27 June 2018

When conflicts are brewing and water is running scarce: What can the EU do for Iraq and Mali?

On the eve of the high level event - Climate, Peace and Security: The Time for Action hosted by the EU’s foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, the Planetary Security Initiative hosted an informal meeting for PSC Ambassadors at the Permanent Representation of the Netherlands to the EU to exchange views on how climate change affects the security situation in Iraq and Mali and what this means for EU risk assessments, missions and policies.

Acknowledging the climate security nexus in the cases of Iraq and Mali is crucial to ensure effective peacekeeping and peacebuilding in those post-conflict regions. This is also why these countries were chosen as PSI spotlight regions and feature prominently in the Hague Declaration on Planetary Security of December 2017. At the same time those countries which illustrate the climate-related security risks jeopardise many more countries in the vicinity of the EU. Building on the recommendations of the recent policy brief on what the European Union can do for Mali and Iraq, this meeting discussed options for how action in this field might look like. To exchange views on these ideas, we had the pleasure of welcoming excellencies Dr. Jawad Al-Chlaihawi and Mr. Cissé Sékou dit Gaoussou, respectively the Ambassador of The Republic of Iraq in Brussels and the Ambassador to EU/Brussels for Mali.


Mr. Tobias Von Lossow, Research Fellow at the Clingendael Institute, opened the meeting by identifying the water-related challenges facing Iraq. Indeed, the realities of climate change in this region have been dire resulting in tenuous water scarcity, but also temperatures which are increasingly unbearable, continuous saltwater intrusion in the marshlands and an aggravation of sand and dust storms. This reality of climate change is worsened by the regional and domestic realities:

  • Hydroelectric projects in Turkey as well as in Iran have created room for regional tension due to the diminishing flow of the Euphrates and the Tigris.
  • The strategic location of the Kurdish region allows them to control the water flow of the Tigris creating a need for cooperation on water management.
  • Due to the conflicts that have strained Iraq, the water infrastructure is in dire need of rehabilitation and the environmental degradation of the Marshes creates an urgent need of creating alternative livelihood for the dependent population.  

The following recommendations for the European Union were proposed:

  • Take into account the link between water scarcity and security in Iraq, notably in the EUAM mission that supports the national security strategy of Iraq.
  • Balance technical and political dimensions of water, notably in development projects.
  • Harmonise policies and instruments in the fields of water security and climate security

The Iraqi ambassador acknowledged the realities of water scarcity in Iraq. Such challenges cannot be tackled by Iraq alone due to the magnitude of the issues at hand and the lingering effects decades of warfare had on the governments capabilities to build resilience and adaptation to the changing climate patterns. The imperative of human security has trumped the capacities to address climate security. What can the EU do then? The answer is threefold for his excellency: It needs to be diplomatic, political and technical.

  • First, the EU should advocate to all states, including Turkey to sign and ratify the Convention on the Law of the Non-navigational Uses of International Watercourses of 1997.
  • Second, to establish an impartial European-led mission to estimate the extent of damage Iraqi citizens will suffer due to the establishment of hydroelectric projects in the region.
  • Finally, ensure the availability of technical assistance from European experts and building links among Iraqi and European research centers.


On behalf of Clingendaels’ Mali expert Anca-Elena Ursu, dr. Louise van Schaik, presented pathways for the EU to address the ongoing stress on natural resources of two core regions of Mali: Sikasso and Mopti. Both suffer from below average and irregular rainfall as well as a strong dependency on natural resources with more than 70% of the population depending on agriculture, pastoralism and fishing to sustain their livelihood. Consequently, the changing availability of resource and the inherent stress on the communities foster intercommunal conflicts as well as displacement and migration. Three recommendations have been proposed to ensure a more inclusive answer from the current EU missions in the region:

  • Support local solutions for local problem through funding and knowledge-sharing platforms.
  • Ensure that natural resources scarcity analysis is at the heart of all security endeavours, including in the work of the current civilian and military missions in Mali.
  • Further the inclusion of climate-security nexus in EU collaboration with the Sahel G5 with a particular emphasis on development and migration policies.   

For the Malian ambassador, his nation suffers badly from climate change, especially if we consider that it hardly contributed to emissions causing it. While the Malian Government recognizes the dire need to address the multi-faceted resource scarcity encountered by the majority of the population, their capabilities have been spread thin since most of their financial resources are devoted to combat terrorism with the assistance of European partners. Consequently, the following recommendations were offered by his excellency:

  • Support stability in the region (including also Nigeria) by supporting collaborative use of transnational watercourses to avoid a worsening of the ongoing water scarcity.
  • Ensure inclusion of the local communities and favour approaches that include the diaspora who can bridge the Malian and European perspective.
  • Foster projects of technical innovation to move more intensive ways of agricultural production. Empower the community of practices to further initiatives on the ground to counter land degradation.
  • Adjust plans to the needs and realities of the local communities instead of trying to implement region wide policies.
  • Support mini-dam projects to generate electricity and promote crop yield with low-water need.
  • Ensure that EU member states’ commitment towards green finance is maintained and on schedule to avoid delays in answering a situation that can only worsen without concrete actions.


While a continent apart, participants in the roundtable pointed to the remarkable similarities in the challenges that confront both nations. Indeed, the worsening climate conditions and the diminution of water flows upon whom many depend opens the door to future regional tensions when it comes to the Euphrates/Tigris and the Niger River. This in turn will foster internal displacement that could reignite inter-communal conflicts. Further, both nations had years of violent conflicts that have tarnished the social fabric of the nations and forced the government to devote most of their limited resources to the fight of terrorism leaving many other facets of governance in dire need of funding. The EU could consider more explicitly the climate-security nexus in its risk assessments, missions and policies to boost the effectiveness of its  conflict prevention and migration policy efforts.