewis’ observation at our peril.

The Tigris-Euphrates river basin, which feeds Syria and Iraq, is rapidly drying up. This vast area already struggles to support at least ten million conflict-displaced people. And things could soon get worse; Iraq is reaching a crisis point.

An Iraqi girl herds water buffaloes in the Euphrates river in Najaf, south of Baghdad, March 6, 2014.
An Iraqi girl herds water buffaloes in the Euphrates river in Najaf, south of Baghdad, March 6, 2014. Alaa Al-Marjani / Reuters
To understand the consequences, look no further than Syria. Although water stress is certainly not the sole cause of the conflict there, it no doubt helped fuel the civil war. By 2011, drought-related crop failure had pushed up to 1.5 million displaced farmers to abandon their land; the displaced became a wellspring of recruits for the Free Syrian Army and for such groups as the Islamic State (also called ISIS) and

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