Diyala faces drought alone... A weak Iraq at the mercy of Iran

Monday 18 April 202211:00 am
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ديالى تواجه منفردةً قطع المياه والجفاف... نموذج "العراق الضعيف" أمام إيران

The Diyala Governorate is facing a drought for the second year in a row. The province, which lies 57 km north of Baghdad and has a population of more than 1.5 million people, has been excluded from the annual agricultural plan in Iraq, as Iran cuts off the water that it entirely depends upon.

Diyala — which borders Iran along its eastern edge — now faces an end to its agriculture and cultivation.

The water flowing from Iran into Iraq used to reach 7 billion cubic meters per day. Without prior warning, the share of water flowing across the border fell to zero, after Iran completely cut off the outflow of water from three rivers — the Sirwan, Karun, and Karkheh rivers — that supply fresh water to the eastern regions of Iraq.

Hajji Mahmoud, a 60 year old farmer from the Buhriz sub-district, has lost all hope of the return of agriculture to Diyala. He tells Raseef22 that he used to grow many different kinds of crops, and that he mainly depends on agriculture for his livelihood and his family’s sustenance, “For the second year in a row, I could not farm my land because of the lack of water, as it has become dry and lifeless.” He appealed to the government to find quick solutions and conduct negotiations with Iran to restore water to the province, after it lost the only means that its people lived off.

Fadel, 55, lives in Baqubah and says that his orchards no longer produce the different types of fruits they used to due to the lack of water. He says he is trying hard to find a job other than farming his land, which he has dedicated his entire life caring for. Today, he does not see a glimmer of hope from a government that did not find alternative solutions after Iran blocked the flow of water, “It is not even trying to get what rightfully belongs to it”.

No negotiations

The Ministry of Water Resources has announced more than once that Iran is still refusing to receive the Iraqi delegation for negotiations on the water issue, and has not revealed its water plans to the Iraqi government, especially whether the blockade is temporary or will continue, as well as other matters that Iran must make clear. Even though the ministry announced its intentions to internationalize the issue and file a complaint against Iran, months have passed since this statement was issued without there being any Iraqi action taken within the international community regarding the water issue with Iran.

Adviser to the Ministry of Water Resources, Aoun Diab, tells Raseef22, “The damage to Iraq is great, especially in certain areas, the most important of which is the Diyala River, which saw severe drought conditions that resulted from the blockade of many (river) branches that feed into it, including the Sirwan River, the main supplier of the Darbandikhan Dam and four rivers south of Sirwan that supply the Khanaqin dam and Diyala River, south of Darbandikhan, as well as the Hemrin Dam.”

He adds, “These rivers were cut off and diverted to other regions inside Iran. In total, there were five rivers blocked, including the basins of Kalal Badra in Wasit Governorate and the Karkheh River that feeds into the Hawizeh Marshes, which is almost completely dry, in addition to diverting the Karun River, which affected the Shatt al-Arab areas. These rivers have a significant impact on many areas in Diyala, which mainly depends on water coming from Iran, as well as the Badrah and Gassan area in Wasit.”

Diab points out that “the drought hit the regions as a whole, but we did not notice a share of the damage on the Iranian side, and we had hoped to meet with them to identify the measures they took and what they intend to do in the future."

End of agriculture

Mahdi Damad al-Qaisi, former advisor to the Ministry of Agriculture, informs Raseef22, “Most of Iraq’s water revenues come from neighboring countries, primarily from Turkey and then from Iran secondarily. The Diyala Governorate was mainly affected by the lack of water supplies coming from Iran, which also affected the farming land and orchards in Diyala primarily and excluded the governorate from being included in the agricultural summer crop plan for both this year and the last year, due to the lack of rain. And this impact expanded further to include border areas that are witnessing a significant decrease in water levels, and this issue needs urgent review and effort from the state in order to quickly resolve it.”

He adds, “Agricultural plans should be looked into in light of changes in climate, water scarcity, and the lack of rain, as well as heading towards growing essential crops in the governorates that contain large areas and have supplementary irrigation.”

Diyala province relies up to 90% on the waters of the Khorasan River which come from Lake Hamrin, whose levels have reached the lowest in nearly 40 years, according to the Mayor of Baqubah District Abdullah al-Hayali. Al-Hayali indicates that Lake Hamrin contains the strategic water reserve for Diyala and can contain more than two billion and 400 million cubic meters, however, it currently only holds approximately 200 million m3.

