On Wednesday, 8 July 2020 Planetary Security Initiative (PSI) hosted an interactive webinar "Iraq: Climate, water & Conflict in 2020". Dr. Louise van Schaik, Head of Unit at the Clingendael Institute, moderated the session and posed critical questions about climate and water security in Iraq in 2020.
Iraq's water challenges
Iraq is among the most vulnerable countries in the region when it comes to climate change and water scarcity. Over the last two decades, the situation deteriorated dramatically, affecting health, livelihoods and the broader socio-economic situation in the South. These conditions have been linked to the security situation in the country, particularly in Southern Iraq, where they play a role in the anti-government protests over the last years.
Tobias von Lossow, a research fellow at the Clingendael Institute and PSI project manager, said water scarcity, climate change and conflict are persistent issues in Iraq. Throughout the years, we have witnessed the impact of draining the marshes southern Iraq in the 1990s and, more recently, the weaponisation of water by ISIS. These issues have deepened the environmental degradation across the country and aggravated Iraq's security challenges.
"For Iraq, it needs to be highlighted that water is at the very heart of climate change. Most of the climate change consequences further aggravate the water crisis such as rising temperatures that intensify evaporation, prolonged heat waves and droughts that threaten water availability."
Several factors have contributed to the water crisis in Iraq. The most prominent one is the decreasing water inflow of Tigris and Euphrates by 30 – 40% over the last decades. One reason is the dam-building activities by Turkey, Iran, and Syria. The second factor is the condition of Iraq water infrastructure that has been deteriorating over the previous years mostly due to conflicts and insufficient maintenance, said von Lossow.
Watch the full webinar:
Let's talk 'solutions'
Azzam Alwash, founder of Nature Iraq, discussed the need for a regional water management agreement with Iran and Turkey in order to address Iraq's water-related challenges. However, he believes regional and local conflicts will disrupt any diplomatic efforts that aim to a fair distribution of the water in the Tigris and Euphrates.
The speakers also discussed the role the youth could play to form pressure on political leaders. For instance, Maha Yassin, PSI outreach officer, stressed the need to include the youth in the decision-making process and give them a bigger role in the implementation.
Besides the youth, journalists can also play an important role. Journalism can be an innovative approach to form pressure on decision-makers. Khaled Sulaiman, an Iraqi independent journalist, mentioned that supporting environmental journalism will be necessary to stimulate dialogue and spread awareness. Not only among the scientific community and decision-makers but also among local communities who need to know why their environment is degrading and what they can do to mitigate the impact of climate change.
Laurie Goering from Thomson Reuters Foundation has also covered the webinar discussions on her article "Shrinking water supplies threaten to put fragile Iraq 'on the edge'"