United Nations officials are warning against the regional environmental repercussions of drought in Iraq. The Minister of Water Resources of Iraq have reported that the country’s water levels are the lowest they have ever been. The UN has categorized Iraq as the world’s fifth most vulnerable country to the climate crisis as it experiences its fourth consecutive year of drought.
Iraq’s current situation can be attributed to multiple factors. A detrimental combination of violence, excessive practices within the oil industry, global warming, diminished rainfall, and inadequate water management and regulation are contributing to this situation. The loss of biodiversity and the lack of freshwater reserves are alarming environmentalists across the globe. Furthermore, concerns are increasing due to swift loss of arable land.
Across the country, only half of the land cultivated in 2020 is now being used for agriculture.
The Tigris and Euphrates rivers, which constitute over 90 percent of Iraq’s freshwater reserves, have experienced substantial reductions over time. This decline can be attributed in part to the building of dams and the diversion of water upstream in Turkey and Iran.
The Habbaniyah lake, located in Al Anbar, has completely transformed in the past couple of years. The touristic destination, when at full capacity, holds up to 3.3 billion cubic meters of water. Currently, the lake holds no more than 500 million cubic meters of water. Following four years of drought, the shoreline has receded by several dozen meters due to drought, declining rainfall, and rising temperatures.
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The dire water shortage Iraq is experiencing is a shock to the land’s agricultural history. The nation has been a potent part of the Fertile Crescent, which extends from the Mediterranean to the Persian Gulf.
The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) stated that it was, “deeply concerned about the grave consequences of climate change and water scarcity on the marshes and buffalo producers in southern Iraq.” The wetlands, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, have witnessed over 5,000 years of agriculture and a rich biodiversity.
Southern Iraq’s marshlands are experiencing the worst heatwave in the past forty years, and the agriculture is being highly affected. The agency reported that, “The dire situation is having a devastating impact on the marshes system, buffalo producers, farmers and fisheries.” Many local agricultural producers are being forced out due to the lack of output. Many families have sold their livestock and are facing food insecurity. The International Organization for Migration have reported that drought has displaced around 62,000 people.
Water levels in the marshes measure from zero to 30 centimeters. Official data indicates that nearly 70 percent of the marshes lack water. Furthermore, salinity levels surpassing 6,000 parts per million, are worrying farmers, particularly buffalo herders and fishermen. Due to a lack of oxygen and high salinity, river fish are washing up on the banks. The water buffalo population in Umm Khashm has decreased by half in the last five years.
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