Basra in southern Iraq and Irbil in Kurdistan are responding to the drought in different ways. Basra wants to be declared a disaster area and is calling for immediate relief, while Irbil is thinking more long-term and trying to create a water policy.
According to the United Nations, 46-56% of Irbil’s cropland has been hit by the drought. Many farmers in the north rely upon rain to grow their crops, and that has been down 33-50% from 2007 to 2008. As a result, Irbil’s crop production dropped 80% last year. In response, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) is attempting to create its first water policy. Currently, residents of the region pay $1 for unlimited water use per month, with the rest subsidized by the KRG. A Swedish company was hired to install 100 water meters in one area of Irbil and found that Kurds use more water than many countries. The KRG now plans on installing 100,000 water meters by the end of the year to start regulating water use. This would be a first in the entire country.
In Basra, not only has its farmland been hit by the drought, but its fresh water supply has as well. 6-25% of the province’s cropland has been affected by the drought. More important is the rising salinity levels, and the incursion of seawater inland. As a result, up to 5,000 villagers have left their land, and the governorate’s director of agriculture warned that farming might be wiped out. The situation is so bad that the local council has asked the province be declared a disaster area. Rather than move to conserve water like Irbil, Basra is in more of a crisis mode and thinking short-term. At the beginning of September 2009, the governor went to Baghdad to talk with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki who promised a $20 million project to build water pipes to Basra. That would obviously provide no immediate relief. For that the Ministry of Municipalities and Public Works initiated eight new water purification projects, and the province signed a deal with Iran to deliver 650,000 liters of drinking water every two days. On October 9, the first Iranian shipped docked in Basra’s harbor to deliver the water.
As reported before, Iraq’s drought is reaching disaster levels. Population growth, lack of rain, and no government water policy are the major causes. Iraq’s neighbors are also facing a drought, and they have built dams along many of the major waterways that flow into Iraq. The country’s crops and population have both been affected. Baghdad has still not come up with any real response even though the drought has lasted for two years. That has left the provinces to fend for themselves. Basra is looking short-term, while Irbil is taking the long view. Both approaches need to be considered and coordinated with the central government, but that is simply not happening even though conditions are getting worse.
Alsumaria, “Iran provides Iraq with drinking water,” 10/9/09
- “Will Basra be announced a disaster area?” 9/30/09
Aswat al-Iraq, “8 new water projects in Basra,” 9/26/09
- “Basra governor vows drinking water to all Basra,” 9/6/09
- “Official says Basra’s agriculture may be wiped out,” 8/26/09
Blua, Antoine, “Iraq Tussles With Neighbors Over Water,” Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 9/13/09
Chulov, Martin, “Surge of seawater drives Iraqis from their homes in the south,” Guardian, 9/11/09
- “Water shortage threatens two million people in southern Iraq,” Guardian, 8/26/09
Hamad, Qassim Khidhir, “Kurdish authorities call for water restrictions,” Niqash, 10/8/09
United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, “Iraq Humanitarian Update,” October 2008
Al-Wazzan, Saleem, “salt levels in shatt al-arab threaten environmental disaster,” Niqash, 9/2/09
Zavis, Alexandra, “First violence, now drought threatens Iraq farmers,” Los Angeles Times, 6/26/08