A view of Dukan Dam built on the Little Zab River that stems from Iran. The dam is located about 70 kilometers northwest of Sulaimani. It is the main source of drinking water for Sulaimani, Kurdistan’s second-largest city. 60% of the water comes from the Iranian side. Photo: Kurdistan's Board of Tourism.
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – The Kurdistan Region has reduced the flow of water to the south and center of Iraq by about 130 cubic meters per second in response to a dam built by Iran on the Little Zab River that has left about 80,000 people in Kurdistan without drinking water, a Kurdish minister told reporters on Sunday.
Abdulstar Majeed, Kurdistan’s minister for the Agriculture and Water Resources said that it was a decision that was “forced” on them as the Kurdish Region has to provide water for its own citizens.
He said the decision affects the amount of water that is being stored in Kurdistan Region, whether in the Dukan or Darbandikhan dam.
“We are forced to keep more water because we need it [mainly] for drinking water...that is why we are forced to open less water,” to the rest of Iraq, Majeed said.
The amount of water from Kurdistan Region to the rest of Iraq is now reduced from 180 cubic meter per second to just over 50 cubic meters per second, the minister said while describing the decision as “not political” in nature.
He said they do not want any citizens, Iraqis and Kurds, to suffer from a decision by Iran to stem the water from their side. He maintained though that as a Kurdish minister in Kurdistan, he has to take the interest of citizens here in Kurdistan first and foremost.
Iran has recently constructed a dam on Zei Bchuk or Little Zab River in the Kurdish city of Sardasht to produce hydroelectric power. This initially resulted in an 80 percent reduction of water flow across the border into the Khas water project in Qaladze. The river also feeds Dukan Lake.
The minister said the flow of water to Kurdistan Region from Sardasht has now “completely” been cut.
He said the water cut by Iran lacks “human, Islamic or neighborly” values, in particular that they started to stem the water just as the Kurdish people were celebrating the Eid holidays.
He said that he has been in contact with Iranian officials and “today they have promised to solve this issue." He hoped that Tehran would keep its word.
He said that he has notified Iraqi officials about the matter, especially that the reduced water affects more the rest of Iraq, than the Kurdistan Region. He added that Iraq has to step up and get involved as the issue of water is a “sovereignty issue.”
Majeed had previously told local and regional media that Iran’s decision to stem the water was partly related to the planned Kurdish referendum to be held on September 25.
He backtracked today by saying that the dam project by Iran has been going on for 10 years.
“The timing was not right,” Majeed said Sunday of the water cut because it coincided with the Eid holidays, and that the people in Kurdistan “would read into it” as related to the referendum.
Iran, including the country's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, and President Hassan Rouhani, have expressed their strong objection to the Kurdish referendum.
Majeed added that the Kurdish region is going to take a long-term policy into consideration, including a decision to store more water in autumn and winter this year, meaning that Iraq would receive a lesser share of water.
Local authorities in Qaladze say that reduction of water flow into Qaladze town has damaged more than 80,000 people of Qaladze town.
It has also materially been detrimental to many projects including fish-raising projects, livestock, tourism, and many other projects. It also affects Sulaimani city, Kurdistan’s second biggest city, as it relies on the Dukan Lake for drinking water.
Majeed said that he respects Iran’s right to build dams or make use of the water resources originating from Iran, provided that it does not damage the share of Kurdistan Region, or Iraq, per the international laws.
The minister had previously told Rudaw that the Kurdistan Region had 17 small and medium sized dams to preserve water for irrigation and drinking, and that they will hopefully prevent any water shortages in the future.
The Region will have nearly twice as much irrigation and drinking water once the construction of the dams is complete, Majeed told Rudaw.
Nearly 80 percent of the projects have been completed, the minister revealed.
This is not the first time Iran has built other dams that have affected the flow of water into the Kurdistan Region. Garan Dam in the city of Mariwan has significantly impacted Lake Darbandikhan and storage facility in Sulaimani province.
The Kurdistan Region has several small rivers and the two major lakes of Dukan and Darbandikhan that contributes to the country’s electricity.
Majeed said though Turkey has also similar plans to build dams in its territory, it affects the Kurdistan region to a lesser extent.