This year, Iraq will halve its cultivation area for winter crops as the country tries to conserve water amid a crippling shortage that shows no sign of abating.
The shortage is caused by insufficient rainfall and dams built on major rivers in Turkey and Iran, The National News states.
The decision, announced by the Ministry of Agriculture after a meeting with the Minister of Water Resources on October 17, further reduces the winter cultivation area after a similar move last year.
The reduction will be applied to the area cultivated last winter, the ministry said. It did not specify the location, but about five million dunums, or 500,000 hectares, were approved for planting last year.
The main winter crops in Iraq are wheat, barley, and vegetables.
The ministry said the north-eastern province of Diyala, which suffers from acute water shortage but is heavily dependent on agriculture, was exempted from the restrictions.
Iraq has been suffering from scarcity of water in its two primary sources, the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, and insufficient rains and high temperatures.
In recent years, water levels in these two rivers have dropped noticeably due to upstream dams built by Turkey and others constructed on their tributaries by Iran.
The water flow rate in both rivers is half of what it was at this time last year.
The water flow in the Diyala river has been cut off entirely by dams in Iran, while it decreased by 70% in the Lower Zab river.
Iraq has been pushing Turkey and Iran for an agreement that guarantees its fair share of water, but no progress has been made.
The Ministry of Water Resources says water flowing into Iraq has dropped to less than 50 billion cubic meters per year from a peak of nearly 80 billion cubic meters in the 1970s.
Drought: Iraq reduces irrigated land by 50%
On 19th October, Iraq’s Minister of Agriculture, Muhammad Al-Khafaji, has chaired a coordination meeting to approve the country’s winter agricultural plan and the Minister of Water Resources, Mahdi Al-Hamdani.
Due to the continuing water shortage, the plan reduces the area allocated for irrigation by 50% compared with last season, except for Diyala Governorate.
A spokesman for the Ministry of Agriculture told Iraqi News Agency (INA) that this means that the available water storage in dams and reservoirs is sufficient to irrigate 2.5 million dunams (625,000 hectares; 1.5 million acres) of land, compared to 5 million donums previously.
The effects of drought are becoming more severe in recent months. In a joint statement on Saturday, FAO Representative in Iraq Dr. Salah El Hajj Hassan, WFP Iraq Representative Ally-Raza Qureshi, and IFAD Lead Economist Alessandra Garbero said, according to Iraq-Businessnews citing Minister of Agriculture, UN, and Middle East Eye:
“The impact of water shortages in Iraq is becoming evident through the lower crop yields for 2021. Urgent action is required to confront climate change, working together to address the root causes.
“Reforming food systems will also help the most vulnerable communities in Iraq withstand future shocks. Resilient, modern food systems are important for long-term food security and the sustainable economic growth of Iraq.”
Water shortages kill fish in Turkey’s Tigris River
Low water levels in the Tigris River due to dams and drought are killing fish in Turkey’s southeast, Rudaw reports.
“There is drought all over the country. Drought means lack of water, and lack of water means lack of fish. They’re all chained to one another,” said Veysi Bozyil, who has been supporting his family by fishing on the Tigris for 30 years.
Parts of Turkey have been experiencing drought-like conditions because of lower than average rainfall since 2019.