By John Lee.

Turkey has reportedly established a group of 51 experts to help solve Iraq’s water problems.

According to Anadolu Agency, Iraqi President Barham Salih visited Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan last week to discuss water and infrastructure.

(Source: Anadolu Agency)

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

Turkey has launched an effort to help resolve the water problem of neighboring Iraq amid bilateral tensions over decreasing flow rates in the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, whose waters the two countries share.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has appointed a special envoy to Iraq. Veysel Eroglu is a former forestry and water affairs minister who has been in Erdogan’s close entourage since the 1990s, when the president was mayor of Istanbul. Much in the style of a “water czar,” Eroglu has formed a special team of experts from various ministries and began work on an action plan for better water management in Iraq.

Though Baghdad’s initial reaction has been positive, Turkey’s prospective road map might fail to satisfy Iraqi expectations, given the two sides’ diverging views on the causes of water shortages and how the problem should be resolved.

Click here to read the full story.

By John Lee.

Turkey has reportedly appointed a special envoy to Iraq to resolve the water sharing issues between the two countries.

According to Daily Sabah, former Forestry and Water Affairs Minister Veysel Eroğlu (pictured), who will take up the post, pointed to the “inefficient” use of water resources in Iraq, saying “Turkey will share its experience and know-how in the efficient management of water with the Iraqis.

He added that Turkey will try to ensure an equitable share of water from the Tigris and the Euphrates rivers.

More here.

(Source: Daily Sabah)

Testing the water: How water scarcity could destabilise the Middle East and North Africa

The Middle East and North Africa is the most water-scarce region in the world. Nearly two-thirds of the population there are living in areas that lack sufficient renewable water resources to sustain current levels of activity and growth, according to a report from the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR).

Tareq Bacconi argues that it is impossible to separate Iraq’s water security from the ongoing conflict and unrest in the country, saying that Iraq faces an extreme situation when it comes to water, one that is exacerbated by domestic tensions, regional developments, and the weight of conflicts and sanctions that began following the first Gulf War in 1990.

The full report can be read here.

(Source: ECFR)

(Picture credit: Mohammad Huzam)

By Glada Lahn and Nouar Shamout, for Chatham House.

Violent protests erupted in Basra this summer in response to the deterioration of public services. At the centre of the unrest is a water supply crisis which Iraq can only solve with regional and international cooperation.

In August, frustrations over crippled public services, drought and unemployment in Al-Basra governorate boiled over.

The acute cause was a water contamination crisis. By the end of October, hospital admissions of those suffering from poisoning exceeded 100,000 according to health officials.

Crops and animals in the rural areas have been severely affected by lack of water and current levels of salinity, with thousands migrating to Basra city.

Click here to read the full story.

By John Lee.

Turkey has announced that it will increase water supplies to Iraq to compensate for a drop in supply from Iran.

According to Abu Dhabi-based The National, Iran has said it will cut water supplies to Iraq to prioritise projects within Iran.

Turkey depends on water from the Tigris to fill a reservoir behind its new Ilısu dam.

This summer, Iraq’s agriculture ministry banned the growing of water-intensive crops due to shortages.

(Sources: The National, Sabah, Rudaw)

From AFP. Any opinions expressed are those of the authors, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

Sweet Iraqi dates adorn tables in homes across the country, but the fruit tree and national symbol has come under threat from conflict and crippling drought.

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By John Lee.

Iraq is expected to significantly increase its imports of wheat, as it reportedly cuts the irrigated area it plants with wheat by half in the 2018-2019 growing season due to the continuing water shortages.

Deputy Agriculture Minister Mahdi al-Qaisi told Reuters:

“The shortage of water resources, climate change and drought are the main reasons behind this decision, our expectation is the area will shrink to half.”

The country already imports more than one million tonnes of wheat per year, with annual demand of around 4.5 to 5.0 million tonnes.

Full report here.

(Source: Reuters)

From AFP. Any opinions expressed are those of the authors, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

In southern Iraq, fields where rice has been sown for centuries now lie bare for lack of water…. This season many farmers have not planted the treasured amber rice local to Diwaniyah province because of an unusually harsh drought.

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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 Histyar Qader and Awara Hamid.

The Secret History Behind The Stalled Project To Solve Iraq’s Water Problems

Despite ever-increasing water supply problems, the construction of one of the biggest dams in Iraq remains on hold. One of the main reasons for the delay seems to be political paranoia.

