Prime Minister Sudani recently returned from a trip to Turkey where he claimed a victory. He said that Ankara agreed to increase water flow down the Tigris for one month to try to help its neighbor. That will do little to alleviate Iraq’s chronic problems especially because Baghdad appears to have no water strategy.
Iraq has struggled for over a decade with droughts and water shortages brought on by climate change, waste, and dams built by surrounding countries. 2023 is the fourth year of a drought. That has cut things like wheat production by around 60% over the last three years. Recently there was low rainfall leading to two years of crop failures. The increasing temperatures is also evaporating 1/5 of Iraq’s rivers. The country is losing 400 sq km of arable land per year. The irrigation system is old and out of date and wastes 30% of the water it uses. The Water Ministry said that neighboring countries were denying Iraq 75% of its water rights due to dams. Turkey has 22 dams alone that affect Iraq. The Ministry added that its water reserves were down from 50 bil cubic meters to just 8 bil. These issues have been going on for years and have only gotten worse. Nearly every month there are reports about the nation’s water issues with no end in sight.
Despite the talk about crisis year after year Baghdad has never made water a priority. In 2018 for instance there were protests and riots in Basra as the Tigris dropped dramatically and sea water flowed in causing a widespread health emergency in the province. This was caused by a new Turkish dam opening which the Iraqi government knew about for years but made no preparations for. The administration made all kinds promised but when the mess subsided it went back to doing nothing.
Today little has changed. Most of Iraq’s infrastructure is aging and water projects have relied upon foreign aid since the government hasn’t allocated enough funds. PM Sudani said he wants to increase water storage and reduce waste but previous administrations have promised the same with few results. That is only making the situation worse. Ultimately it highlights the fact that the country’s elite are not really interested in governing. Their priority is not to serve the public but themselves so problems like water will continue to go unresolved.
Bechocha, Julian, “Iraqi PM seeks to regulate water usage following Turkey visit,” Rudaw, 3/22/23
Al Mada, “Water resources: Neighboring countries confiscate 75% of our rights in the Tigris and Euphrates,” 3/15/23
Mahmoud, Sinan, “Bleak future awaits Iraq as authorities are accused of ignoring environmental threats,” The National, 3/17/23
Al Masalah, “The Minister of Water Resources warns of a worse and more difficult situation after the decline in the water levels of the two rivers,” 3/4/23
World Food Programme, “Iraq Market Monitor Report,” October 2022
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