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Feb 22, 2012

UN - Iraq Needs to Address Dropping Water Levels in Euphrates and Tigris to Ensure Future Food Security

On 22 February 2012 IRIN reported on the urgent need for Iraq to address water sourcing and irrigation issues in order to ensure future food security.  Iraq's main sources of water come from the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.  Fluctuating water levels in these rivers have taken a toll on agricultural development and an inadequate of supply of water is a daily reality for a growing number of Iraqis.

Iraq's Deputy Agriculture Minister, Riadh Al-Qaisi, believes that one of the first steps that Iraq needs to take is to invest in drip and sprinkle irrigation.  This project would take approximately 4-6 years to complete and save an estimated 3.6 billion cubic meters of water a year.

Another step that needs to be addressed is the growing number of dams and hydropower plants along the Euphrates and Tigris rivers.  These have been built by Iraq, Syria, and Turkey and have had a direct impact on dropping water levels.  These nations and Iran have been discussing this matter since 2003 but talks have stalled with the increasing stress resulting from drought conditions.  There have been 22 dams and 19 hydro-power plants constructed on the Euphrates in Turkey, five dams in Syria, and seven dams in Iraq.

Dams along the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, 2009
Photo: Keith Holmes, University of Victoria
According to the Water in Iraq Factsheet prepared by the U.N. Inter-Agency Information and Analysis Unit, since 2003 water levels in the Tigris and Euphrates have dropped to less than one third of normal capacity.  Approximately 20 percent of households in Iraq use an unsafe drinking water source, and 16 percent report that they have daily problems with supply.  In rural areas, only 43 percent have access to safe drinking water, and water for agriculture is often scarce and of poor quality.  This has increasingly led to migration.

Iraq's southern marshlands have been particularly impacted by the decreasing water.  In the 1970s, they covered 8,350 sq. km but since 2010 have shrunk by 45 percent.  (In addition to decreasing water, the region has impacted by the attacks waged on the region by Saddam Hussein and oil development.)

The reduction in water has resulted in decreasing agricultural production.  Since 2007, Iraq has reduced acreage dedicated to farming rice, wheat and vegetables.  Rice is now grown only in the provinces of Najaf, Diwaniya and Muthana and production is an estimated 83,000 tons a year while demand is approximately 1.2 million tons ayear.  Wheat demand is 4.4 million tons annually and production stands at only 1.75 million tons annually.

For more see:

"2011 Water in Iraq Factsheet," U.N. Inter-Agency Information and Analysis, March 2011.

“Iraq: Call to adopt modern irrigation techniques,” IRIN, 22 February 2012.

About Margaret

CEO and Curator (The Food Museum) | Managing Director and Chief Editor (GR2 Global LLC) | Educator (UCLA PhD) | Researching and writing on global food issues, nutrition and health, sustainability, history (preservation), conservation (natural resources), and design.
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