By Omar Sattar for Al Monitor. Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News

Iraq fears bevy of levees will mean parched years ahead

Although water levels in the Tigris and Euphrates rivers have been rising as torrential rains fill some of the largest dams in Iraq, the threat of drought persists.

Turkey is now taking the necessary steps to fill its controversial Ilisu Dam, while Iran continues to cut off tributaries of the rivers flowing into Iraq.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said at a March 7 rally that the country will begin filling the reservoir of the dam on the Tigris River in June, despite warnings from the Iraqi government that the process will dry out large areas of the country.

Click here to read the full story.

WHO and Ministry of Health investigate the massive death of fish in southern governorates of Iraq

Laboratory tests conducted on water samples in the reference lab in Amman, Jordan on the cause of death of freshwater fish in the Euphrates River in Iraq have revealed the contamination of water with high content of coliforms, heavy metals, and high concentration of ammonia.

Health experts from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Ministry of Health and Environment in Iraq say that while these materials are toxic to fish, they pose no health threat to humans.

Testing on dead fish has revealed serious issues that warranted WHO to conduct a second investigation related to probable viral infection of fish causing the death of thousands in the river. Results of the second test are due next week.

The laboratory investigations came in response to a request to WHO by the Iraqi Ministry of Health and Environment to assess the likely effects of the fish death on humans and the environment.

As early as 2 November this year, thousands of tonnes of fish have died in the Euphrates River causing significant loss to fish farms and production in the southern part of Iraq especially in Babel province, 85 kilometers south of Baghdad.

WHO continues to work with its MOH counterparts to develop appropriate preventive measures to effectively mitigate and respond to future incidents of this nature.

(Source: UN)

Amar and Coca-Cola Foundation Start Project to Replenish Water in the Iraqi Marshes

The AMAR International Charitable Foundation has begun construction of a domestic-wastewater-purification system in the Mesopotamian Marshes, where all 30 houses in the village of Al Adhaima will be connected to the network.

The project, which is being funded as part of The Coca-Cola Company’s global “Replenish” water initiative, will employ traditional methods, largely using the area’s natural reed beds as a filtration system for the village’s wastewater. The urgent need for the scheme has only been increased by a summer of drought, which has hit water levels and quality badly.

The Mesopotamian Marshes, thought by many to be the location for the Garden of Eden, are a rare wetland at the confluence of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. As well as being a unique ecosystem, the area is home to around 300,000 Marsh Arabs, whose own rich culture centres on the Marshes’ natural resources.

Sadly, the area has a long and troubled history of drainage, drought and displacement. In the 1990s Saddam Hussein drained around 90% of the Marshes in an effort to crush the Marsh Arabs. Hundreds of thousands were displaced. After his fall from power in 2003, the waterways were reopened and the Marshes replenished, and the locals began to return.

But the recovery has been only partial. This year reduced river flows, compounded by drought, have led to a drying-up of parts of the Marshes, as well as increased water salinity. Pollution is also a growing problem as population and industry grow but aging infrastructure struggles and decays. The agriculture and livestock that underpin local livelihoods are under severe threat.

Many farmers in the marshes keep water buffalo, but high water salinity is depleting herds.

AMAR’s Replenish Project is seeking to tackle some of these issues in the Hammar Marshes. It will use the existing natural reedbed systems for the final process in the collection and treatment of domestic sewage and wastewater. Once treated, aerated and filtered, the cleaned water will be redirected to the river, where it will flow into and recharge the Marshes. The project is being carefully monitored and evaluated in close co-ordination with the Directorate of the Environment, who has been part of the project team throughout.

AMAR has long been an advocate for the survival of the Marshes and its people. In 2016 it successfully campaigned for the area’s recognition as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, affording it an increased level of protection. In 2012 AMAR ran a Heritage Project in the marshes, funded by the US State Department, which included the publication of a book documenting the history and culture of the region, The Southern Mesopotamian Marshlands: Reclaiming the Heritage of a Civilisation.

The Replenish Project seeks to continue this work. It will improve the water quality of the targeted area of the Hammar Marshes and preserve the unique marshland environment. This, in turn, will support the Marsh Arabs in re-establishing their ability to manage the marshes, and sustain livelihoods there, which has been so disrupted by historical persecution.

The reintroduction of managed reedbeds, which can also be used for farming and harvesting, also provides the local community with raw materials for traditional crafts and construction techniques. As such, this project has the potential to position the local community as a cultural hub and centre for access to the Marshes.

A woman collects reeds for the construction of a mudhif, a traditional reed house.

