Realities of climate-induced migration in Iraq’s southern cities: new IOM report

    14 Nov 2021

    Environmental degradation over the last ten years has severely damaged Iraq’s agricultural sector. Worsening water scarcity and quality have left the sector unable to support sufficient and sustainable livelihoods, particularly in rural areas, where it has long been the leading workforce employer.

    This has directly contributed to the migration of rural populations in search of other opportunities. However, climate-induced migrants are attempting to settle into complex new environments with potentially limited financial and social capital, which may impact their ability to access services and rights.

    In July and August 2021, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and Social Inquiry conducted a survey of 802 local and migrant residents in the southern city of Basra to identify critical issues hindering climate migrants’ ability to integrate into already fragile urban settings. The southern cities of Iraq already struggle with economic security and governance and may not be well prepared to absorb influxes of migrants.

    The study, Migration into a Fragile Setting: Responding to Climate-Induced Informal Urbanization and Inequality in Basra, Iraq, found that migrants arriving in Basra tend to cluster in neighborhoods suffering from multiple social problems related to economic security, access to rights, and safety, with many moving into eviction-prone shelters and taking up low-wage jobs in the informal sector.

    According to the study, over half of migrant households reported that they cannot afford enough food or basic items, and 53% do not have access to a financial safety net. Migrants also tend to report higher levels of exclusion from access to public services and other rights, including employment support, policing and formal dispute resolution, and guarantees on property rights.

    This contrasts with the situation of local households, which mostly rely on government employment and report better affordability status and financial safety nets. However, a weak private sector coupled with the waning ability of the state to expand public employment limits the economic prospects of all residents and increases their risk of falling into poverty.

    Based on data from IOM’s Displacement Tracking Matrix, there are few internally displaced persons (IDPs) still in Basra due to the ISIL conflict. Most migrants are initially from the neighboring governorates and districts, and key indicators suggest that movements are not seasonal but permanent.

    The consequences of Iraq’s climate challenges, particularly those related to water scarcity, are far-reaching and urgent, requiring coordinated action to mitigate needs, avoid further displacement and prevent the magnification of existing social problems.

    “This report points to the need for a two-pronged approach to strengthen the capacity of areas receiving an influx of population to adapt, while also supporting rural districts from which families are migrating due to extreme environmental degradation and an absence of diversified economic opportunities,” said Clémentine Favier, head of the Returns and Recovery Unit.

    This study was made possible with support from the US Department of State, Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM).

    Click here to download the full report.

    Iraq environment crisis: drought this year has ‘turned life upside down’

    On a cracked, dry spot in Iraq’s historic marshlands, Raheem Noor Dawood watched helplessly as his water buffaloes fell sick and died.

    “We went through tough years before, but the drought and the high temperature that we have seen this year were unparalleled,” Mr. Dawood, 57, told The National.

    A few years ago, Mr. Dawood enjoyed a stable life.

    His 35-member extended family had settled in an area where freshwater was abundant for their buffaloes – the primary source of livelihood for Marshland Arabs –

    as well as fish and birds.

    “But the drought this year has turned our life upside down,” Mr. Dawood said. “We have been moving from one place to another seeking fresh water and grass for our cattle.”

    Iraq is facing its worst environmental crisis, with acute water shortages and climate change affecting food security and the daily life of Iraqis, adding to the nation’s endemic woes.

    “We went through tough years before, but the drought and the high temperature that we have seen this year were unparalleled,” Mr. Dawood, 57, told The National.

    A few years ago, Mr. Dawood enjoyed a stable life.

    His 35-member extended family had settled in an area where freshwater was abundant for their buffaloes – the primary source of livelihood for Marshland Arabs – as well as fish and birds.

    “But the drought this year has turned our life upside down,” Mr. Dawood said. “We have been moving from one place to another seeking fresh water and grass for our cattle.”

    Iraq is facing its worst environmental crisis, with acute water shortages and climate change affecting food security and the daily life of Iraqis, adding to the nation’s endemic woes.

    The rainfall and water availability in Iraq’s 2020-2021 winter season are the second-lowest on record in 40 years, according to a report issued this month by the Food and Agriculture Organisation, the World Food Programme, the World Bank, and the International Fund for Agricultural Development.

    At the regional level, lack of rainfall exacerbated existing tensions over the management of water resources, the report says.

    The report analyzed the period between November 2020 and May 2021 to determine the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on food security in Iraq, with a special section on water shortages.

    “Water shortages have caused below normal vegetation development and are affecting crop yields,” the report says, citing an FAO estimation that by the end of the season, wheat production will be 70% lower and barley production negligible in volume.

    The expected economic effects of the below-average cereal production in 2021, it adds, are: loss of income, increased feed prices of barley and other livestock feed products for livestock producers; and increased import requirements.

    Abbas Hameed Hashim lost eight of his 20 buffaloes this summer.

    “Without any government move to subsidise the fodder, all our cattle will be gone this winter,” Mr.subsidize Hashim, 30, said.

    “It’s highly likely the situation will get worse,” the father of nine said.

    ***

    You may read here the opinion written by the president of Iraq for the Financial Times. He believes that the country can generate green industries and sustainable energy to combat the threat of drought and desertification.

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