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.”

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 John Lee.

Iraq’s Ministry of Water Resources has reportedly banned farmers from planting rice and corn, due to increasing shortages in the country.

According to Reuters, Minister Hassan al-Janabi (pictured) has decided to prioritise drinking water, industry and the growing of vegetables.

The Agriculture Ministry is said to be embarrassed about the decision, especially as rice and corn are considered strategic and farmers had already prepared to plant them.

(Source: Reuters)

By John Lee.

Turkey has reportedly postponed the filling of the Ilisu Dam on the Tigris river until July, as fears of major water shortages in Iraq increase.

According to a report from The National, water levels of the Tigris have reduced significantly since last week, sparking renewed panic among Iraqis.

The Turkish Ambassador to Iraq, Fatih Yildiz, told reporters that an agreement was signed last month between the two countries to regulate the flow of water.

He added that dams built in neighbouring Iran on its tributaries of the Tigris have contributed to low water levels.

More here.

(Source: The National)

By John Lee.

Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi chaired a meeting of the Ministerial Council for National Security (pictured) on Sunday, focusing on the water shortage in Iraq.

The Council viewed a presentation by the Minister of Water Resources, Hassan Al Janabi, which included a plan to address the expected water scarcity for the current summer.

The problem has been exacerbated by the filling of the Ilısu Dam in Turkey, and the recent irregular rainfall.

According to a report from The National, water levels in Iraq’s main rivers have fallen by at least 40 percent in recent decades.

(Sources: Media Office of the Prime Minister, The National)