AMAR will be working closely with The Coca-Cola Foundation throughout the project. Once the pilot scheme is complete, with further funding and support from the Iraqi Ministry of Environment and local Directorates, it hopes to roll out the project as a sustainable model in other marshland communities.

(Source: AMAR)

By Adnan Abu Zeed for Al Monitor. Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

Iraqi Minister of Transport Kazem Finjan al-Hamami revealed July 25 that Iran has agreed to participate with Iraq in the construction of a dam on the Shatt al-Arab River — formed by the confluence of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers — to confront the ongoing water crisis. Both countries hope to achieve bilateral benefits from the project to be established in Abu Flous Port in Abu al-Khaseeb district.

The agreement comes at the heels of the popular protests organized in Basra on July 8 about the lack of drinking water and services. On July 5, Basra’s tribes asked the Iranian government to stop the flow of water into Iraqi territory, which increases the salinity in the Shatt al-Arab River.

Click here to read more.

By Wassim Bassem for Al Monitor. Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News

Iraq’s favorite lake dries up in sign of worse to come

Karbala’s Lake Milh hasn’t seen a lot of visitors in the last few years. Once a popular picnic destination for Karbala residents, the lake’s water has dwindled, leaving most of it a desert with nothing but derelict fishing boats and dead animals.

The second-largest lake in Iraq, Lake Milh is also known as Lake Razzaza; it lies west of Karbala and southwest of Baghdad. It is fed by the Euphrates River as well as rainfall and groundwater sources. Over the last decade, however, it has been drying up.

Saeed Ali, a fish vendor who lives near the lake, told Al-Monitor, “The lake was an important source of fish in the ’80s and ’90s. But with time, it has become a mere pond that will one day dry out completely if the issue is not addressed.”

Furat al-Tamimi, head of the parliament’s Committee for Agriculture, Water and Marshlands, said the situation requires immediate attention. He told Al-Monitor, “The Ministry of Water Resources and the committee are informed of the situation at Lake Milh. We are tracking the declining water levels at the lake with great concern. This is also happening in many other lakes and rivers.”

Tamimi said the lake’s falling levels are related to the drought that has plagued Iraq since 2017; some estimate the drought will continue until 2026. But there are no plans to restore the lake, said Tamimi, a deputy from Ammar Hakim’s Hikmat movement. He said a number of civil society activists and specialists on natural resources in Karbala province have criticized the “government’s idleness over the water crisis in Lake Milh,” with some activists working together on a media campaign to draw the world’s attention to the lake.

Engineer Aoun Thyab, the most senior member of the advisory board of the Ministry of Water Resources, said the problem is much more complicated. “Addressing this problem is not so simple,” Thyab told Al-Monitor. “Protests and calls on environmental groups won’t solve it because the problem is related to internal and regional policies involving the water sector, as well as the rain and streams that flow from the desert.”

Thyab said the Ministry of Water Resources dropped Lake Milh entirely from its water supply calculations in a 2015 strategic study. “As such, Lake Milh is no longer seen as useful for irrigation, water storage or fish farming.”

He said Lake Milh’s levels decreased from 34 meters (112 feet) above sea level to 20 meters (66 feet) with the drought. “This was due to a number of overwhelming factors, especially the decrease in the Euphrates River, which is the lake’s inflow, because of the Turkish dams that reduced Iraq’s water share. Add to this the scarcer rainfall in recent years and the depletion of streams that flow from the desert around the lake.”

He said, “Lake Milh has also seen higher evaporation levels, which increased salinity, making it effectively impossible for fish to inhabit the lake.” Thyab said that in the 1990s the Iraqi Ministry of Agriculture experimented with a project to farm sea fish but that project proved to be a failure. “It is safe to say that the lake is dead.”

Thyab’s remarks indicate that it would be next to impossible to restore Lake Milh as a tourist attraction whose beautiful flora and fauna once brought foreign and Iraqi tourists from every province.

Karbala has also suffered greatly from the armed conflicts in the last decade, most recently when armed groups who fought against the Iraqi state used it as a base. The city of Karbala’s practice of draining polluted water into the lake has also contributed to the problem.

But there is hope for the lake yet. In January, the Iraqi National Investment Commission (NIC) unveiled a $25 million investment project to rehabilitate and develop both Lake Milh and al-Habbaniya, a lake linked to Milh by the narrow Sin-Al-Thibban Canal.

The project includes building a tourist attraction over approximately 4,000 acres and overhauling the existing hotels and 200 apartments to modern standards, as well as a full amusement park, a marina, world-class restaurants and a media center.