It would have been the largest dam in Iraq when the project was first proposed. But over 60 years have passed since the Bekhme dam was planned and in that time, the project has seen various political regimes come and go as well as war and peace.

It would have been a major undertaking, with a final height of around 230 meters, and offered extra water supplies to the people of Iraqi Kurdistan. Recent events, where Turkey cut off the flow of the Euphrates river and levels dropped noticeably, and Iran cut off water from the Little Zab, mean that a dam like this one is more necessary than ever. But, after all this time, will it ever happen?

The Bekhme dam was first on the Iraqi government’s agenda in 1937 and a US company developed a design for the dam in 1953; that is, during Iraq’s monarchy. In 1979, a Japanese firm adapted the original designs and in 1986, two more companies, one from Turkey and the other from the former Yugoslavia, began work on that plan.

Work continued until 1991, and around a third of the required work had been done, when the whole thing came to a grinding halt, due to the second Gulf war. This is when the Iraqi government headed by Saddam Hussein withdrew from the northern area, leaving the Kurds to govern themselves.

Should the giant dam have been completed, the authorities in the semi-autonomous northern region of Iraqi Kurdistan say that it would have held between 14 and 17 billion cubic meters of water, at a  depth of 179 meters. It would have helped irrigate more than 560 hectares of agricultural land and produced electricity too.

“The three dams – Dokan, Darbandikhan and Dohuk – collect seven to eight billion cubic meters of water but the whole region needs 10 billion,” explains Akram Mohammed, the head of the regional department for dams in Iraqi Kurdistan. “There is a plan to build 250 more small and medium-sized dams but only 14 have been completed so far. If we continue at this pace, we are going to face serious water shortages soon.”

The Bekhme dam project was suspended in 1991. But it was not just  a  political problem, due to the Iraqi government pulling out of Kurdish areas.  Over time, the machinery and materials used for the dam-building “disappeared”. Locals say the goods were smuggled across the border into Iran and never returned.

After Iraqi Kurdistan’s second-ever parliament was formed, and governed between 2005 and 2009, local politicians did try to revive the project. They were unsuccessful but up until today, the MPs involved can’t explain exactly why.

Jamil Mohammed was a member of the committee that debated the subject at the time but he told NIQASH that “we did not come to any conclusions”. He couldn’t give any further information, he said.

Several problems with the Bekhme dam project have been flagged, including geographical ones, downstream issues and the destruction of Iraqi heritage, once the area has been flooded.

“The Bekhme dam issue was only discussed once during that administration,” says Abdulrahman Ali, who is on the agriculture and irrigation committee in the Kurdish parliament and a senior member of the opposition Change movement. “I followed up on this issue personally but the response was that this was a political issue. That’s why it remains unresolved up until now.”

The nature of those problems is a little more difficult to trace back. Money was not the issue apparently. In 2005, as the Iraqi Kurdish authorities resumed contact with the Iraqi government, Baghdad promised to put US$5 billion into the dam’s completion.

“During the al-Maliki government, we followed up on the amount of money for the project and we note that the Iraqi ministry of water resources did discuss the issue with authorities from the Kurdish region,” says Mahmoud Raza, an MP in Baghdad. “The plan for the dam changed several times. But the Kurdish authorities wouldn’t agree to it being built.”

Apparently the problem was the level of water in the dam and its size. There was concern about how much water the dam would collect and whether this would block the flow of water into the rest of Iraq.

Alternative plans were suggested by the Kurdish authorities but these were not viable, Zafer Abdullah, an adviser to Iraq’s ministry of water resources, told NIQASH. “Other plans involved reducing the water level in the dam and the size of the reservoir,” he said. “At that time, the Kurdish presidency was against the dam being constructed and some said there were political reasons behind this.”

At the start nobody had any problem with the dam being built. But later on the issue was politicized – when it was suggested that the Barzan area be submerged.

“It was the Kurdish leadership who would not accept the construction of the dam, despite the fact that the Iraqi government gave them three alternative designs for the project,” Mohammed, head of the regional department for dams in Iraqi Kurdistan, confirms.

Over the course of two weeks researching this story, NIQASH tried to contact the Kurdish government’s spokesperson, Safeen Dizayee, several times to ask why but had no response.

