Euphrates

The Euphrates River. Al Anbar, Iraq. rel=
The Euphrates River. Al Anbar, Iraq. Creative Commons licence
© Jayel Aheram

Source of the fertile crescent

The Euphrates is the western of the two great rivers that define Mesopotamia (the other being the Tigris).

The Euphrates River is approximately 2,781 kilometers long. It is formed by the union of two branches, the Kara (the western Euphrates), which rises in the Armenian highlands of today's eastern Turkey north of Erzurum and the Murat (the eastern Euphrates), which issues from an area southwest of Mount Ararat, north of Lake Van.

Both rivers have their origins in Turkey. Downstream, through its whole length, the Euphrates receives no further water flow. North of Basra, in southern Iraq, the river merges with the Tigris to form the Arvand/Shatt al-Arab, this in turn empties into the Persian Gulf.

The river used to divide into many channels at Basra, forming an extensive marshland, but the marshes were largely drained by the Saddam Hussein government in the 1990s as a means of driving out the Marsh Arabs.

The Euphrates is only navigable by very shallow-draft boats, which can reach as far as the Iraqi city of Hit, located 1,930 kms upstream and which is only 53 m above sea level.

Current threats
As with the Tigris there is much controversy over rights and use of the river. This has resulted in a struggle between the governments of Turkey, Syria, and Iraq to use as much water as possible. This issue has the potential to ingite a military conflict.

Although dams can now divert all of the flow of these rivers, 20 more dams are under construction. In the meantime, the Mesopotamian Marshes — which once covered an area nearly half the size of Switzerland and were central to the livelihoods of the half a million Ma'dan or Marsh Arab people — have been all but destroyed. Conserving freshwater ecosystems through better management would not only help maintain the amount of water available, but also its quality. 
Euphrates - Tigris watershed / ©: Revenga, C., S. Murray, J. Abramovitz, and A. Hammond, 1998. Watersheds of the World: Ecological Value and Vulnerability. Washington, DC: World Resources Institute.
Euphrates - Tigris watershed
© Revenga, C., S. Murray, J. Abramovitz, and A. Hammond, 1998. Watersheds of the World: Ecological Value and Vulnerability. Washington, DC: World Resources Institute.
Countries
Turkey, Syria, and Iraq

Basin population
around 20 million

Size
100,000 km2

Length
2,781 km

Key species
Basra reed warbler (Acrocephalus griseldis), Iraq babbler (Turdoides altirostris), Common otter (Lutra lutra) Smooth-coated otter (Lutra perspicillatamaxwelli), pygmy Cormorant (Phalacrocorax pygmaeus), Lesser white-fronted goose (Anser erythropus), and Red-breasted geese (Branta ruficollis).

Livelihood facts
The river has provided a source of water for human civilizations for thousands of years. Today it is used to irrigate crops such as rice and barley.

Related links
Sources

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