The locals worry that the efforts come too late to save the lake. Local engineer Fayez Eisa, who oversees the area’s anti-desertification project, told Al-Monitor, “Tired of dealing with the bureaucratic red tape on contracts and permits, the Karbala Holy Shrine administration has established a green belt around 2000 dunams (494 acres) of desert land, where they dug dozens of wells to provide water to the farming areas around Lake Milh.”

Lakes such as Milh represent essential natural reservoirs in efforts to fight the drought that haunts Iraq’s agriculture sector. Cooperation with neighboring countries to restore and protect them will be crucial to the region’s survival.

(Picture credit: عمر سيروان)

This article was originally published by Niqash. Any opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

By Ibrahim Saleh.

Multi-Billion Dollar Budget Needed To Keep Iraq’s Water Flowing

In Baghdad, locals have been fretting about dramatic falls in the level of the Tigris river. The government has a plan. Only problem is, that plan requires billions in funding that Iraq does not have.

The passengers in the small bus all peer out anxiously as the vehicle crosses the Sanak bridge – the name used by locals for the Rashid bridge which spans the Tigris river in the middle of Baghdad. They’re not worried about the bridge though, they’re worried about the water levels.

“It’s actually very low,” one passenger says to another.

“We should expect that,” his travelling companion replies, “they are trying to drain the water – and the life – out of Iraq.”

Salah al-Jibouri is the 47-year old driver of the minibus. The passengers call him Uncle Salah. And he’s been driving this route for years. At the beginning of every Iraqi summer, he always hears these same conversations about the amount of water in the Tigris river. But this time, he says resignedly, it’s more serious and people are really worried.

Possibly with good reason. At the time the bus is crossing the bridge, it had only been 24 hours since the Turkish government announced that they had started filling their huge Ilisu Dam to the north. Critics have been talking about the damage that stopping the flow of water in Turkey will do to Iraq for years – but now the problem is clear for all to see, as the Tigris river levels have fallen away dramatically.

Locals could talk about little else. Some Iraqis posted pictures of residents who had been able to walk across the river, which usually requires a boat or a bridge to get over. They were also upset with their own government, which seemed to be confused as to what exactly was going on.

Turkish authorities quickly moved to calm the situation with the Turkish ambassador to Iraq saying that it would take nearly a  year to fill the Ilisu dam’s reservoir and the Turkish president Tayyip Erdogan announcing that the filling of the dam had been postponed.

The Iraqi minister for water resources, Hassan al-Janabi, said that the two countries had agreed upon a way for Turkey to fill the dam more slowly, and without stopping as much water flowing into Iraq.

But the problem is far from resolved. Baghdad locals used to worry about flooding in the city during the wetter months. But now, floods are the last thing they need fear. Instead it is the dams being built by neighbouring countries – including Turkey, Iran and Syria – as well as climate change, that are reducing the water flow into their city.

Over two-thirds of Iraq’s water comes from tributaries it shares with neighbouring countries.

“After these dams were built, Iraq’s share of water decreased by more than 45 percent,” says Zafer Abdullah, a consultant for Iraq’s ministry of water resources.

Iraq has agreements with its neighbours about water flow and how much water the different nations need to share. But some of the treaties are not being adhered to, with, for example, the Iranian government reporting that it cannot stick to a previous deal because climate change has decreased the amount of water to be shared.

The solution would not be to build more dams, the Iraqi ministry of water resources, has stated. Iraq’s own dams are underutilized and would store billions more cubic litres, if they could.

The Iraqi authorities say they have a strategy to see them through until 2035, that would provide water for things like drinking and agriculture. It takes into account the decreased amount of water due to climate change as well as the potential for neighbouring countries to keep blocking or diverting rivers.

However, as al-Janabi says, for the plan to work, it requires 24 “urgent and essential” points to be resolved, at the cost of up to US$3 billion. And that is extra funding the Iraqi national budget cannot afford right now.

(Picture credit: Mohammad Huzam)

By Hassan al-Shanoun for Al-Monitor. Any opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

The Iraqi government is committed to keeping the Mesopotamian Marshes on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Located in the southern part of the country, the marshes were added to UNESCO’s list in July 2016. Previously listed Iraqi World Heritage sites are the city of Ashur, the city of Hatra, the Erbil Citadel and the city of Samarra.

Although the Iraqi parliament voted to put an end to encroachments against the marshes May 14, many fear the possibility of Iraq’s losing its position on the World Heritage List and being denied the international recognition that would have been of great benefit for the country, especially since previously agreed-upon service and construction programs were not established.

