AN IRAQI MINISTER TAKES A STANCE AGAINST THE DEPLETION OF IRAQ’S WATER BY ITS NEIGHBOURS
|The dam at lake Dukan|
A few weeks ago the Minister of Trade in Iraq’s Central Government, Dr. Babeker Khairallah, refused to sign the latest commercial treaty between Iran and Iraq. This treaty was for billions of dollars of trade between the two countries, yet in reality the trade was primarily to the benefit of Iran as it allowed Iran to export goods into Iraq but to import nothing in return, thus amounting to little more than a license for Iran to dump their products in Iraq in exchange for desperately needed hard currency. Dr. Babeker, is a native of the Qalat Dizah district in the north eastern governorate of Suliemaniah in the Kurdish region, where the Dukan dam and lake are situated. The Dukan dam is important not only as the major source of water for Suliemaniah’s population of over one million but it also generates much of the electricity for the city and the surrounding region. The waters from the lake then flow into the river Tigris which is a major source of water for all of Iraq. Lake Dukan is supplied by a number of small rivers and creeks that have their origins in the Kurdish regions in Iran but in recent years many of these streams have been dammed, or their courses diverted, within Iran. As a result the lake’s level has fallen dramatically and not only the water supply but also the electricity supplies to Sulimaniah have been badly affected.
|The Alwand river flowing under |
the old stone bridge in
Khanaqin in 2000
To the south of lake Dukan lies the town
of Khanaqin which is bisected by the River Alwand and takes its water supply
from the river. The Alwand also supplies water to the villages and farms
surrounding the town as it flows south. The area is famous for its citrus
orchards, figs and pomegranates that the river waters have fed for centuries,
if not millennia, and around 40,000 acres of land are irrigated by the river.
The Alwand river originates in western Iran and flows eastward into Iraq and
the river levels, that during winter months could reach 50 feet in some areas,
have been subject to reduction in flow as a result of activities in Iran. Iran
and Iraq share around 30 rivers that run through both countries and Iran has
been blocking these rivers from flowing into Iraq by diverting their paths and
building dams. In the case of the Alwand river the Iranians have markedly
reduced the water levels and, in the last two years, completely stopped water
flowing into Iraq in the summer from June 1st to October as they took water to ‘meet
their agricultural needs’. Now the Alwand river
has completely dried up bringing drought to the farmlands and the five water
stations on the river that supplied drinking water to Kahnaqin have ceased
working bringing a cessation of supply to the town. It is said that a demand to
Iran for an explanation of its action by Iraq’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has
not been answered.
|The same bridge in Khanaqin|
on August 22nd 2012 showing
the dry river bed
The stone bridge across the Alwand in Khanaqin was built in 1878 to allow the town’s people and Iranian visitors to freely cross the turbulent river waters but now it is not required as motorists drive their cars across the dry river bed.
|A car on the dry river bed in Khanqin|
on August 22nd 2012
Over the past 30 years Turkey has constructed dams to “regulate” the flow of rivers, including the Tigris and Euphrates, generate electricity and irrigate agricultural lands according to its needs. The flow speed of the Euphrates, which runs from Turkey through Syria, is currently only 230 cubic metres (8,100 cubic feet) per second, down from a level of 950 cubic metres per second in 2000. In 2009 Turkey announced that the development of the controversial Ilusu dam would recommence. International criticism of this dam had arisen because it would flood areas of international archaeological interest but the dam will also flood much of the southeastern region of the country displacing tens of thousands of Kurdish people. It has been widely recognized that while Turkey states that the Ilisu dam will allow the development of a poverty stricken area it will also allow the government to flood land used by the Kurdish PKK fighters who appose Ankara’s policies against the Kurds. The building of the Ilisu dam has been referred to as the ‘use of water in the antiterrorism fight’ as it will destroy the Kurdish homelands in Turkey but it should also be recognized as a threat to the Kurdish region in Iraq as it will severely reduce the water supply to this area, and indeed to the whole of Iraq.
Turkey’s dams have also reduced the supply of fresh water into Syria and greatly reduced agriculture there. As a result Syria has itself constructed 5 dams across the Euphrates as it flows through its land as a means of maintaining water supplies. As a consequence the flow of water entering Iraq has been decreased even further. The Tigris forms the border between Iraq and Syria for a distance of 40 Km, and in that short distance the Syrians remove 1.5 billion cubic metres of water per year to irrigate agricultural projects involving Syria and its Kuwaiti partners. Syria is not alone in working with the Gulf States as it has been widely reported that the countries of the Gulf have been acquiring large tracts of agricultural land in Turkey (GRAIN) as a means of obtaining a form of food security. This agricultural enterprise by the Gulf States as a means of obtaining their food security will deprive Iraq of essential water and deny the Iraqi people the opportunity to improve their food security situation.
|The result of the nieghbour|
|In the days before Iran and |
Turkey interfered with our
One point that must be emphasized is that Turkey is not only depriving Iraq of water in its efforts to achieve electricity and water for its own use but it is also in the business of using water as a means of exerting power over its neighbours. This was made clear a few years ago when the then Turkish President, Suleyman Demirel spoke on the issue of water in the region and said, "Neither Syria or Iraq can lay claim to Turkey's rivers any more than Ankara could claim their oil. This is a matter of sovereignty. We have a right to do anything we like.” This policy has not changed with government changes in Turkey.
The land that is modern Iraq was known as Mesopotamia, meaning the land between the rivers, to the civilizations within the region millennia ago. The culture of Iraq arose from the abundant waters of the two rivers and the marshes of the delta and even an ancient religion was based on the people’s dependency on the waters of the rivers. Now the very core of the country’s existence is under threat as the flow of water through the Tigris and Euphrates, the arteries that supply the land with life, is reducing day by day. The northern area of the country receive 60% of their water requirements from the rain, snow and local springs but the south of the country has an annual rainfall of only 100 – 175mm which cannot sustain life there. When voices are raised about the water issue it seems that it is always the Kurds that stand up and do so while the majority of the politicians and religious leaders of the south remain quiet !
Dr. Babeker Khairallah should be saluted for his stand on this issue, it will not have been an easy thing to do, but Iraqis should be grateful that he has stood up and taken a stand for his fellow countrymen and we hope that others join him in his endeavours.