He indicates that 60% of the regions of Diyala, including Baqubah and its suburbs, were severely hit by the drought crisis. But those that were most affected are Tahrir, Buhriz, and parts of the western districts of Baqubah, amid fears of losing 40,000 dunams of the most important orchards of Diyala within the borders of the district as they approach their demise.”

The Director of the Diyala Environment Department, Abdullah Hadi al-Shammari, estimates that 2022 will be the most severe yet due to the drought crisis. He says that more than 130 thousand dunums of Diyala’s most fertile lands — most of which have become threatened with desertification in the summer of 2022 due to drought — and the regions of Balad Duz, Kan'an and their villages will have the largest share of the damage if the crisis continues to worsen during the summer.

In a statement, he indicates that Diyala is the governorate most affected by the water crisis due to its dependence on external revenues from neighboring countries, a lack of rain during the last winter season, and the depletion of its strategic water reserves in Lake Hamrin and other areas. For the past two years, it has been suffering from a stifling drought crisis due to the lack of rain, Iran’s blockade of shared rivers and streams from its side, along with the Turkish side reducing Iraq's regional share in the Tigris River.

The weak negotiator

Tahsin al-Moussawi, an expert in water affairs, tells Raseef22 that “the water issue in Iraq has reached this state due to internal mismanagement, because there is a misuse of water in Iraq and it still operates using old and classic methods, in addition to the weakness of the Iraqi negotiator when it comes to defending Iraq’s water quotas. This is due to the numerous sources of decision-making inside Iraq.”

He points out that the water issue in riparian states and upstream countries is always in the hands of the highest authority in the state, but in Iraq it is not so, because the government is run by a group of parties.

No effective action has been taken by Iraq’s government to hold Iran accountable for cutting off water from the Diyala rivers, warning of a major drought and 60% of the province’s population losing their sole source of income: farming and agriculture

In al-Moussawi’s opinion, “Iran has violated all the international rules and laws that stipulate that there is no sovereignty over water, because it is joint and shared waters. Despite this, Iraq has not yet submitted a complaint to the international community against Iran, and is just content with repeatedly submitting notes of protest.”

He adds, “Iraq should have gone to the European Union and the World Bank, and it should have chosen a strong negotiator, like Egypt did with Ethiopia when it filed complaint to the international community, and just like what happened in 1987 when Turkey cut off water from the Euphrates River, and the World Bank intervened, refusing to grant Turkey a loan unless it secured the flow of 500 cubic meters per second to the Euphrates River, and Iraq’s share was 58 percent.” According to al-Moussawi, “If Iraq remains at such a weak level of negotiation, the water crisis will worsen much further.”

An invitation for dialogue

The United Nations Representative in Iraq, Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, called on Iraq’s neighboring countries to participate in meaningful discussions on water sharing and management. In a statement issued on the occasion of the World Water Day, which fell on the 22nd of last March, the UN official said that “Lower precipitation, water shortages, salinization of soils and water, ineffective management of resources, and population growth have all taken their toll, throughout the country… in addition to climate change,” she said, stressing that “the active reduction of water inflows from neighbouring countries is another serious threat.”

The Iraqi government is not forthcoming, and the multiple layers of decision-making prevent it from taking the initiative to protect its sovereignty and preserve the lives of its citizens by confronting the actions of Iran

The Iraqi Minister of Water Resources, Mahdi al-Hamdani, had confirmed at the second Baghdad International Water Conference, which was held on the fifth of March, that his ministry “was able to activate the memorandum of understanding that had been signed with the Turkish side, which includes Iraq getting a fair and equitable water quota, and that the Iraqi delegation of negotiators will continuously communicate with Turkey and there will be future meetings to draw a clear map of the water quotas and work in accordance with the agreement to share the damage.”

The minister denounced the Iranian projects that directly caused the Diyala province to dry up, describing them as a clear violation of international conventions, stressing that “Tehran still refuses to negotiate with Iraq over joint waters.” He called for the need to refer to the Algiers Agreement (commonly known as the Algiers Accord) signed in 1975, regarding sharing the waters of the Shatt al-Arab River in order to solve the issue of the reduced flow of water from Iran.”

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