Iraq is facing a drought again. Officially, it has been going on for the last two years. Unofficially the United Nations says four. The lack of rain, no government water policy, and population growth are the main causes, but Baghdad has been blaming its neighbors as well. Iran, Syria, and Turkey have all built dams that affect Iraq’s two main rivers, the Euphrates and Tigris, along with smaller tributaries. Iraq needs 500 cubic meters per second from both major rivers according to the Water Ministry, but as of August 2009 was only receiving 440 cubic meters per second from the Euphrates and 100-160 cubic meters from the Tigris. All four countries have been holding meetings over water issues, with few results.
Together these problems are having larger and larger effects upon Iraq’s agriculture, rural areas, and power supply. Iraq’s rice production has dropped from 500,000 tons per year to 250,000 tons. Wheat has declined from 3.5 million tons to 1 million tons. As a result, Iraq has become one of the largest food importers in the world, when it was self-sufficient in the 1980s. It will need to import 4 million tons of wheat alone this year, at a cost of $1.4 billion. Overall, Iraq will have to buy 80% of its food needs this year. The drought is also leading to population shifts. 3,000 people in Basra have left their homes because of rising salt levels in the land. In Ninewa, 60 out of 150 villages in the Al-Tal district are deserted in what was once the most productive wheat and barley area of the province. 90% of the land is also desert or suffering from desertification. A report by the European Water Associated warned that Iraq could become barren like Saudi Arabia if something isn’t done. Hydroelectric power production is also down. In the city of Nasiriyah in Dhi Qar province, two of four turbines have been shut down because water levels are so low.
With no government planning, little money to support farmers, minimal international aid, and a lack of cooperation so far from its neighbors, Iraq’s water situation is likely to get worse before it gets better. More rain is likely to be the only respite, otherwise it will face another year of drought, whose effects are spreading from the countryside to Iraq’s cities with migration, decreased power production, and food imports.
Affected farmland 36,919 square kilometers
Total farmland 96,706 square kilometers
% of affected farmland 38.7%
Babil, Irbil, Ninewa, Salahaddin, Tamim, – 46-56%
Dhi Qar, Diyala, Maysan – 31-45%
Baghdad, Karbala, Najaf, Qadisiyah – 26-30%
Anbar, Basra, Muthanna, Wasit – 6-25%
Sulaymaniya – 4-5%
Dohuk – 0%
Blua, Antoine, “Iraq Tussles With Neighbors Over Water,” Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 9/13/09
Chulov, Martin, “Water shortage threatens two million people in southern Iraq,” Guardian, 8/26/09
DiPaola, Anthony and Alexander, Caroline, “Iraq Drought Cuts Harvest, Boosts Imports as Oil Cash Slips,” Bloomberg, 8/5/09
Hope, Bradley, “Iraq digs in to rebuild agricultural sector,” The National, 8/30/09
Inter-Agency Information and Analysis Unit, “The Humanitarian Situation In Iraq, Inter-Agency Fact Sheet,” United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, August 2009
IRIN, “IRAQ: Drought hits rice, wheat staples,” 8/31/09b
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