Iraq to take steps to tackle water scarcity, says PM Al Sudani

Oil-rich nation classified by UN as fifth most vulnerable country in world to climate change

The dried-up bed of the Kullal River in the city of Badrah in Iraq. AFP
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Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia Al Sudani said on Monday that new measures tackling devastating water scarcity in the country will be introduced soon.

The UN classifies the oil-rich nation as the fifth most vulnerable country in the world to climate change.

Its severe water crisis has been gradually worsening for decades, negatively affected by climate change, mismanagement and pollution.

During a TV show that allows people in the streets to talk to the Prime Minister on the phone, a man desperately appealed for water.

“We’ve come here to Baghdad because of the hardships we’ve seen in our areas due to lack of water,” the man, who identified himself as a farmer from Al Musayyab area south of Baghdad, told Mr Al Sudani.

“Even there is no water to drink or to use for washing. We dig wells but they are salty and our children are getting sick. At least, we need water to drink.

“There is no water and we are here to work as construction workers. Finding work here is not easy and we have families to feed.

“What can we do? There is no water, and we can’t find work here. Where should we go? We have no salary and no pension, we depend only on agriculture.”

Mr Al Sudani replied by saying the government had “solutions”.

“You know we have a problem for water,” the Prime Minister said. “The water we had this summer hardly met the demand for drinking.

“Yes, there is a problem and in God's willing we have solutions that we are working on and will announce them soon.”

Iraq’s two main sources of water, the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, which account for more than 90 per cent of the country’s reserves, have significantly declined over the years.

Construction of dams and diversion of water upstream in Turkey and Iran has exacerbated the crisis.

Decades of war and conflict have damaged or completely destroyed the country's infrastructure, leading to water losses and inefficient distribution.

Desertification affects 39 per cent of the country and 54 per cent of its agricultural land has been degraded, mainly due to soil salinity caused by historically low water levels in the two rivers, reduced rainfall and the rise in sea levels.

What can we do? There is no water, and we can’t find work here. Where should we go?
Iraqi farmer

Appeal for support

On Saturday, Minister of Water Resources Aoun Diab Abdullah warned that “we are going through the worst year in Iraq’s history in terms of both water coming from neighbouring countries or the reserves in the dams”.

“We are in a very hard situation,” Mr Abdullah told Iraqi News Agency.

Over the past few months, Iraqi authorities removed abuses of the rivers, mainly the construction of illegal inland fisheries and the use of large pumps that have deprived many areas of water, mainly those in the south of the country.

Mr Abdullah said they are optimistic that this winter will be a wet one.

Addressing the UN General Assembly on Friday, Mr Al Sudani asked the international community for more support to tackle the crisis to guarantee the sustainability of water.

He called for the establishment of an integrated mechanism to manage cross-border water resources and to address the effects of droughts.

Iraq, often referred to as the cradle of civilisation, is experiencing its worst drought in decades, he said, noting it “must not be allowed to die of thirst”.

Known in ancient times as Mesopotamia or the Land Between the Two Rivers, Iraq was at the heart of a region called the Fertile Crescent. It is also said to have been the site of the biblical Garden of Eden.

Mr Al Sudani also called for establishing a regional group comprising Gulf states, including Iraq and Iran, because “these are the states that will be disproportionately subject to temperature rise”.

Updated: September 25, 2023, 3:00 PM