(formerly IRIN News) Journalism from the heart of crises

Ministry issues drought warning

A map showing the passages of the rivers Tigris and Euphrates through Iraq.
Karl Musser

Iraq is suffering from water shortages that could lead to widespread drought as a result of the water policies of neighbouring countries and an unusually dry winter, the Iraqi Water Resources Ministry has said in a statement.

"The shortage of rain, which last winter was 30 percent of what it was in previous years, has led to an obvious impact on water levels in the Tigris and Euphrates and their tributaries," the Ministry said.

Iraq's total water store in reservoirs and lakes is currently 22.07 billion cu. m. - down from the pervious year by 9.19 billion cu. m., it said.

Iraqi officials have accused Syria, Turkey and Iran of either building dams on the Tigris and Euphrates or changing the course of tributaries leading to Iraq, and the government is dispatching official delegations to these countries next week to discuss the problem.

"Iran is holding up the water from two rivers - al-Wan and Serwan - which flow through Iran to Iraq’s southeastern province of Diyala by building dams on them," said Peshtiwan Ahmed, a member of the parliamentary committee on water resources.

Hassan Ni'ma Alwan, an expert at the Water Resources Ministry, said Iraq stood to lose nearly half of its water resources if the policies being pursued in neighbouring countries continued, especially in conjunction with another dry winter.

"We are expecting to lose nearly half of our water resources - or maybe more than 50 percent - if neighbouring countries continue building dams on the rivers [Tigris and Euphrates]," Alwan told IRIN.

Acute drought

This would lead not only to “acute drought” but to difficulties in other areas such as hydropower, he said.

"Turkey and Syria for their part are reducing water levels in both the Tigris and the Euphrates by doing the same [as Iran]. That could deprive at least one million hectares of Iraqi agricultural land of water, and threaten livelihoods in the marshlands," Ahmed said.

Turkey is currently building Ilisu dam on the Tigris. One of the largest dams in Turkey, it will produce hydroelectric power, provide improved irrigation, and is scheduled for completion by 2013.

The Ministry of Water Resources and the Ministry of Agriculture have decided only to allow the planting of strategic crops this summer, like rice, corn, sunflowers, cotton, and vegetables, the Ministry statement said. The government has also ordered irrigation rationing for different crops in different areas.

The 1,800km-long Tigris flows from eastern Turkey to southern Iraq, where it joins the Euphrates and eventually empties into the Gulf.

sm/at/cb

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