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Northern drought-displaced farmers look to return home

[Iraq] Farmers say they need increased supplies of seed and equipment in order to make a good living.
Large tracts of once fertile agricultural land are becoming semi-desert (file photo) (IRIN)

Rain thoughout Iraq’s semi-autonomous northern Kurdistan region, which has been absent for two years, is prompting the return of farmers who had abandoned their land, according to officials.


“The drought that hit the region over the past two seasons has affected our main irrigation sources, surface and well water, and that has had a negative impact on all our crops - mainly wheat and barley,” Paldar Mohammed Amin, head of the Arbil Agriculture Directorate, said.


“We are optimistic this season as the beginning is good so far," Amin told IRIN. “Farmers can cultivate their land and start planting this month, while others will do so in January and February.”


If the weather continues like this, he said, this season will yield more than 350,000 tons of wheat and barley in the three governorates that make up the Kurdistan region. Last year, farmers produced only a third of that amount, and in 2007 only 12,000 tons were harvested.


Amin said the authorities would support farmers by subsidizing seeds and irrigation equipment, and help with loans for wells and equipment, but no details were available.



According to a 13 October 2009 report by the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), more than 100,000 people have been displaced by the drought since 2005.


[Iraq] A map of Iraq highlighting the Kurdish provinces in the north. [Date picture taken: 01/18/20076]

Une carte de l’Irak, surlignant les provinces kurdes de Dohouk, Arbil et Sulaimaniyah dans le Nord
Saeed Kudaimati/IRIN
[Iraq] A map of Iraq highlighting the Kurdish provinces in the north. [Date picture taken: 01/18/20076]
Thursday, January 18, 2007
Des fermiers déplacés par la sécheresse impatients de rentrer chez eux
[Iraq] A map of Iraq highlighting the Kurdish provinces in the north. [Date picture taken: 01/18/20076]

Photo: Saeed Kudaimati/IRIN
A map of Iraq highlighting the Kurdish provinces of Dohouk, Arbil and Sulaimaniyah in the north

Man-made subterranean aqueducts (known as karez) have traditionally provided a reliable supply of water, but many had dried up.


The report said nearly 40 percent of the 683 karez in five northern provinces (Dohouk, Arbil, Sulaimaniyah, Kirkuk and Mosul) were abandoned in 2005, and the 116 still in use this summer had diminished flows, putting an additional estimated 36,000 people at risk of displacement.


“Generations of families, shared history, and connection to a place will be lost when the village dies. The displacement of people will then lead to additional social and economic problems,” Dale Lightfoot of the department of geography at Oklahoma University said in the 56-page report.


“Families have made the painful decision to sell their livestock and leave their village for another location where water is not so scarce,” the report said, adding: “Population declines have averaged almost 70 percent among the villages adversely affected since drought and excessive pumping began drying up so many karez.”


The karez technology was developed in ancient Persia and comprises a linear series of wells that are linked underground by a downward sloping tunnel which collects the accumulated well water and delivers it to surface canals at the foot of hills.


Mohammed Jawhar Harees, a 56-year-old farmer from Sulaimaniyah Province, told IRIN the drought had forced him to abandon his land in early 2006. The father-of-eight said he had moved to the city and worked as a cleaner in a secondary school, then as a guard in a residential building and was now working as a gardener.


"We are… very hopeful that we can eventually go back to the land where our ancestors lived," he said.



This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information:

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