Iraq faces dire water crisis as reserves plummet to historic lows

BETH NAHRIN — Iraq is grappling with an unprecedented water crisis as the nation’s water reserves reach their lowest levels in history, with a reduction of almost 50 percent compared to the previous year. The alarming situation has been confirmed by a spokesperson from the Iraqi Ministry of Water Resources, highlighting the grave challenges the country faces due to climate change and water mismanagement.

Khaled al-Shamali, the spokesman of the ministry, conveyed the severity of the crisis, revealing to Rudaw that the present water reserves in Iraq have hit rock bottom, marking a stark contrast to the historical water levels the country once enjoyed. This shortage is equivalent to just half of last year’s water availability.

The Tigris and Euphrates rivers, which originate from Turkey, play a vital role as Iraq’s primary sources of water. However, the water flowing into Iraq from these rivers has been outpaced by the release of water from retention dams constructed along their courses. This imbalance is particularly evident at the Mosul Dam on the Tigris River, which receives 275 cubic meters of water per second but discharges a staggering 400 cubic meters per second. Similarly, the Haditha Dam on the Euphrates River releases 200 cubic meters per second while only receiving 153 cubic meters per second.

This concerning data from Shamali underscores the urgent need for action as Iraq grapples with the growing effects of climate change. As figures continue to worsen, there’s an imminent threat to the lives of local communities, livestock, and the entire agricultural sector. The decline in water availability has dire consequences for the region, leading to potential drought and desertification.

Earlier this year, Iraq’s water resources ministry reported a staggering decline in water reserves – from 60 billion cubic meters in 2020 to a mere 7 billion cubic meters. As of now, the reserves stand at a critically low 5 billion cubic meters, according to Shamali’s recent statement. Iraq houses 20 water retention dams within its borders, collectively storing close to 80 billion cubic meters of water.

A disturbing report from Iraq’s Ministry of Water Resources last year painted a grim picture for the future: without swift intervention, the country’s primary rivers could dry up entirely by 2040. Iraq’s vulnerability to climate change impacts, including water and food insecurity, has been recognized by the United Nations. A combination of reduced precipitation, higher temperatures, mismanagement, and the impact of dams in Turkey and Iran has exacerbated the crisis.