Iraq must act to avoid becoming water scarce, says UK diplomat

Baghdad's new government faces an array of challenges including climate change and must create solutions

Mark Bryson-Richardson, the British ambassador to Iraq. Victor Besa / The National
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Iraq must take quick action to combat climate change as its affects would make it one of the most water scarce countries in the world, the UK’s ambassador to the country told The National.

Iraq is the fifth most vulnerable country to climate breakdown, impacted by high temperatures, droughts and frequent dust storms, presenting a serious threat to the public’s livelihood, according to the UN.

“There are a range of challenges for Iraq, reduced rainfall, desertification and increased droughts. There’s a wider list of things that needs to happen for Iraq to curb climate change,” Mark Bryson-Richardson told The National.

He said the new government in Baghdad must focus on water management as a “real priority” to improve its usage and prepare for and manage droughts.

“It’s going to be a challenging journey, Iraq will be one of the most water scarce countries in the world in the coming years,” Mr Richardson said during a visit to the UAE this week,

The diplomat’s comments come as world leaders gather for the UN climate summit in Egypt this week.

The meeting is held every year to discuss actions to tackle climate-related disasters worldwide.

The UK has teamed up with the UN Development Program to support vulnerable sectors in the Iraqi government in tackling climate change. These include water management, energy transition and technical expertise.

"Climate is going to have a significant impact on all of us, even the UK, which suffers from drought and flooding," Mr Richardson said.

Iraq has suffered immensely from dust storms, which have had an impact on its agriculture escort.

"These initiatives are important in terms of ensuring Iraq has an efficient use of water supply to support its population, protect its agriculture sector, its economy and environment," Mr Richardson said.

Iraq "is going to be one of the most climate-affected countries in the world over the coming years", he said.

There is a demand for water in the country as neighboring states have shrunk vital water sources to Iraq, rapid population growth, urbanisation and inefficient water use by the agricultural and industrial sectors.

Iraqi city of Basra shrouded in sandstorm - in pictures

The UN has warned that if the Iraqi government does not prepare and plan, the scale of environmental change is likely to be devastating and may force Iraqis to relocate in order to survive.

At the end of 2021, the International Organisation for Migration recorded about 20,000 people displaced due to water scarcity, high salinity and poor water quality across the country.

A recent report by the Norwegian Refugee Council found that about 25 per cent of Iraq’s farmers have seen almost all their wheat crops fail this year because of drought.

Farmers surveyed said they witnessed up to 90 per cent of their wheat crop fail this year as a direct result of water shortages, affecting thousands of lives, the NRC said last month.

UK and Iraq relations 'good and growing'

Iraq has finally formed a new government with Prime Minister Mohamed Al Sudani leading the Cabinet.

Mr Richardson said relations between Baghdad and London are "good and growing" and the two sides have established a strategic partnership which covers an array of issues including climate change.

"It is evident that there are a lot of common interests in what happens in Iraq, in terms of improving services, the economy, what happens in the region, improving stability and some of the global issues we are working together," he said.

On Mr Al Sudani, the British diplomat said he has made his commitments clear to the UK and to the country.

"I think there is a clear commitment and intent and I think it will be a challenge to make real progress in this space. His commitment is key and we are going to support him doing that," Mr Richardson said.

Updated: November 15, 2022, 7:42 AM
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