(formerly IRIN News) Journalism from the heart of crises

Driven out of farming by a salty waterway

The Shat al-Arab waterway near Basra city in Iraq.
Wikimedia Commons

High levels of salinity in Iraq's Shat al-Arab waterway, formed by the confluence of the Tigris and Euphrates in the southern province of Basra, have forced hundreds of families to abandon their once relatively fertile farms, local officials said on 2 September.

"Salinity levels started to increase more than a year ago in the Shat al-Arab waterway due to low water levels in the Tigris and Euphrates and the changing course of the al-Karoon and al-Karkha rivers coming from Iran," Amer Salman, head of Basra Agriculture Directorate, told IRIN.

"This has led to a fall in the fresh water flow rate, allowing salty Gulf water to pour in," Salman said. Towns and once greenish farmland adjacent to the Shat al-Arab for about 100km has been severely affected, he said.

The most affected town is Fao, where at least 200 families (some 1,200 individuals) have left their land and sold their cattle, he said. Other affected towns are al-Doura, Abu al-Khaisib and al-Siba in southern Basra - renowned for their palm trees, fruits and henna orchards.

"The salinity level has made it impossible to use the water for drinking and irrigation, animals and agriculture. This is a real and serious catastrophe and it will probably affect the down-town area of Basra soon," he said.

IRIN was not able to access figures on drought and salinity-induced displacements in other towns.

The head of Basra Provincial Council, Jabbar Amin, described the situation as an "environmental crisis" and declared the affected areas "disaster areas with no-life due to the displacement of humans and damage to agriculture".

Amin said the Basra local authorities were trucking water in "but this doesn't work as the problem is not only the drinking water but environmental and social issues."

Falling water levels in the Tigris and Euphrates are taking their toll on agriculture in Iraq.


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