First off, there are concerns about the Water Resources Ministry’s continuing to build settlement islands in the Chibayish marshes, south of Dhi Qar, which UNESCO considers to be a clear violation of the conditions the marshes need to meet in order to stay on the World Heritage List.

In this context, Ajial al-Musawi, the chairman of the Committee on Tourism and Antiquities in Dhi Qar’s provincial council, told Al-Monitor over the phone that UNESCO’s objection is to the nature of the mechanisms used in building these islands in the marshes since they pose a direct threat to biodiversity in the area.

Musawi said, “The government’s reluctance to implement the programs it promised worries us, and we fear the marshes would lose the chance to join the World Heritage List for good, especially since a UNESCO delegation is scheduled to visit us in the coming months.”

By John Lee.

The Minister of Water Resources, Dr.Hassan Janabi, has met with the Romanian Ambassador in Baghdad, Mr. Lacop Prada and the Economic Officer of the Embassy.

During the meeting, they discussed cooperation in the area of irrigation, and the possible contribution of Romanian companies in dredging the Tigris and Euphrates rivers and preparing them for navigation.

(Source: Ministry of Water Resources)

By Sara al-Qaher for Al-Monitor. Any opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

Iran, Iraq seek to send a message with joint naval exercises

In conjunction with the military maneuvers of the Iranian-backed Shiite Popular Mobilization Units along the Iraqi border with Saudi Arabia on Jan. 4, former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki attacked Saudi Arabia from Tehran on Jan. 3, accusing Riyadh of being a source of terrorism and of backing terror groups in the region.

This followed another maneuver by Iranian-Iraqi maritime forces at the Shatt al-Arab, a waterway formed by the confluence of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers that flows into the Persian Gulf.

Maliki’s statements and the military maneuver both carry a clear message to Saudi Arabia that Iraq is a full ally of Iran against any Saudi threat.

On Dec. 16, Iranian naval forces conducted a military exercise with a nominal participation of the Iraqi naval forces at the Shatt al-Arab. Iranian naval commanders said the military drills were aimed at enhancing joint maritime patrols, searching suspected boats and preventing smuggling, infiltration and piracy in the waters of the Shatt al-Arab.

The Iraqi naval forces participated in the exercise with six Defender boats. This joint exercise is the first between Tehran and Baghdad since the restoration of bilateral relations after 2003.

Jabbar al-Saidi, the head of the security committee in the Basra provincial council, described the drills as mere joint tactical exercises to enhance Iraq’s maritime capabilities and expertise. He told Al-Monitor that the exercise had opened the door to joint cooperation between Iraqi and Iranian coastal guards focused on controlling activities of smugglers and traffickers. He said that the drills will continue in light of the ongoing cooperation and meetings with Iran to promote joint naval security work.

The Shatt al-Arab is seen as the backbone of the Iraqi economy, serving as a channel for ships heading to the port of Basra from the Persian Gulf. It is also a major source of irrigation for palm groves. The Shatt al-Arab is 190 kilometers (118 miles) long and 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) wide in some areas.

Iran has three ports along the Shatt al-Arab: the ports of Khorramshahr, which has seen significant expansion, Abadan and Khosro-Abad. In recent years, Iran has also started building three more ports, in addition to new offshore platforms.

UNDP helps the Government of Iraq to enhance international cooperation on sustainable management of Euphrates and Tigris Rivers

In collaboration with the Government of Iraq (GoI), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) organized a 3-day workshop on enhancing international cooperation on sustainable management of Euphrates and Tigris Rivers.

Held over the period of 13 to 15 November at Al Nahrain Centre for Strategic Studies in Baghdad, the workshop was attended by 31 senior Iraqi officials from the Prime Minister’s Advisory Council, Council of Minsters’ Secretariat, Council of Representatives, National Security Advisory as well as the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Water Resources, Agriculture, and Health and Environment.

Iraq’s Minister of Water Resources, H.E. Dr Hassan Janabi, said: “We appreciate UNDP’s role in building capacity to cooperate on the sustainable management of the region’s vital water resources.”

UNDP’s Environment, Energy and Climate Change Programme Manager, Mr. Tarik-ul-Islam, elaborated: “The workshop emphasized not only on how to foster cooperation, but also how sustainable international water management is a necessity to cope with Iraq’s water scarcity.”

Amongst the workshop presentations were the GoI’s on the status of the water resources in Iraq, in addition to UNDP’s on the best international practices and principles in cooperation on international water resources.

(Source: UNDP)