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Shafaq News/ The US Institute of Peace drew a broad picture of the climate scene in Iraq, one of the five countries in the world most affected by the negative effects of climate change, including desertification and drought, from local, regional and global aspects, calling on Baghdad to adopt a comprehensive water policy to deal with the danger. climate change that affects the lives of 43 million citizens, also in cooperation with the Kurdistan Regional Government.
The American Institute mentioned in its report, which was translated by Shafaq News Agency: Iraq is witnessing a decline in water supplies along with an acceleration in desertification, leading to the loss of about 60,000 acres of arable land annually, warning that these climate phenomena threaten the livelihoods and food security of the population of Iraq, and create drivers of displacement, unrest, and deterioration of social cohesion.
After the report pointed out that the water crisis is steadily increasing amid severe drought, upstream dam building practices in Turkey and Iran, and increasing domestic water consumption among Iraqis, the report said that the impact of climate change is increasing with each passing year, while the population expected to reach 80 million people by 2050, at a time when the country’s resources are decreasing.
At the same time, the report stated that temperatures in Iraq are rising at a rate about 7 times faster than the global average, causing water levels to decline through evaporation, adding that by the end of this century, it is likely that water levels in the two rivers will decrease. Tigris and Euphrates by no less than 30% and may reach 70%, which requires long-term planning to manage resources, especially in agricultural areas.
According to the report, the loss of agricultural livelihoods in areas suffering from water scarcity has accelerated displacement in the southern and central governorates, and caused local disputes related to water sharing, noting that the International Organization for Migration estimated that since September 2023, 130,788 people have They remain displaced due to factors related to drought conditions and severe water scarcity.
The report indicated that in light of this water crisis, there are a large number of additional factors affecting Iraq’s stability and development, including the growing lack of trust between citizens and the state regarding services and corruption, divisive partisanship, armed factions that act with impunity, and regional interventions and repercussions. Social and environmental consequences of decades of war.
The report warned that without addressing water scarcity linked to these broader vulnerability factors, this could lead to the frustration of Iraq’s ambitious development efforts, including through the “Development Path” project launched by Iraqi Prime Minister Muhammad Shia’ al-Sudani and its transformation plans. Economy in the Kurdistan region.
He continued, saying that while citizens demand social and economic development, it is necessary to ensure that the water crisis does not overturn these aspirations.
The report stated that the US Institute of Peace cooperated with the Institute of Regional and International Studies at the American University of Iraq - Sulaymaniyah, to conduct research in 2023 that determines the motives and consequences of the water scarcity crisis. He continued, saying that unlike dealing with other challenges, as Iraq works through fragmentation of issues and is making progress at the local level, in order to prevent the worst outcomes with regard to the water crisis, it will require a more comprehensive strategy that covers the full extent from source to downstream, stressing the importance of Urgent and sustained engagement at all regional and local levels.
After the report indicated that the regional political context is ideal when the countries riparian to the Tigris and Euphrates River Basin (i.e., Iraq, Turkey, Syria, and Iran) coordinate together according to long-term, legally binding agreements, it explained that the policies of these countries in managing water differently have thwarted this possibility.
While he pointed out that Iraq is witnessing a significant decline in its water shares, due to Turkey’s policy of expanded dams, and because of Iran’s diversion of common rivers in order to meet its immediate water needs, the report quoted a senior Iraqi official participating in the negotiations, who requested anonymity. He indicated a sense of frustration from the government's point of view, saying, "We in Iraq are not satisfied with the share of water that we get from Turkey and Iran, and the water issue should not be viewed as an Iraqi problem only."
The Iraqi official continued, saying that in order to “secure our rightful share, we rely on negotiations first and foremost (..) and we do not want to resort to international courts or military solutions to guarantee our rights. Access to water is our legitimate right. We need something, and they need something.” "One thing, and therefore negotiation is the way to solve the problem of sharing water bilaterally."
Although the report spoke of the great frustrations on the Iraqi side, it also pointed out that Iraq's influence is seen as low. He continued that Iraqi officials said that Tehran tends to make unilateral decisions without consulting its Iraqi partners, although some observers also pointed out that the emergence of the ruling coalition framework, which is considered to be supported by Iran, coincided with Iran carrying out larger water releases. From the Karun River to Iraq.
As for the water talks with Turkey, the report indicated that they have not been translated into a much-needed formal agreement regarding dam construction practices. According to the report, there are parties within the Iraqi government and the international community who believe that Iraq can use energy, trade and other areas as a bargaining chip more effectively.
