Turkish promises to quench Iraq’s thirst

Turkish promises to quench Iraq’s thirst
View on the Euphrates River in Turkey near the Ataturk Dam.- Shutterstock

Turkey will release more water flows from the Tigris River to its southern neighbor, Iraq, as a sign of a breakthrough in the water stress crisis that has been facing Iraq since 2015 due to the impacts of climate change and the ongoing building of dams on the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.


“We extend our thanks to the President of the Republic of Turkey for his response by increasing the releases of the Tigris waters, in a gesture that expresses goodwill towards Iraq,” Prime Minister Muhammad Shia al-Sudani said on his Twitter account on March 21 after an official visit he paid to Ankara to discuss a number of issues, at the top of which was the transboundary water issue.


On the occasion of World Water Day, Sudani added that his government is working on rationalizing water consumption to protect the resource that is much needed in Iraq.


In his speech at the UN conference for water in New York, Iraqi President Abdullatif Rashid said, “Water shortage poses significant risks to the agri-food system, ecosystem and social stability of Iraq.”


“Iraq's water needs are expected to increase in the next decade due to population growth,” he added, noting that basic water resources continue to decline due to the water policies of neighboring countries, in reference to Turkey and Iran.


Rashid attributed the water scarcity to climate change impacts, the tangible decrease in water flow rates from the upstream countries, and the absence of modern technological methods in managing water resources, in addition to the policy of indifference shown by the previous governments, with 12 years of blockade, economic sanctions and successive conflicts.


The Iraqi president also said that desertification threatens nearly 40 percent of Iraq, calling upon the United Nations to adopt a mechanism that ensures fair shares of water for all parties.


Iraq has been witnessing an acute water crisis that has caused an ongoing lean period over the past few years, especially in the southern governorates, as its two main lifelines – the Tigris and Euphrates rivers – are drying up because of the impacts of climate change and the construction of several dams on the two rivers by the upstream countries – Turkey and Iran.


Ankara has started building more than 20 dams on the banks of the two rivers, and it has vast arable land that could consume huge amounts of water from the rivers. The latest dam Turkey plans to construct is located in Cizre on the Tigris River despite Baghdad’s rejection.


It is worth mentioning that rain in the Tigris and Euphrates rivers has declined by 73 percent, according to remarks given by Sami Dimas, Regional Director of the United Nations Environment Program, in a press conference held at the Iraqi Ministry of Environment on March 22. Also, the Iraqi News Agency (INA) reported in May 2021 that the amount of water from the Tigris and Euphrates rivers received from Turkey decreased by 50 percent, while the water coming from Iran to the Darbandikhan Dam on the Diyala River near the border reached nothing.


Iraq has suffered a sharp decline in the annual water share per capita, which has declined gradually from 7,000 m3 (cubic meters) to 1,250 m3 annually in the period between 1990 and 2022, Sahar Hussein Al Jassem, Deputy Chief of the Iraqi National Center of Climate Change (NCCC) at the Ministry of Environment, revealed in an interview with Jusoor Post.


If we added [the factors] of the increasing population and the urban expansion, it is expected that the annual rate would reach 700 m3 per capita annually by 2030, and at that time we will be among the countries that suffer severe water scarcity in accordance with the international standards.”