On October 9, a report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), commissioned by the United Nations, revealed that the planet has heated up by one degree Celsius. The alarming report outlines the destruction that will ensue if action is not taken now to address global climate change.
While the whole world is suffering from the consequences of climate change, Iraq is experiencing a severe, ongoing water crisis partially because of the shift in temperatures. As the country struggles to recover from forty years of intermittent war and other state emergencies, the lack of clean and accessible water threatens to further destabilize the nation.
The causes of Iraq’s water shortages are various. Climate change remains the biggest factor, however. The rivers of Iraq, most notably the Tigris and Euphrates, are drying up as the country becomes more arid. With longer dry seasons persisting, water has become unsuitable for farming. As a result, the country has been forced to import nearly 70% of its food supply.
Geo-strategic decisions, as well as man-made dams, have also contributed to Iraq’s water crisis. The country has been choked off from the Euphrates and Tigris rivers since the 1970s when a series of dams were built by neighboring Turkey, Syria, and Iran. On October 11, Iran’s Ministry of Agriculture announced plans that would further cut Iraq’s water supply by 7 billion cubic meters on the western and northern borders.
The environmental crisis has been aggravated by the violence and instability that has plagued the country. After the Iraq War and battles with ISIS militants, 40% of Iraq’s agricultural produce was lost. Violence forced farmers to abandon their crops and livestock, leaving their farms unattended for months and years at a time. Key infrastructure, such as water supply towers, have also been destroyed.
In Basra, which is often referred to as the “Venice of the East,” protests took place in August and September, after canals became so polluted the city’s sewers and other water supplies were considered poisonous. Initial protests were triggered by the government’s inability to provide basic services and employment to its citizens, corruption, as well as the exploitation of the city’s oil fields by foreign companies.
More than 90,000 people in Basra have been hospitalized due to the country’s water condition, resulting in cholera outbreaks and chronic stomach ailments. In an interview given to The Independent, a Basra resident named Hamid Abdul-Wahib summed up the feelings of frustration amongst residents: “The water shortages have made all the other problems gather and explode. It’s so extreme because it’s water, it’s essential for life.”
On October 4, the Iraqi Ministry of Agriculture announced that the area for winter crops will be reduced by 55% due to a lack of irrigation water. In June 2018, Iraq banned the planting of various summer crops, including staples such as rice, corn, and cotton, due to water shortages.
With the country’s population on pace to increase by 1 million people per year, concerns about the government’s ability to provide for their basic needs, water included, are rising. If the government does not find a solution quickly, the situation could turn deadly soon. Up to 4 million people could be forced to flee their homes, and more killed due to a lack of water and food, as well as unsanitary conditions.