, Volume 48, Issue 3, pp 264–279 | Cite as

How war, drought, and dam management impact water supply in the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers

  • Mejs HasanEmail author
  • Aaron Moody
  • Larry Benninger
  • Heloise Hedlund
Research Article


The fast-paced conflicts in the Middle East can disrupt management and supply of water, particularly on dams and barrages along the Tigris and Euphrates rivers that have experienced threats or changes in sovereignty. Water supply is also under pressure from upstream water management, drought, and structural decline. In this research, we used a satellite-based algorithm, the normalized difference water index (NDWI), to monitor changes in the extent of surface reservoirs (1985-present). We compared the timeline of reservoir fluctuations with the timeline of events related to conflicts, droughts, and dam management. Our results show that the most sudden changes in water supply occurred during events related to conflict, but conflict was not often a cause of the greatest absolute changes to reservoir area. Though not as precise as on-the-ground information, satellite data can give insights to water supply when conflict has disrupted the flow of information or restricted on-the-ground data collection.


Conflict Euphrates NDWI Satellites Tigris Water 



The authors would like to acknowledge Nadhir Al-Ansari of Luleå University of Technology for his helpful email communications while researching and writing this paper.

Supplementary material

13280_2018_1073_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (3 mb)
Supplementary material 1 (PDF 3097 kb)

Supplementary material 2 (MPG 31968 kb)


