Reuters-By Charlotte Bruneau and Ahmed Rasheed
Nabil Musa, an Iraqi Kurdish environmental activist, takes pictures of Sirwan River on the outskirt of Halabja, Iraq June 13, 2021. Picture taken June 13, 2021. REUTERS/Thaier Al-
HALABJA, Iraq, Sept 6 (Reuters) – “Where we are standing right now, there should be a river,” says Nabil Musa, gesturing at a dried-up riverbed in northern Iraq.
To try to cope, Baghdad limited this summer’s cultivated surfaces in Diyala in both irrigated and rainfed areas to 30% of last year’s and dug water wells to support struggling farmers.
Asked about Iraqi allegations that Iran is reluctant to discuss the water crisis, a senior Iranian foreign ministry official noted that drought in Iran had “caused blackouts and protest”. He told Reuters that following the recent formation of Iran’s new government, scheduling meetings would take time.
“However, I should underline that because of the water crisis, our first priority would be meeting our domestic need and then our neighbours,” the official added.
Iraq’s water crisis has been in the making for nearly two decades. Outdated infrastructure and short-term policies made Baghdad vulnerable to climate change and lower flows from Iran and Turkey, source of about 70% of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.
Iraqi water ministry spokesperson Aoun Dhiab told Reuters that from June, water flows from Iran and Turkey had halved.
The Turkish Foreign Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Negotiations with Turkey on how much water it will allow downstream to Iraq are difficult, but at least they are taking place, Iraqi officials say. In contrast, there are no talks on the subject with Iran, which in the last three decades has contracted the construction of at least 600 dams nationwide.
Musa said Iran occasionally released water to Iraq. “But we don’t know (in advance) when and how much”, he said.
Iraqi water officials last June attempted without success to have a meeting with Tehran to discuss water shortages and seek information about Iran’s water management strategy.
“We do get information using satellite imagery, on the status of dams and the size of reserves, whether in Turkey or Iran. But we would prefer to get it through diplomatic channels”, Dhiab told Reuters.
At a summit in Baghdad on August 28, Middle East countries including Iran discussed regional cooperation, but the issue of regional water policies didn’t make it on to the agenda.
“We avoided controversial topics that pit them against each other, such as water”, said an Iraqi diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity as he was not allowed to speak to media.
Additional reporting by Parisa Hafezi, Editing by William Maclean
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