Azzam Al Wash teaches at the American University of Iraq in Suleimani and is the founder of Nature Iraq, a conservation organization that has helped restore drained swamps in southern Iraq.
He told VOA that for centuries the Tigris and Euphrates rivers flooded Iraq, renewing its once green agricultural land, but the floods stopped in 1968 after dams were built up the river in Turkey, where the rivers originate. flow, mainly for hydroelectric power plants. Iran, he said, also diverted the Tigris because it also needs water.
“The Iraqi farmer is used to having an abundance of water, not a lack of water,” Al Wash said. “The entire water management system in Iraq is designed and built at a time when floods were a natural occurrence. But by reaching an agreement with Turkey on the rules for the operation of some dams, we can effectively stop the use of artificial lakes created to control floods, and thus get more water for the needs of Iraqi farmers and cities.”
However, Al Wash and others do not have high hopes for this remedy. He adds that Iraq’s population is constantly growing, and with it, so is water consumption. And then there are the problems with climate change.
Iraq’s Water Ministry warned in a shocking report last December that the continued loss of water from the Tigris and Euphrates, which form the backbone of its fresh water supply, could turn the country into a “riverless country by 2040.”
Iraqi Water Minister Mahdi Al-Hamadani said after contacting his counterparts in Turkey and Iran that he was still awaiting talks. The United Nations is also calling on the three neighbors to reach a fair agreement on water sharing.
Recently various UN agencies issued an urgent call to action to protect Iraq as it marked World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought. But analysts point to Turkey’s and Iran’s water and climate change concerns as obstacles.
Tobias von Lossow, a fellow at the Netherlands Clingendael Institute for International Affairs, told VOA that observers believe the Shatt al-Arab waterway, where the Tigris and Euphrates meet in Iraq, “dries up sooner or later.” He warns that “there are worrying trends” and that there is only “a small window for this not to happen”.
“The southeast target project in Turkey, in particular, had a big impact,” said von Lossow. “Thus, the flow of water into Iraq has decreased by 30-40% since the late 1970s, and this trend continues. Climate change and environmental degradation are contributing to and accelerating this. We will see more droughts, water shortages, sand and dust storms.
“And we will see this more often and regularly in the future. Iraq has limited options. Iraq can work on inland water management. Push a little more for agricultural reforms, crop choices, irrigation technology.”
The United Nations places Iraq in the top five countries hardest hit by climate change worldwide, with its increasing loss of arable land due to salinization, less rainfall, prolonged heatwaves and the onslaught of dust storms. Meanwhile, the decline in water levels in both rivers has led to abandoned farms and fisheries along their banks.