  1. Adamo, N., and N. Al-Ansari. 2016. Mosul Dam full story: Safety evaluations of Mosul Dam. Journal of Earth Sciences and Geotechnical Engineering 6: 185–212.Google Scholar
  2. Aga Khan, S. 1991. Report to the Secretary-General dated 15 July 1991 on humanitarian needs in Iraq prepared by a mission led by Sadruddin Aga Khan. United Nations, Document S/22799, New York, USA.Google Scholar
  3. Al-Handal, A., and C. Hu. 2014. MODIS observations of human-induced changes in the Mesopotamian Marshes in Iraq. Wetlands 35: 31–40. Scholar
  4. Altinbilek, D. 2004. Development and management of the Euphrates-Tigris basin. International Journal of Water Resources Development 20: 15–33. Scholar
  5. Ashouri, H., K. Hsu, S. Sorooshian, D. Braithwaite, K. Knapp, L. Cecil, B. Nelson, and O. Prat. 2015. PERSIANN-CDR: Daily precipitation climate data record from multi satellite observations for hydrological and climate studies. Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society 96: 69–83. Scholar
  6. BBC. 2015. Ramadi battle: IS prepares to defend seized Iraqi city. Retrieved 1 August, 2016, from
  7. BBC. 2016. IS conflict: Iraqi forces “retake most” of Falluja. Retrieved 21 June, 2017, from
  8. BBC. 2017. Islamic state and the crisis in Iraq and Syria in maps. Retrieved 20 June, 2017, from
  9. Beschorner, N. 1992. Water and instability in the Middle East. London: Adelphi Papers, Brassey’s Ltd.Google Scholar
  10. Bjerklie, D., S. Lawrence Dingman, C. Vorosmarty, C. Bolster, and R. Congalton. 2003. Evaluating the potential for measuring river discharge from space. Journal of Hydrology 278: 17–38. Scholar
  11. Birkett, C., and B. Beckley. 2010. Investigating the performance of the Jason-2/OSTM radar altimeter over lakes and reservoirs. Marine Geodesy 33: 204–238.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Bring, A. and E. Sjöberg. 2017. Complex climate effects on cooperation and disputes in transboundary river basins. University of Utah, Department of Economics Working Paper No. 2017-2, Salt Lake City, Utah.Google Scholar
  13. Cockburn, P. 2014. The harm before the storm: army battles to expel resurgent al-Qa’ida from Iraq. Retrieved 21 June, 2017, from
  14. Congalton, R., and K. Green. 2009. Assessing the accuracy of remotely sensed data: Principles and practices, 2nd ed. Boca Raton: Taylor & Francis Group.Google Scholar
  15. Crétaux, J., W. Jelinski, S. Calmant, A. Kouraev, V. Vuglinski, M. Bergé-Nguyen, M. Gennero, F. Nino, et al. 2011. SOLS: A lake database to monitor in the Near Real Time water level and storage variations from remote sensing data. Advances in Space Research 47: 1497–1507. Scholar
  16. Eklund, L., A. Persson, and P. Pilesjö. 2016. Cropland changes in times of conflict, reconstruction, and economic development in Iraqi Kurdistan. Ambio 45: 78–88. Scholar
  17. Filkins, D. 2017. Before the flood. Retrieved 20 January, 2017, from
  18. Gander, K. 2015. Isis use water as a weapon in Iraq, by shutting dam on the Euphrates River. Retrieved 2 August, 2016, from
  19. Gao, B. 1996. NDWI—A normalized difference water index for remote sensing of vegetation liquid water from space. Remote Sensing of Environment 58: 257–266. Scholar
  20. Hui, F., B. Xu, H. Huang, Q. Yu, and P. Gong. 2008. Modelling spatial-temporal change of Poyang Lake using multitemporal Landsat imagery. International Journal of Remote Sensing 29: 5767–5784. Scholar
  21. Issa, I. 2015. Sedimentological and hydrological investigation of Mosul Dam Reservoir. PhD Thesis. Luleå, Sweden: Luleå University of Technology.Google Scholar
  22. Kassim, T., H. Al-Saadi, and R. Farhan. 2006. Vertical distribution of phytoplankton in Habbaniya Lake, Iraq. Marsh Bulletin 1: 19–31.Google Scholar
  23. Klein, I., A. Dietz, U. Gessner, A. Galayeva, A. Myrzakhmetov, and C. Kuenzer. 2014. Evaluation of seasonal water body extents in Central Asia over the past 27 years derived from medium-resolution remote sensing data. International Journal of Applied Earth 26: 335–349. Scholar
  24. Klein, I., U. Gessner, A. Dietz, and C. Kuenzer. 2017. Global WaterPack—A 250 m resolution dataset revealing the daily dynamics of global inland water bodies. Remote Sensing of Environment 198: 345–362. Scholar
  25. Link, P., J. Scheffran, and T. Ide. 2016. Conflict and cooperation in the water-security nexus: a global comparative analysis of river basins under climate change. University of Hamburg, Working Paper CLISEC-31, Hamburg, Germany.Google Scholar
  26. MacQuarrie, P. 2004. Water security in the Middle East: Growing conflict over development in the Euphrates-Tigris Basin. PhD Thesis. Dublin, Ireland: Trinity College.Google Scholar
  27. McFeeters, S.K. 1996. The use of the Normalized Difference Water Index (NDWI) in the delineation of open water features. International Journal of Remote Sensing 17: 1425–1432. Scholar
  28. Milner, A. 2014. Mosul Dam: Why the battle for water matters in Iraq. Retrieved 17 June, 2017, from
  29. Moridnejad, A., N. Karimi, and P. Ariya. 2015. Newly desertified regions in Iraq and its surrounding areas: Significant novel sources of global dust particles. Journal of Arid Environments 116: 1–10. Scholar
  30. Müller, M., J. Yoon, S. Gorelick, N. Avisse, and A. Tilmant. 2016. Impact of the Syrian refugee crisis on land use and transboundary freshwater resources. Proceedings of the National academy of Sciences of the United States of America 113: 14932–14937. Scholar
  31. National Aeronautics and Space Agency. 2008. Ocean Surface Topography Mission/Jason-2 Mission Overview. Retrieved 29 June, 2017, from
  32. Pekel, J., A. Cottam, N. Gorelick, and A. Belward. 2016. High-resolution mapping of global surface water and its long-term changes. Nature 540: 418–422. Scholar
  33. Rubin, A. and R. Nordland. 2014. Sunni militants advance toward large Iraqi dam. Retrieved 4 July, 2017, from
  34. Saleh, D. 2010. Stream gage descriptions and streamflow statistics for sites in the Tigris River and Euphrates River Basins, Iraq. U.S. Geological Survey, Data Series 540, Reston, Virginia.Google Scholar
  35. Traub, J. 2006. The Best Intentions: Kofi Annan and the UN in the Era of American World Power, 1st ed. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.Google Scholar
  36. Trigo, R., C. Gouveia, and D. Barriopedro. 2010. The intense 2007–2009 drought in the Fertile Crescent: Impacts and associated atmospheric circulation. Agricultural and Forest Meteorology 150: 1245–1257. Scholar
  37. UN-ESCWA and BGR (United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia, Bundesanstalt fur Geowissenschaften und Rohstoffe). 2013. Inventory of Shared Water Resources in Western Asia. Beirut, Lebanon.Google Scholar
  38. United Nations Environment Programme. 1999. The Kosovo conflict—Consequences for the environment and human settlements. Nairobi, Kenya.Google Scholar
  39. United Nations Environment Programme, 2003. Afghanistan: Post-Conflict Environmental Assessment. Nairobi, Kenya.Google Scholar
  40. von Lossow, T. 2016. Water as weapon: IS on the Euphrates and Tigris. Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik, Comments 3, Berlin, Germany.Google Scholar
  41. Vörösmarty, C., P. McIntyre, M. Gessner, D. Dudgeon, A. Prusevich, P. Green, S. Glidden, S. Bunn, et al. 2010. Global threats to human water security and river biodiversity. Nature 468: 334–334. Scholar
  42. Yamazaki, D., M. Trigg, and D. Ikeshima. 2015. Development of a global ~ 90 m water body map using multi-temporal Landsat images. Remote Sensing of Environment 171: 337–351. Scholar
  43. Zakaria, S., N. Al-Ansari, M. Ezz-Aldeen, and S. Knutsson. 2012. Rain water harvesting and supplemental irrigation at Northern Sinjar Mountain, Iraq. Geoscience Research 3: 100–108.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Mejs Hasan
    • 1
    Email author
  • Aaron Moody
    • 2
  • Larry Benninger
    • 3
  • Heloise Hedlund
    • 4
  1. 1.Department of Geological SciencesUNCChapel HillUSA
  2. 2.Department of GeographyUNCChapel HillUSA
  3. 3.Department of Geological SciencesUNCChapel HillUSA
  4. 4.Department of GeographyUNCChapel HillUSA

Personalised recommendations