A large part of the “political” reason behind the lack of progress on the Bekhme dam also has to do with the fact that around 54 villages in the area would be submerged, says Karwan Karim Khan, mayor of Khalifan, where the Bekhme dam would be located.

Some of these villages are located in the Barzan area, the historic home to the Barzani tribe, from which one of Iraqi Kurdistan’s ruling families originates. The Barzanis head one of Iraqi Kurdistan’s most popular political parties, the Kurdistan Democratic Party, or KDP, and until he stepped down recently, Massoud Barzani was president of Iraqi Kurdistan.

At one stage a petition was launched, collecting signatures of those opposed to the destruction of these villages due to the dam, and Kurdish authorities used this to justify the ongoing suspension of the project.

“We signed the petition because the Bekhme dam could cause many problems – one of which is that we would be forced to leave our homes,” says Hasso Mohammed Amin, a 52-year-old resident of one of the villages that could end up submerged, Dola Teshwu. “ We wanted the project suspended or its size reduced,” he notes.

The nature of those problems is a little more difficult to trace back. Money was not the issue apparently. In 2005, as the Iraqi Kurdish authorities resumed contact with the Iraqi government, Baghdad promised to put US$5 billion into the dam’s completion.

“During the al-Maliki government, we followed up on the amount of money for the project and we note that the Iraqi ministry of water resources did discuss the issue with authorities from the Kurdish region,” says Mahmoud Raza, an MP in Baghdad. “The plan for the dam changed several times. But the Kurdish authorities wouldn’t agree to it being built.”

Apparently the problem was the level of water in the dam and its size. There was concern about how much water the dam would collect and whether this would block the flow of water into the rest of Iraq.

Alternative plans were suggested by the Kurdish authorities but these were not viable, Zafer Abdullah, an adviser to Iraq’s ministry of water resources, told NIQASH. “Other plans involved reducing the water level in the dam and the size of the reservoir,” he said. “At that time, the Kurdish presidency was against the dam being constructed and some said there were political reasons behind this.”

“It was the Kurdish leadership who would not accept the construction of the dam, despite the fact that the Iraqi government gave them three alternative designs for the project,” Mohammed, head of the regional department for dams in Iraqi Kurdistan, confirms.

Over the course of two weeks researching this story, NIQASH tried to contact the Kurdish government’s spokesperson, Safeen Dizayee, several times to ask why but had no response.

A large part of the “political” reason behind the lack of progress on the Bekhme dam also has to do with the fact that around 54 villages in the area would be submerged, says Karwan Karim Khan, mayor of Khalifan, where the Bekhme dam would be located.

Some of these villages are located in the Barzan area, the historic home to the Barzani tribe, from which one of Iraqi Kurdistan’s ruling families originates. The Barzanis head one of Iraqi Kurdistan’s most popular political parties, the Kurdistan Democratic Party, or KDP, and until he stepped down recently, Massoud Barzani was president of Iraqi Kurdistan.

At one stage a petition was launched, collecting signatures of those opposed to the destruction of these villages due to the dam, and Kurdish authorities used this to justify the ongoing suspension of the project.

“We signed the petition because the Bekhme dam could cause many problems – one of which is that we would be forced to leave our homes,” says Hasso Mohammed Amin, a 52-year-old resident of one of the villages that could end up submerged, Dola Teshwu. “ We wanted the project suspended or its size reduced,” he notes.

“At the start nobody had any problem with the dam being built,” Abbas Ghazali Mirkhan, an MP with the KDP and also a resident from the area where the dam is meant to be being built, told NIQASH. “But later on the issue was politicized – when it was suggested that the Barzan area be submerged and the Barzan villagers be displaced.”

“When the budget was first allocated for the dam project in 2005 and the plan designed by foreign advisers, Massoud Barzani had no problem with it,” Mirkhan continued. “But when it turned out there were political motivations behind the project, Barzani and the local population collected signatures for a petition against it and the project was suspended.”

And by this, he means that the Barzanis clearly felt that the dam was a personal attack on their heritage, possibly a politically motivated one by Baghdad.

Whatever the reason back then, work on the Bekhme dam seems unlikely to resume any time soon, no matter how much its needed. The Iraqi government has basically given up on it now, insiders say.

“There’s no hope in reviving those talks with the Kurdish authorities about the Bekhme dam,” Abdullah, the ministry of water resources adviser, concludes. “We are now relying on the Tharthar dam [further south] to secure our water supply.”