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Planet Earth

Is the Euphrates River Drying Up?

Is the Euphrates River drying up? Learn the history and significance of this cradle of civilization, why it is in decline, and the wildlife affected by it.

By Sara NovakFeb 8, 2024 1:00 PM
 Boats on dried cracked earth of the Euphrates River. Euphrates river drying up
(Credit: John Wreford/Shutterstock)


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The Euphrates River has been one of the most important rivers throughout human history. Along with the Tigris River, it makes up the cradle of civilization, known as the Fertile Crescent. The river was critical to the development of some of the world’s first agricultural societies like the Sumerians and the Mesopotamians. In the Bible, the Euphrates was even mentioned as one of the four rivers that served the Garden of Eden.

But now, in the face of global climate change and human impact, the river is under threat, presenting conflict in an already white-hot part of the world.

Where Is the Euphrates River?

(Credit: sefa yamak/Shutterstock)

Located in the heart of the Middle East, it’s one of the longest rivers in Western Asia. Starting in southern Turkey and flowing through Syria and Iraq before combining with the Tigris River to become the Shatt Al-Arab, it then flows into the mighty Persian Gulf.

Today, the river is a vital source of fresh water in a very arid part of the world, serving over 23 million people. Similar to other important rivers throughout the world like the Amazon and the Colorado, it is threatened as a result of climate change and overuse.

The Euphrates River also runs through a war-torn part of the world in Syria, where a 12-year civil war has caused chaos, and Iraq, where protracted conflict has also led to a lack of stability.

Read More: 5 Ancient Societies that Collapsed When the Water Ran Dry

Is the Euphrates River Drying Up?

(Credit: John Wreford/Shutterstock)

Yes, the Euphrates River is drying up due to a complex set of factors. The Ataturk Dam, located in Turkey, is one of 22 dams along the river that were built in the 1980s and 90s to provide irrigation and hydroelectric power. As a result, less of the river drains downstream.

Additionally, global climate change has led to drought with decreased rainfall into the river basin. Warmer temperatures have also led to increased evaporation especially as water levels continue to drop.

When Will the Euphrates River Dry Up?

Levels are dangerously low and the concern is that the river will dry up completely by 2040. While the Euphrates River drying up will have a terrible impact on the civilizations of today, it does tell us the story of many of the civilizations of years past. Beneath a dried up riverbed in Iraq, for example, archeologists have unearthed the remains of nearly 80 sites including jails and cemeteries from the ancient city of Telbas from before the time of Christ.

Read More: The Price of River Water May Be Going Up

What Happens When the Euphrates River Dries Up?

This is already a center of conflict and a lack of water is sure to add volatility both to the drinking water supply and to the farmers struggling to survive. Water from the river is currently used for irrigation, hydropower, and drinking water. In all, 70 percent of its resources are used for agriculture.

What Animals Live by the Euphrates River?

Many animals also depend on the river for their very survival including river otters, sea birds, and water buffalo. The river hosts a number of endangered or threatened species of birds including the marble teal, reed warbler, Dalmatian pelican, marbled duck, black-tailed godwit, spotted eagle, and steppe eagle. Not to mention, the Euphrates soft-shell turtle, which is a highly endangered species only present in a few areas on the river.

The Euphrates is one of the world’s most historically important bodies of water. It provides a lifeline to a part of the world that lacks water resources and is already in conflict. Decades of talks have not been fruitful when it comes to its preservation, but hopefully, as countries like Turkey, Syria, Iraq, and Jordan see their resources dwindling, they will be more motivated to act.

Read More: What Are Flash Droughts?

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