Iraq’s environment, food security very fragile: deputy minister

    31 Aug 2021

    Iraq’s fields and orchards are drying up. Mismanagement of water resources has left the country’s environment vulnerable to climate change, the deputy minister for the environment told Rudaw, resulting in fragile food and national security, Rudaw states.

    “Diyala used to be a food basket for all Iraq, from fruits to dates. Baqubah is famous for oranges, but now you see what it has come to. This pomegranate has dried up inside. The grapes and dates were also damaged due to the drought. We are now buying fruits and vegetables from neighboring countries while we have fruits and vegetables here in Iraq,” Omer Abdulaziz said as he was walked through his orchard in Baqubah, in southern Diyala province.

    The head of Diyala’s agriculture directorate said he expects the problem will likely to extend into the next seasons and years.

    “Some of the farmers have resorted to digging wells to get through this period successfully. We don’t want to take a risk and make early predictions for the climate, but the signs indicate that the next season will also face drought,” said Hussein Khadhir Abbas.

    Iraq is the fifth-most vulnerable nation in the world to the effects of climate change, including water and food insecurity, according to the UN, yet it lags behind its neighbors in creating a plan to better manage its water resources.

    Present-day Iraq is the ancient Mesopotamia, the land of two rivers – Tigris and Euphrates. “Life in this country and the continuity of its civilization depends on this water,” Jassim al-Falahi, undersecretary at the Ministry of Environment and Health, told Rudaw in an interview on August 16.

    “Ninety percent of our water source comes from out of Iraq, and you know water security is essential for food security and that is fundamental for national security. The environment security includes all these, which means Iraq’s environment security is very fragile,” he said.

    “That’s why this country is one of the most damaged among countries of the world in climate change, due to lack of rain, due to the decrease of the water from building dam projects, such as Ilisu dam [in Turkey] and the dams Iran has built, in addition to our problems in terms of not having a suitable mechanism for water distribution among the provinces,” he added.

    The majority of Iraq’s water supplies come from outside of the country, from rivers that are being dammed by Turkey and Iran, which are also seeing drought. Water levels in the Euphrates and Tigris rivers – shared by Iraq, Syria, and Turkey – have dropped by more than half, the spokesperson for Iraq’s water ministry said on Sunday.

    Domestic failures such as a lack of policy to guides water usage and little public awareness have worsened the issue, “not only in daily use of water at home, which takes eight percent of our total water income, but the real problem is we are still practicing agriculture like our Sumerian ancestors where a lot of water is being wasted,” said Falahi.

    “We have to use new techniques for agriculture, such as sprinkler or drip irrigation, and other new ways to protect the sources and the amount of water that we receive, because 20 percent of that amount is lost in vaporization,” he added.

    Aid agencies working in Iraq and Syria on Monday issued a dire warning that more than 12 million people in both countries are losing access to water, food, and electricity because of a severe water crisis. They said “the unfolding water crisis will soon become an unprecedented catastrophe pushing more into displacement.”

    Lack of water has already forced some Iraqis from their homes.

    “The republic of Iran cut off all the water that was flowing into Sirwan [River], that’s why it affected the lives of residents in Diyala province. Some villages have been evacuated and more villages want to evacuate,” Karim Ali, deputy governor of Diyala, said in July.

    The deputy minister also acknowledged the risk of mass displacement due to drought, mainly in the southern provinces. “If this situation keeps worsening like this, we have to expect mass displacement, which means the increase of random neighborhoods around the cities that are initially suffering from lack of services,” said Falahi.

    Iraq’s population increases by about a million people every year and has an annual water shortage of 10.8 billion cubic meters, according to Falahi.

    “We have to be worried for the future of water security in Iraq as there is no clear mechanism, or clear and honest agreement with the countries that are our sources for water. We have to be worried,” he said.

    Iraq is in talks with its neighbours to secure its share of the rivers and mitigate damage during times of water scarcity, as all sides are determined to protect their resources. Iraqi President Barham Salih has called water “an anchor for homeland security.” An Iraqi delegation will visit Turkey early next month.As we’ve written previously, water levels in the Tigris and Euphrates rivers have decreased by more than 50%, a spokesperson for Iraq’s water ministry told media.

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