In the Bible, it’s said when the Euphrates river runs dry then immense things are on the horizon, perhaps even the foretelling of the Second Coming of Jesus Christ and the rapture. Revelation 16:12 reads: "The sixth angel poured out his bowl on the great river Euphrates, and its water was dried up to prepare the way for the kings from the East."
Well, not to sound dramatic or anything, but it looks like that time is nigh.
Together with the Tigris, the Euphrates carves through present-day Syria and Iraq before emptying into the Persian Gulf. For thousands of years, the twin rivers have allowed farming communities and grand cities to flourish in Mesopotamia, which is considered the cradle of some of the world's earliest civilizations.
However, for several decades, it’s become increasingly apparent that the Tigris–Euphrates river system is drying out. A government report in 2021 warned that the rivers could run dry by 2040 due to declining water levels and droughts driven by climate change.
NASA's twin Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellites collected images of this area in 2013 and found that the Tigris and Euphrates river basins had lost 144 cubic kilometers (34 cubic miles) of freshwater since 2003.
"GRACE data show an alarming rate of decrease in total water storage in the Tigris and Euphrates river basins, which currently have the second fastest rate of groundwater storage loss on Earth, after India," said Jay Famiglietti, principal investigator of the study and a hydrologist and professor at UC Irvine in a statement.
"The rate was especially striking after the 2007 drought. Meanwhile, demand for freshwater continues to rise, and the region does not coordinate its water management because of different interpretations of international laws," explained Famiglietti.
The strain is already starting to show, but a total collapse of the river system would spell disaster for the region. Millions of people across Turkey, Syria, and Iraq rely on the Tigris-Euphrates for water. As the rivers start to struggle, international disputes over access to water are already heating up. These arguments have also prevented governments from effectively reaching any solution to the problem.
Parched for water, these countries could also be facing a looming public health crisis. A recent report published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) investigated how a myriad of health emergencies are building in Iraq because people are struggling to get their hands on clean water.
“Diarrhoea, chicken pox, measles, typhoid fever, and cholera are currently spreading across Iraq because of the water crisis, and the government no longer provides vaccines to its citizens,” Naseer Baqar, climate activist and field coordinator at Tigris River Protectors Association in Iraq, told the BMJ.
Although the Bible’s predictions of the Euphrates’ fate should be taken with a bucket of salt, perhaps it's forecasting of monumental change wasn’t far wrong.