In order to achieve this goal, the report stated that the United Nations Development Program launched a capacity-building program in water negotiations that benefits officials from government agencies such as the Ministry of Water Resources, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Ministry of Environment, explaining that these training courses focus on enhancing the use of data and “trade-offs.” ", and prepare Iraqi negotiators to take advantage of the fact that Iraq and Turkey have $4 billion in cross-border trade each year. But according to one of the training participants, “the program certainly enhances the technical skills of negotiators,” but “it lacks the participation of senior officials.”
Erbil and Baghdad
While the report said that the Kurdistan Region is considered home to some of the largest dams and reservoirs in Iraq, as 85% of the water in these dams moves south outside the jurisdiction of the Kurdistan Regional Government to federal Iraq.
Although previous reports indicated that the regional government may benefit from the upstream location in order to exercise influence over Baghdad by withholding water allocations, which may lead to a conflict between the two sides, the American Institute spoke of interviews it conducted with officials from both sides, indicating The differences between the two parties are related to the flow of funds, and have nothing to do with water, as officials in the Ministry of Agriculture and Water Resources in the Kurdistan Regional Government have repeatedly clarified that they are “always” committed to Baghdad’s water needs. On the other hand, officials and advisors in the Sudanese government say that the Kurdistan Regional Government “did not” put water quotas on the table as a threat in any negotiations on broader issues.
But the report pointed out that the regional government's anger increased due to the lack of financial support from Baghdad to maintain the dams and water purification facilities themselves that release water to the federal regions.
The report continued that, in light of the competition for financial resources, the establishment of major water treatment and purification plants in the Kurdistan Region had been planned for a long time but were not implemented, which directly affects the quality of water flowing from north to south.
The American report considered that the division between Erbil and Baghdad is not the only internal fault line that raises concern, explaining that during the high temperature summer and water scarcity, local authorities in southern Iraq engaged in heated disputes over water allocations and borders, as the downstream governorates and upstream governorates were accused of consuming water. More than the quota set by the Ministry of Water Resources. Such disputes were recorded between Basra and Maysan, Basra and Dhi Qar, Babylon and Diwaniyah and Muthanna, Wasit and Diwaniyah, and Najaf and Diwaniyah. The report also talked about many disputes taking place between farmers, as those who live near the end of the irrigation canal say that farmers upstream are draining quantities of water greater than what is permitted, through illegal pipe extensions.
The report indicated that entire agricultural areas are collapsing under the weight of the regions’ water quota limits, and that more efforts must be made to develop sustainable and long-term solutions for these communities.
After the report said that it is normal for governments to have a certain level of friction between agencies and ministries, it considered that with regard to the case of Iraq, the level of separation between ministries is unsustainable in the era of climate change and water scarcity.
Implications for policy
The report explained that during the coming years, conditions will get worse, as climate estimates indicate that snowfall in the mountainous regions of southeastern Turkey and southwestern Iran will decline significantly from now until the year 2050, and thus the flow of ice water in streams will decline. Iraq collapsed, adding that by 2035, the gap between supply and demand will reach about 11 billion cubic meters of water annually.
Although the report stated that the international community has begun to develop aid and development packages accordingly, including through the United Nations and other major organizations, there are questions about the extent of continuity of international efforts and interventions in the long term, especially with the continuation of the wars in Ukraine and Gaza. Iraqi humanitarian workers and environmental activists fear that international funding will continue to decline over time. Most Western officials in Baghdad also express doubts about the possibility of maintaining large levels of international financing now that Iraq has become a benefit from high oil prices and its emerging economy.
In order to address the broader context of the water crisis in Iraq, the report said that Iraq has a complex state-run water infrastructure with dozens of dams, stratified irrigation systems and reservoirs, noting that water levels in the Kurdistan Region’s dams directly affect water levels in Basra, and therefore it is In order to make a tangible difference in correcting problems related to the quantity and quality of water, the dilapidated water infrastructure in Iraq in various regions needs urgent attention.
The report called for implementing measures to achieve commitment to sustainable and comprehensive participation at all levels of the water management system at the federal level and at the Kurdistan Regional Government level. He also called on the Iraqi government to lead and take the first step to develop, and then implement, a comprehensive water strategy in line with the realities of climate change, along with the environmental authorities in the Kurdistan Region.
The US Institute of Peace report concluded by saying, “The Sudanese, the federal government, and the leadership of the Kurdistan Regional Government have the opportunity to cooperate to develop a proven track record in enhancing services and development in accordance with their governments’ programs, while charting an implementable path for Iraq to reduce the destabilizing effects of climate change and water scarcity.”
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