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News Iraq: Water Resources Management and Studies for Forthcoming Period

Iraq holds Turkey and the dams, which were built on the Euphrates-Tigris basin by Turkey, responsible for the water problem she has been going through. As it was seen on the press last summer, Iraq frequently mentions this claim of hers. The primary question that should be asked is: What is the water resources of Iraq? And what is the status of water resources management?       
First of all, I should state that we have difficulty in reaching fixed data about water resources. When we multiply the annual average precipitation with the surface area of Iraq, the average figure we obtain is 94,68 billion cubic meters. According to the FAO datum, the annual average precipitation rate in Iraq is 216 mm, and her surface area is 438,320 square kilometers. According to the figures of FAO, the aforesaid figures belong to year 2000, and its annual amount is 2632 cubic meters per capita. According to the World Bank, this figure is over 2500 cubic meters, as the report of year 2006 indicates. In the publication entitled, “Water in Iraq Factsheet”, prepared by the UN, this value is 2400 for the year 2010. While the annual average precipitation in Iraq was indicated as 154 mm/year in the work entitled, “Water Resources and war in Iraq”, which was published in 2011; the renewable amount of water per capita was indicated as 3287 cubic meters/capita/year. The inconsistency in datum constitutes a major problem on its own.          
The intense use of ground water in Iraq is another issue that draws attention. The fact that he control and management of aquifers are at minimum levels threatens the ground water in terms of quality and quantity. The existence of an important ground water throughout the borders of Syria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Iraq has been mentioned by my Iraqi colleagues. While they state that this water is not used by Iraq, they also indicate that they do not have any information on the illegal use of this water. I believe that this resource is intensely used by Saudi Arabia.
Particularly Diyala, which is one of the tributaries of Tigris coming from Iraq, is an important water resource. The fact that the waters of Alwand River, which is one of the tributaries of Diyala river whose source country is Iran, are cut from time to time, especially in the summer months, poses problem in the region, particularly for farmers. This situation, which became chronic, is brought up to the agenda especially during the summer months.   
The water storage structures and water transportation systems of Iraq, who had been in war for many years, were damaged to a great extent. In addition to this, the troubles in management, which stem from the lack of productive use of water resources, increase the current water problem. According to the data of World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF in 1995, before the war, safe water supply was provided to cities at the rate of 96 per cent; and to rural areas at the rate of 48 per cent. The 93 per cent of the city population and 31 per cent of the rural population can reach clean water through different sanitation methods. As a result of the bomb attacks of the U.S. on March 2003; dams, pumping stations, canals, sea water desalination plants and wastewater treatment plants were damaged. According to the datum of the year 2004, 73 per cent of the city population, and 43 per cent of the rural population can have access to clean water. And 25 per cent of the population, who lives in Baghdad, is not included in water distribution network. According to the datum of the year 2007, only 17 per cent of the wastewater is treated and discharged into rivers. As a result, waterborne diseases increased among children, and quality problem started to be observed in surface waters and aquifers. According to the datum of the Water in Iraq Factsheet, which was prepared by the UN, 884.000 diarrhea cases, among whom 57 per cent is children under the age of 5 years, were detected in 2010. Because of waterborne diseases, 41 children out of 1000 die before the age of 5 years. In Iraq, where the water quality also became a major problem, the quality of water, which is used for drinking and agricultural purposes, remain way below the values of Iraqi National Standards and the World Health Organization.                 
According to UN, it is predicted that Iraq will have difficulty in fulfilling the amount of domestic use of water, which is targeted to be 91 per cent, in 2015. The Iraqi Ministry of Irrigation has started to work on 20 year Strategy for Water and Land Resources in Iraq, which covers the years between 2015 and 2035, in order to find a solution for the problem of water management that will increase in the forthcoming years. The evaluation and detailed mapping of 121 irrigation projects, 7 major dams and 18 barrages across the country are found within this plan, which firstly focuses on collecting data and collecting analytic tools, which are necessary to implement the plan. While the first 5 years of the plan is planned as a busy period, it is planned to update the plan every 5 years until 2035.        
The content of the plan of “Strategy for Water and Land Resources in Iraq” is as follows; 

  • Current and Forthcoming agricultural development and productivity  
  • The efficiency of the current irrigation and relevant water structures.  
  • The appropriation of water for domestic, rural and industrial purpose; waste water treatment, its recycle, and reuse of water turning back from drainage.    
  • Ground waters (connection between ground water and surface water)
  • Current situation for each irrigation project, and appropriation of water for the future
  • Drainage system
  • Salinity and its effect on agriculture
  • The status of pastures  
  • Hydroelectric
  • Transportation and transfer
  • Fishery
  • Flood control
  • Basra Marshes
  • Searching effects of the projects of upper riparian countries
  • Desertification and its effect on agricultural lands
  • Other factors such as climate change, which could affect water management and sustainable utilization

This plan will be conducted by the assistance of the management committee, decision-makers and technical committee, which are selected from ministries, and also by the assistance of shareholders. With the approach of integrated water resources management, a master plan will be prepared for the years 2015, 2020, 2025 and 2035. The water structures will be privatized within this integrated approach, and capital will be invested by different sectors for sustainable development.
In addition to this, the comprehensive strategy of this plan is based on international law, and this plan also includes conducting negotiations by recognizing the principles of a “secure-efficient” and equitable use of water with the Euphrates-Tigris basin riparians and the principle of not causing significant harm. It is foreseen that this plan will be completed within 42 months with a consortium, created by three companies from Italy and Jordan.   
In its statement on World Water Day, the UN indicated that 50 per cent of water at the level of usage is lost in Iraq. The current water loss stems from mismanagement of water resources and damaged water structures (dams, canals, water networks, irrigation systems etc.), as indicated above. If this aforesaid plan can be implemented and succeeds, it is believed that it will provide a major benefit for Iraq in terms of the efficient use of water resources, and will reduce the current water problem.        

Contact information Dr. Tuğba Evrim MADEN, ORSAM Water Research Programme Researcher
News type Inbrief
File link
Source of information ORSAM
Geographical coverage Iraq,
News date 04/01/2012
Working language(s) ENGLISH