Iraq's cultivated areas reduced by half as drought tightens grip

Government has taken the unprecedented step of banning farming of water intensive crops

This Saturday, July 28, aerial photo shows a dry canal full of salt in the area of Siba in Basra, 340 miles (550 km) southeast of Baghdad, Iraq. Iraq, historically known as The Land Between The Two Rivers, is struggling with the scarcity of water due to dams in Turkey and Iran, lack of rain and aging hydrological infrastructure. The decreased water levels have greatly affected agriculture and animal resources. (AP Photo/Nabil al-Jurani)

Areas under cultivation in Iraq have halved in size this summer compared to last year due to a drought that has led to a ban on water intensive crops, the government said.

"If we take the cultivated area for 2018, it is down 50 per cent compared to 2017," Deputy Agriculture Minister Mahdi Al Qaisi told AFP.

In an unprecedented move, the government in June suspended farming of rice, corn and other cereals that require major irrigation.

Losses for families long dependent on rice production will reach $39 million (Dh143m) this year, according to the authorities.

Rice production usually yields 100,000 tonnes per year.

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The drought has also hit livestock, with herds in southern Iraq dwindling by 30 per cent, as cattle die of thirst or are sold for meat in greater volumes than usual.

In the southern province of Zi Qar, more than 400 farming families have left their villages to settle or roam in better irrigated areas, according to local officials.

While Iraq is often known as the "land of two rivers" — the Euphrates and Tigris cross its territory — the country's water resources have diminished in recent years.

Reservoirs are at about 10 per cent of their capacity.

Beyond this year's dramatic lack of rain, experts say a central reason for Iraq's drought is the regional sharing of water resources.

Neighbouring Turkey and Iran have in recent years both rerouted cross-border water sources they share with Iraq.

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