IRAQ’S WATER CRISIS THREATENS FUTURE OF CRUCIAL AGRICULTURE SECTOR

Water, the lifeblood of many industries & the driver for financial development


By MATTHEW PARKES: POLITICS Columnist


Protectionism and a bumper harvest provide little comfort to an industry at mercy to thirsty neighbours, as dams are built in Iran, Turkey and semi-autonomous Kurdistan.

On Monday 2nd November, Iraq’s Cabinet announced that it had allowed the Ministry of Water resources to negotiate a deal with Turkey over water management on the Tigris. In September, the Iraqi government intended to seek agreements with their neighbouring countries following the activation of Turkey’s Ilisu Dam in May and Iran’s construction of 16 dams on the River Sirwan with plans for many more.

The dams threaten the livelihoods of millions in Iraq and endangers the jobs of 18% of the population who work in the Agricultural industry. Two million people depend on the water that Tigris tributaries, Little Zab and Sirwan, bring into the Iraqi-Kurdistan region. The construction of dams upstream in Iran are forcing the semi-autonomous region to construct their own, thereby threatening the water flows of the Tigris downstream.

In August, the Ministry of Water Resources announced that there had been a significant drop in water from rivers flowing out of Iran. The Director of the Darbandikhan dam, located in the Kurdistan region of Iraq and fed by the Sirwan river, stated that water levels were dropping by 15cm a day.

It is feared that the situation will only get worse. Iran plans to build 109 dams through to 2021 and it has recently finished the construction of the Nawsud tunnel which allows the country to divert water away from the River Sirwan, which could be catastrophic for towns downstream during a period of drought.

The Tigris has also been threatened by the Ilisu dam, which was recently built in the Mardan province of Southeastern Turkey. In May the first turbine was turned on, providing hydroelectric power, an important economic resource for the country.


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One report suggested that the Ilisu and Cizre dams could see a 78% reduction in inflow to the Mosul Dam, not only having a significant hydrological impact, but also a financial one.

In recent months Iraqi agriculture has shown promising signs. In 2019 the country banned imports of 25 agricultural products and stopped exports from the Kurdistan region in a bid to increase food security and self-sufficiency domestically.

Furthermore, a boom in this year’s harvest has allowed the Iraqi government to export barely for the first time in addition to 700,000 tonnes of dates, thereby supplementing the ailing reserves of the government’s treasury which have been hit by a seismic reduction in oil prices over the last year.

Iraq’s water problems can not solely be placed at the feet of external sources. Agriculture is the largest employer in rural Iraq, however, the population has been steadily decreasing over the past two decades. This is largely due to the serious mismanagement of water in the country, likely caused by chronic underfunding and the massive military disruption. Only 20% of farmers have access to fully functioning irrigation systems and the ones that are used rapidly increase salinization.

The decrease in water flow at important dams and geological features of Iraq will potentially cause greater instability in the country. Without greater harmony between the countries and regions that share these rivers, the ancient rural agricultural population of Iraq could face annihilation when drought next hits.


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