As world leaders meet in Egypt for a climate summit to address issues that include water and food supplies, many across Iraq and the broader Middle East are facing a crisis that could fuel more regional turmoil as communities fight over dwindling water resources.
“Climate change is a reality in Iraq,” the United Nations mission in the country said, adding that Iraq is the world’s fifth most vulnerable nation to the fallout from global warming due to rising temperatures, lower rainfall, salinity and dust storms.
Officials and water experts in Iraq said rains had come later and ended sooner in each of the past three years.
The country is part of the Fertile Crescent, a region sweeping from the Mediterranean to the Gulf where farming developed more than 10,000 years ago. Today, though, Iraq has become far less fertile as it’s been devastated by a triple blow of lower rainfall, decades of conflict and less water flowing through its two main rivers, the Tigris and Euphrates.
“Desertification now threatens almost 40 percent of the area of our country – a country that was once one of the most fertile and productive in the region,” President Abdul Latif Rashid told the climate summit in Egypt last week.
In Turkey’s southeast, where the Tigris and Euphrates draw their waters, rainfall in the year to September was 29 percent below the average of the previous three decades, and it was even worse in 2021, data from Turkey’s meteorological agency showed.
Almost 90 percent of rain-fed crops, mostly wheat and barley, failed this season, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization in Iraq. Before 2020, Iraq could produce almost 5.5 million tonnes of wheat. Last year, the government received 2.1 million, the organisation’s representative in Iraq told the Reuters news agency.
Competition for water is now fuelling disputes and conflict among farming communities in southern Iraq, according to tribal leaders and Iraqi officials.
Standing by an almost-dry canal offshoot, tribal leader Maksad Rahim said he remembered when it was full of clear water and the landscape was green with trees. “Now there are so many sandstorms because there are no plants and trees to protect us,” he said.