Water crisis threatens 12 million Iraqis, Syrians: aid agencies

    28 Aug 2021

    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, Rudaw states.

    “The total collapse of water and food production for millions of Syrians and Iraqis is imminent,” said the Norwegian Refugee Council’s regional director Carsten Hansen. “With hundreds of thousands of Iraqis still displaced and many more still fleeing for their lives in Syria, the unfolding water crisis will soon become an unprecedented catastrophe pushing more into displacement.”

    Low rainfall levels and high temperatures caused by climate change are depleting water supplies.

    The spokesperson for Iraq’s water ministry said water levels in the Euphrates and Tigris rivers – shared by Iraq, Syria, and Turkey – have dropped by more than half. Groundwater levels in Sulaimani are down by as much as 17 meters. Water shortages have sparked protests in Erbil, and severe pollution of water supplies has contributed to the problem.

    According to the aid agencies, wheat production is expected to be down by 70% in Nineveh province and by half in the Kurdistan Region. Already, bread is more expensive in the Kurdistan Region, partly because of hikes in international wheat prices after the United States slashed forecasts for the global wheat crop.

    Iraq is in talks with its neighbors 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. 

    Water shortages in northeast Syria are compounded by disputes between the Kurdish administration and Turkey. Turkish-backed proxies operating the Allouk water station are accused of cutting off supplies to Hasaka province. Electricity for the station comes from Kurdish-held areas, and both sides blame the other for interruptions. Last month, the United Nations said the water disruptions “must stop,” drawing accusations of bias from Ankara.

    Low water levels in the Euphrates put at risk electricity generation at two dams in northern Syria and leave fields dry.

    Some 400 square kilometers of farmland on both sides of the border are at risk of total drought.

    “The situation demands that authorities in the region and donor governments act swiftly to save lives in this latest crisis, that comes on top of the conflict, COVID-19, and severe economic decline. In the longer term, beyond emergency food and water, they need to invest in sustainable solutions to the water crisis,” said the regional director for CARE, Nirvana Shawky.

    “This water crisis is bound to get worse. It is likely to increase conflict in an already destabilized region. There is no time to waste. We must find sustainable solutions that would guarantee water and food today and for future generations,” said Gerry Garvey, the Middle East regional director for the Danish Refugee Council.

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