Euphrates, Tigris rivers drying up, creating serious threat to Iraq’s water supply

“The solutions are really very, very simple. But what is needed is political will, and the political will is not there,” said Azzam Alwash, founder of Nature Iraq.

By Josh Plank, World Israel News

“Iraq: Climate, Water & Conflict in 2020,” an interactive webinar on the growing problem of water scarcity in Iraq, was hosted on July 8 by the Planetary Security Initiative (PSI), a think tank organized by the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

“The water situation of today is basically a result of multiple negative developments impacting water quality and quantity alike over the last years,” said Tobias von Lossow, a research fellow at the Clingendael Institute and PSI project manager.

Von Lossow said the most prominent factor has been a 30 to 40 percent decrease in water inflow from the Euphrates and Tigris Rivers, Iraq’s most important fresh water sources, due mainly to dam building activity in Turkey, Iran, and Syria.

He said that Iraq’s water infrastructure has also been deteriorating over the past several years, partly as a result of damage and destruction during wars and conflicts, and partly due to neglect and insufficient maintenance.

“A third driver is the ongoing immense pollution that we see,” von Lossow said, citing drainage from agriculture, household and industrial sewage, and the dumping of toxic waste into the rivers.

Azzam Alwash, founder of the Iraqi non-governmental organization Nature Iraq, said, “We’ve been talking about problems for 17 years, and it seems to me that everything is getting worse and worse, not getting better.”

“Let’s talk honestly,” Alwash said. “We are a war theater, and Iraqis are the victims.”

“We can talk about it, we can talk around it, but until there is stability in the region, none of our problems are going to be really resolved,” he said.

“Iraq’s claim to fame is that we are the cradle of Western civilization. We are where irrigated agriculture started. We were the bread basket of this region,” Alwash said.

He added, “The solutions to Iraq’s economic problem, political problem, income problem is to go back to our history. We can become again the bread basket of this region if we actually focus a nationwide plan on reinvigorating agriculture, improving irrigation.”

Alwash said that the most important factor would be coming to an agreement with Iran and Turkey on the distribution of water from the Tigris and Euphrates.

“It cannot happen while we are fighting wars,” he said. “It cannot happen while we are not trusting each other, while Iran and Turkey are fighting about the Kurdish issue, with internal struggles inside Iraq.”

Alwash envisions an agreement between Iraq, Turkey, and Iran that could include Syria, Kuwait, and Jordan.

“And we can actually build a stable region based on the management of water, together, as a natural resource that is the right of everyone that lives in this region,” he said.

“The solutions are really very, very simple. But what is needed is political will, and the political will is not there,” he said.