The Real Threat: Water

August 26, 2012

Among all the political, economic and diplomatic crises of the country, internally and with its neighbors, another serious crisis is looming.
The water shortage has a direct impact on the livelihood of the country, both in the center and south of Iraq and in Kurdistan. It is related to neighboring countries and has internal dimensions at every level, starting from the individual and all the way up to the governments of the day.
The most pressing issue today is relations with neighbors and their control over the water supply into Iraq. Ironically, the countries that Iraq usually has many political dealings and crises with are the same ones that control water resources coming into the country.
Iraqi Trade Minister Dr. Khairullah Babekir refused to sign an agreement with Iran last week in protest of their drying of the Alwand River. This was just about the first real step that demonstrated Iraq’s seriousness about water issues. In the past, it was talks, demands, negotiations and protests, but nothing more.
Iran has about 44 tributaries and rivers crossing into Iraq, while Turkey controls the Tigris and the Euphrates with Syria. Over the past 10 years, the three countries have almost felt free in depriving Iraq of water.
The various governments have so far dealt with the issue politically. At one point, Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi visited Turkey and said that they promised him to release Iraq’s share of water!

One of the difficulties I faced in researching this topic was finding easy, accurate and up-to-date information.

According to Casey Walther, who, until earlier this month, was UNESCO’s water projects coordinator in Iraq, accurate data on water isn’t available, making water security almost impossible to achieve. Walther says this is a critical failure of the government.
“All the numbers you see are estimates and often outdated,” he said. “Iraqi officials cannot negotiate with Turkey or Syria, who control the flow of the Euphrates and Tigris.”
This is one of the most striking failures of Maliki’s government and the ones before it.
Water shortage is one of the most serious threats facing the country’s health and security. A serious approach to the issue must be adopted and a task force should be established to deals with the threat of water shortage as a matter of urgency and in a professional manner.
As for the Kurdistan Region, it is also suffering from the same drought, though not as badly as the rest of Iraq. The KRG will have to decide whether to deal with the issue as part of the Iraqi strategy or alone. Each scenario will have its own political ramifications.
But a starting point for Iraq and Kurdistan would be to involve the public and change many of the inadequate ways we use water through various public awareness campaigns and new efficient technology.

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