Water Shortage in Iraq; Rivers and Marshes are dying

Only four other countries in the world are as badly affected by climate change as Iraq, which has dried out in front of everyone in recent years, summer temperatures of over 50 degrees are part of everyday life since a long time.

By Thomas v. der Osten-Sacken, 18.11.2022

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(Picture: Tigris near Amara in 2003, Thomas v. der Osten-Sacken)

This report about one of the two big rivers of Mesopotamia shows how dramatic the situation is in Iraq:

An AFP video journalist traveled along the river’s 1,500-kilometre (900-mile) course through Iraq, from the rugged Kurdish north to the Gulf in the south, to document the ecological disaster that is forcing people to change their ancient way of life. (…)

“Everything we plant dies: the palm trees and the alfalfa which normally tolerates salt water,” said Rafiq Taufiq, a farmer in the southern riverside city of Basra.  (Climate change deepens Iraq’s worsening water shortage crisis)

According to Iraqi official statistics, the level of the Tigris entering Iraq has dropped to just 35 percent of its average over the past century. (…)

All that is left of the River Diyala, a tributary that meets the Tigris near the capital Baghdad in the central plains, are puddles of stagnant water dotting its parched bed.

Drought has dried up the watercourse that is crucial to the region’s agriculture.

This year authorities have been forced to reduce Iraq’s cultivated areas by half, meaning no crops will be grown in the badly-hit Diyala Governorate.


“We will be forced to give up farming and sell our animals,” said Abu Mehdi, 42, who wears a white djellaba robe. (…)

Water scarcity hitting farming and food security are already among the “main drivers of rural-to-urban migration” in Iraq, the UN and several non-government groups said in June. (…)

This summer in Baghdad, the level of the Tigris dropped so low that people played volleyball in the middle of the river, splashing barely waist-deep through its waters.

Farmers are losing their income in the South due to lack of rain and dams set up upstream in Turkey:

“In southern Iraq, nothing grows anymore in Obeid Hafez’s wheat farm. The water stopped coming a year ago, the 95-year-old said, straining to speak. “The last time we planted the seed, it went green, then suddenly it died,” he said.


Picture: Marshes are drying out, Picture: MEO)

The starkly different realities are playing out along the length of the Tigris-Euphrates river basin, one of the world’s most vulnerable watersheds. River flows have fallen by 40% in the past four decades as the states along its length — Turkey, Syria, Iran and Iraq — pursue rapid, unilateral development of the waters’ use.

The drop is projected to worsen as temperatures rise from climate change. Both Turkey and Iraq, the two biggest consumers, acknowledge they must cooperate to preserve the river system that some 60 million people rely on to sustain their lives. But political failures and intransigence conspire to prevent a deal sharing the rivers.”

This piece was first published in Jungle World