|Turkey's Ilisu Dam (Global Water Blog)|
Basra is currently facing a growing water crisis. 17,000 people have been hit by colic and diarrhea, and there are warnings that cholera might break out. The cause of this problems are two-fold. One is increasingly salinity moving north up the Shatt al-Arab waterway from the Persian Gulf. Second is the reduction of water coming down the Tigris River from the north due to a new Turkish dam. The dam project started over a decade ago yet the Iraqi government failed to make adequate preparations for it, and is now paying the price.
The Iraqi government knew twelve years ago that the water levels on the Tigris were going to be reduced and made no plans. In 2006, Ankara began construction on its Ilisu Dam. In 2017, as that work was concluding, Iraq and Turkey’s water ministers met four times and discussed the project, and Iraq sent a committee to inspect the site in December. That same year, the volume of the Tigris went down 8 million cubic meters. Despite this, Baghdad claimed it was caught by surprise when Turkey began filling its new dam in June 2018 and water levels suddenly dropped. The Abadi government got Ankara to delay that process until July. Iraq was fully aware of Turkey’s plans, saw the Tigris decline the year before, and yet drafted no strategy of how to deal with the consequences of the Ilisu. Rather than admit that it failed to prepare, it made the excuse that it didn’t know what would happen when the dam began to be filled.
The government was forced to come up with an ad hoc policy, which obviously has not worked. First, the Water Minister claimed there was a deal with Turkey over the flow of water, which would ensure there would be no drought and enough drinking water. Turkey immediately denied there was any agreement. Second, the Water Minister then told farmers not to grow water intensive crops such as rice and corn to try to conserve. Finally, the government was going to start importing water, and truck some of it to Basra. None of these actions have worked. Not enough water has been going to Basra and southern Iraq in general either via the Tigris or trucks. Just like in June when the crisis first hit, Baghdad has been left flat footed because it didn’t make adequate plans beforehand. This has been a reoccurring problem for the government for years. Now it is left playing catch up, and is increasingly falling behind as the situation gets worse.
Aboulenein, Ahmed, Kucukgocmen, Ali, “Turkish dam project threatens rift with Iraq over what shortages,” Reuters, 6/5/18
AIN, “Delay the filling date of the Ilisu until July,” 6/6/18
Al Ansary, Khalid, “Iraq Wheat Farmers May Slash Plantings as Turks Fill New Dam,” Bloomberg, 6/25/18
Asharq Al-Awsat, “Iraq Bans Rice, Yellow Corn Planting Due to Water Shortages,” 6/16/18
- “Parliament Fails to Tackle Worst Drought Hitting Iraq,” 6/4/18
Cockburn, Patrick, “Catastrophic drought threatens Iraq as major dams in surrounding countries cut off water to its great rivers,” Independent, 7/2/18
Al Hurra, “Basra, thousands of patients and Education Directorate warning of cholera,” 8/28/18
Indhar, Haidar, “Iraq’s treasured amber rice devastated by drought,” Agence France Presse, 7/3/18
Issa, Philip, “Iraq bans farming summer crops as water crisis grows dire,” Associated Press, 7/5/18
Kirkcioglu, Mustafa, “Iraqis blame poor infrastructure, corruption in Baghdad for water crisis,” Daily Sabah, 8/21/18
Al Mada, “4 successive governments failed to provide electricity and establish strategic water storage projects,” 6/4/18
Al Mirbad, “Dhi Qar launches a final appeal through al-Mirbad: Our marshes are dying,” 7/7/18
Mostafa, Mohamed, “Iraq begins importing water from neighbors to offset shortages,” Iraqi News, 7/11/18
Rudaw, “Water crisis: Iraqi farmers cultivate 50% less land than previous summer,” 8/4/18
Salaheddin, Sinan, “Water crisis salts the earth in Iraq’s long-neglected south,” Associated Press, 8/2/18
Al-Saleh, Muhanad, “Turkey seeks to reassure Iraqis over upstream dam,” Associated Press, 6/5/18
While the dams are certainly a major factor (including dams built in Iran and Iraq itself) but global climate change should also be mentioned as playing a major role in what happened this year in both Iraq and the region. A cold and largely dry winter resulted in a failure to build a significant snowpack in the mountains ... this is vital to providing enough water in the rivers to get through the dry season. With climate change, this is likely to become the norm and not the exception. The impact on farmers has been and will continue to be especially severe. The lack of support they received from the Iraqi government contributed to some of the support that ISIS initially received in the Mosul area. But clearly, the Iraqi government is flat-footed in their lack of attention and preparation and Iraqi officials need to stop fighting among themselves, and get down to the real work of serving their people.
Thank you for your comment. Yes climate change is another big factor. This summer Iraq has witnessed some of the hottest temperatures in the world plus they have a drought. Failure to prepare for the Turkish dam also comes on top of the govt not dealing with the salinity problem which has been an issue for over a decade.
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