An Iraqi man walks on a dry field in an area affected by drought in the Mishkhab region, central Iraq, some twenty-five kilometres from Najaf. Photo: Haidar Hamdani / AFP
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Iraq’s water crisis, caused by natural and manmade factors, has led to a 50 percent fall in cultivated land this summer compared to the same period in 2017, according to an agriculture ministry official.
“If we take the cultivated area for 2018, it is down 50 percent compared to 2017,” Deputy Agriculture Minister Mahdi al-Qaisi told AFP on Saturday.
This summer, Iraq’s agriculture ministry called for a temporary ban on water-intensive crops like rice, corn, sesame, and sunflowers because “the quantities of water needed for these cereals are not available”.
Kurdistan Region officials have not abided by the ban, pointing out the Region is not suffering shortages to the same extent as southern provinces.
The water shortages are largely blamed on Turkey’s controversial Ilisu Dam project on the Tigris River. The massive hydropower dam has been under construction for over two decades.
Iraq is heavily dependent on water sources that originate from beyond its borders, yet it uses significantly more water than its neighbors in Syria and Turkey – largely because of poor infrastructure after decades of conflict, outmoded irrigation, and the prevalence of water-intensive crops.
About 70 percent of Iraq’s water comes from the Euphrates and Tigris rivers.
The Middle East is an inherently dry zone. It has been in severe drought for at least seven years and climate change is making the situation worse.
Protests over water shortages among other grievances in southern Basra province this summer have turned deadly.